This article appeared in the December 31, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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In Australia, generosity forged by fire

Lucy Baranowski via Facebook
New South Wales firefighters rescue a koala.
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

A koala is not a cuddly animal. It has sharp claws. It’s shy, and can be irascible with humans. 

That’s what makes Anna Heusler’s good Samaritan encounter with one of Australia’s iconic marsupials so surprising. Last week, she was cycling near Adelaide and stopped to help a koala in the road. After guzzling one water bottle, the thirsty koala climbed onto her bicycle for more, and she gently obliged. 

Ms. Heusler’s compassionate act went viral. But it’s also a sign of desperation. Thirteen people and thousands of koalas have died in wildfires over the past three months. On Tuesday, about 4,000 people were forced to evacuate to beaches in Victoria and New South Wales. The military deployed helicopters and vessels to help. As Australia faces one of the worst droughts on record, its firefighters – 90% volunteers – have valiantly fought hundreds of fires. After weeks of calls for compensation, the federal government finally agreed.

But Aussie citizens have generously stepped up. Some towns canceled New Year’s Eve fireworks and donated the funds to fight the fires. Restaurants and stores are giving a percentage of sales to firefighters. A GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000 for koala water stations has collected more than $2.2 million.

While firefighter Lucy Baranowski and her husband battled blazes, friends bought Christmas gifts for their four children. The “insane stream of donations, financial, food, drink, for our brigade...,” she writes on Facebook, “is extremely humbling, and it isn’t slowing down.” 

In New South Wales, bushfires have destroyed nearly 1,000 buildings, and about 30% of the koala habitat. But Ms. Baranowksi says local fire crews just found a tired koala mom with a baby clinging to her back. Amid the devastation, she calls it “a bright spark of hope.”

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This article appeared in the December 31, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 12/31 edition