Caring for Country: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations working in the sustainability space

Something I often think about, when it comes to reducing waste and sustainable living, is ‘what else can I do?’ Not in a fitting-my-trash-in-a-mason-jar kind of way – I find this way too simplistic and too focused on the individual at the expense of the broader community.

If I can fit my waste in a jam jar but the rest of my street (or suburb, or town, or country) are filling their bins to the top each week, that’s not really a reason to celebrate. Clearly there is still work to be done!

To me, ‘what else can I do’ means thinking about how can I spread the message, influence my friends, family and those in my community, and help others to take action.

The place where it’s easiest for me to take action, outside of my own home, is in my local community. But – thinking about the jam jar analogy again – it’s a hollow victory if my community does a fantastic job, whilst other communities are struggling, and don’t have access to the resources to create change.

The good news is, there are plenty of people working in their local communities to create positive change. Those of us with more resources can offer support to those with less.

We don’t need to live in or travel to those communities to support them and assist them to do their work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived sustainably on the land that is now called Australia for 60,000 years, and they have knowledge and experience of caring for Country that 250 years of white occupation can’t even begin to comprehend.

If we want to live sustainably, we have to listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples, trust their knowledge, and learn from their experiences.

In Australia, there are a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations focused on sustainability, and sharing knowledge and stories in their own voices. If you’re wondering how you can support Indigenous voices and experiences in this space, I’ve put together a list of the ones I know about – you might find it useful.

Support might mean sharing their work, making a donation, volunteering time, making a purchase, asking your local library or school to stock a book, or something else.

(I have no doubt that this list is incomplete, and if you know of any other Indigenous-owned or Indigenous-led organisations working in this space in Australia, let me know and I will add them to the list.)

Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islander led organisations working in the sustainability space

Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network

A branch of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Seed is Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network. Their vision is for a just and sustainable future with strong cultures and communities, powered by renewable energy. Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity, and it is also an opportunity to create a more just and sustainable world.

W: seedmob.org.au

Firesticks

Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation is an Indigenous-led network and aims to re-invigorate the use of cultural burning by facilitating cultural learning pathways to fire and land management. It is an initiative for Indigenous and non- Indigenous people to look after Country, share their experiences and collectively explore ways to achieve their goals.

W: firesticks.org.au

Victor Steffensen is a co-founder of the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation, and sits on the Board of Directors. His book, Fire Country – how Indigenous fire management could help save Australia was published in February 2020. $1 from each purchase goes to the Firesticks Alliance.

Community First Development (formerly Indigenous Community Volunteers)

Working with First Nations communities is based on the principle of self-determination; creating partnerships with them so that they can achieve great things for their communities. Projects are always determined and led by community. Driven by the need for a better world for all First Nations people; to work with all cultures for recognition, respect, and the right to be treated and valued with equality.

W: communityfirstvolunteers.org.au

Deadly Science

An initiative that aims to provide science books and easy reading material to remote schools in Australia. (It is also helping restocking books and resources to schools destroyed in the 2020 bush fires). It was started when founder Corey Tutt, a Kamilaroi man who is the 2020 NSW Young Australian of the Year, discovered that an Australian school he was talking to had just 15 books in their entire library.

W: deadlyscience.icu

Common Ground

Founded by Kaytetye woman Rona Glynn-McDonald to build a foundational level of knowledge for all Australians, and be a go to resource for those wanting to learn more and connect with our First Peoples. To help Australians see the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through providing access to engaging and authentic content that will help bridge gaps in knowledge.

W: www.commonground.org.au

First Nations publishing houses – publishing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories and voices

Magaala books (based in Broome, WA)

They published the award-winning Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, which looks at the historical evidence to challenge the commonly-held views of pre-colonial Australia and “Terra Nullius”.

W: magabala.com

Keeaira press

Established in 1996 with the purpose of recording Aboriginal history and culture.

W: kpress.com.au

Black Inc Press (Condon, QLD)

An Indigenous community-based publishing venture based in North Queensland, and specialising in illustrated books for young readers.

W: blackinkpress.wixsite.com/blackinkpress

Aboriginal Studies press

Publishing arm of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and publisher of Australian Indigenous studies. They publish scholarly works, children’s books, biographies, research papers and monographs across a broad range of topics.

W: aiatsis.gov.au/aboriginal-studies-press

Indij readers (Fountaindale, NSW)

An Aboriginal charity registered as a not-for-profit organisation, selling Indigenous children’s books.

W: indijreaders.com.au

Batchelor press (NT)

The publishing arm of Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Northern Territory, Australia. The teaching and learning resources are produced primarily for Indigenous students living in remote communities, the majority of whom have English as a second or third language.

W: batchelorpress.com

There are also non-Indigenous publishers who are putting out great work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and illustrators, and those books definitely still need reading too.

Non-Indigenous Not-for-Profit Organisations

Two non-Indigenous not-for-profit organizations worth mentioning for their work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait island communities.

Indigenous Literacy Foundation

A national not-for-profit charity focused on improving literacy levels in very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with Aboriginal board and staff members.

W: indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au

Waste Aid

Waste Aid Australia works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities to create long-term sustainable solutions to address inadequate waste management. Waste Aid works alongside communities to leverage their own skills and expertise to co-design and deliver waste solutions on their own land.

W: wasteaid.org.au

Sometimes it feels hard to know what to do to support others who aren’t in our immediate circle of friends, or our local community. I hope this list has given you some inspiration.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you know of any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people or organisations doing great work in the sustainability space? Any books you’ve read that you recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

The Australian Bushfire Crisis and How You Can Help

I’m sure this wasn’t how most of us imagined the new year would begin. There’s been a lot of talk of the climate crisis over the last 12 months, and of a climate emergency about to unfold, but I don’t think many of us expected it to arrive so soon and with so much intensity. Australia is on fire.

This is what the climate emergency looks like. And it’s not pretty.

10.3 million hectares have reportedly already burned (that’s an area bigger than Scotland), an estimated 1 billion animals killed, 25 people have been killed (including three volunteer firefighters, all with young families) and thousands of homes have been destroyed.

The fires may not have reached the cities, but the smoke has. Sydney and Canberra have been suffering for months. For context: air quality index readings over 200 are considered hazardous to health. Canberra’s air quality was reported to hit 7,700. That’s worse than Beijing and Delhi – notoriously polluted cities.

Remember the Amazon fires of 2019? These fires have burned 46% more land than those. And this is the start of a fire season that may continue for another 3 months.

You’re probably thinking that the government should step in and do something about it. You’d expect them to, right? However our Prime Minister has been lacking in any leadership in these issues.

And in the absence of any empathy, support or leadership from government, it has fallen to us to do something about it. Australia might seem far away, but the planet is our collective home. We might not be powerful, but there are many of us who care, who are angry, and who want to do something positive – turn our anger into action.

I put this together to help you choose how.

Let’s turn our heartache and pain and frustration into action.

Donating to the firefighters

The majority of firefighters in Australia are volunteers. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS), which covers 95% of NSW, is the largest volunteer fire service in the world, with more than 70,000 volunteers.

These volunteers are unpaid and they are exhausted. (In most cases they also don’t get paid time off to fight fires and have to use annual leave.)

New South Wales: donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service website (with details for credit card donations, direct deposits and international bank transfers)

The Australian comedian Celeste Barber set up a Facebook fundraising page for the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donation Fund, and has currently raised $48 million in donations (yes, you read that right: forty-eight million dollars). Facebook fundraisers make it easy for those overseas to donate and this one has been super successful, which is great! Just bear in mind that this fundraiser only covers NSW and there are other fire services (Australia has six states and two territories) that also need support.

South Australia: donate to the South Australia (SA) CFA via cfsfoundation.org.au/donate (donations are made by bank or credit card).

Victoria: The Country Fire Authority has options to donate to either specific CFA brigade of your choice, or to the CFA general public fund via their website: payments can be made by bank transfer, or cheques and money orders can be sent by post.

A Facebook fundraiser has also been set up for the CFA Brigades Donation Fund.

The Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) also has a Volunteer Welfare Fund which makes small grants on a needs basis to CFA volunteers and their families – designed to alleviate stresses that can affect an individual’s ability to continue as a volunteer. These donations can be made by credit card via the GiveNow platform (unlike the CFA donations, these are not tax deductible).

Donating to affected communities

South Australia: The State Emergency Relief Fund directs funds directly to those affected by bushfires in South Australia. It’s possible to donate by electronic funds transfer, credit card or cheque via the SA Bushfire Appeal.

Donations to the Kangaroo Island community can be made directly (by bank transfer only, international donations accepted) to the Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund.

Victoria: if you heard the stories of 4,000 people in Mallacoota being evacuated to the beach and rescued by the navy, that was East Gippsland. It’s possible to donate to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund by bank deposit (via any branch of NAB) or via credit card (Paypal) via gerf.com.au/donate.

The Victorian government has partnered with Bendigo Bank and the Salvation Army to establish the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, with 100% of donated funds going directly to communities in need. It is possible to donate from overseas. Due to a glitch in the system it does not allow overseas addresses, so please use the Foundation address –  PO Box 480 BENDIGO VICTORIA 3555 – to override the system and allow your donation to be made. Website: vic.gov.au/bushfireappeal

First Nations Communities: if you would like to donate to fire-affected First Nations communities (including those in Gippsland and the south coast of NSW) , this Fire Relief Fund GoFundMe page has been set up by a Yorta Yorta man. The fundraiser offers culturally sensitive, specific direct support to those affected.

Firesticks Alliance: are delivering an Indigenous led Cultural Fire program to support affected communities and countries to heal after the devastating fire crisis. Currently fundraising via Chuffed (a for-purpose crowdfunding platform.

The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) make grants to local not-for-profit groups for community-led projects that address the most pressing needs that emerge 12-18 months after a disaster event. Donations can be made to their Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund (you can find the donation page here).

Donating to humanitarian charities

Australian Red Cross: supporting people in evacuation centres and recovery hubs across Australia. Donations: fundraise.redcross.org.au/drr (donations by credit card)

Salvation Army: providing meals to evacuees and frontline responders, and other support. Donations within Australia: salvationarmy.org.au (donations by bank transfer, credit card or Paypal). Donations from overseas: donate.everydayhero.com

Save the Children: are raising funds to help support children affected by the bushfires crisis. If in Australia, it is possible to donate via their website savethechildren.org.au If outside Australia, you can donate via their Facebook Fundraiser.

St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies): providing bushfire relief efforts across all states. Donations here: donate.vinnies.org.au

Donating to wildlife organisations

Adelaide Koala Rescue (SA): helping koalas affected by the fires in South Australia. Donations can be made via their website: akr.org.au

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park (SA): raising funds to help koalas and other wildlife via a GoFundMe page.

Koala Hospital Port Macquarie (NSW): rescuing and rehabilitating koalas injured and made homeless by the bushfires. Their website koalahospital.org.au is struggling to deal with the surge in traffic but donations can also be made via their GoFundMe page.

NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES): provide wildlife education, rescue and care for animals in NSW. Donations can be made via their website wires.org.au or via their Facebook Fundraiser page.

The Rescue Collective (Queensland): based in Brisbane but supporting wildlife organisations throughout the east coast. Their bushfire appeal is raising funds to provide food, water and medication to wildlife in need. Donations via the website mkc.org.au.

Wildlife Victoria: a not-for-profit organisation rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming Victorian wildlife. Donations can be made via their website wildlifevictoria.org.au, and they also have a Facebook Fundraiser page and a GoFundMe page.

WWF Australia: are running an appeal to replant trees to restore habitat for extinction-threatened koalas in NSW and southern Queensland. Donations can be made via their website: donate.wwf.org.au

Donating things that aren’t money

Money is really the best thing you can donate, if you’re able. It means organisations can spend the money on exactly what they need in that moment. If you don’t want to give cash, donations of fuel cards or supermarket vouchers are most useful.

A lot of organisations have been overwhelmed with donations and are now respectfully declining offers due to the issues with storage and logistics with distribution. If you’ve been told second-hand about a request by an organisation for items, please check that the request is still current.

If you’re overseas, please also take into account the length of delivery time between sending your items and them arriving – they may no longer be required by then, so check with the organisation before sending.

If you’re not able to donate money, here are some ways to donate.

Donating accommodation: if you have extra space in NSW, you can offer it for free (to people who’ve been impacted by the fires, or to relief workers) via Airbnb’s Open Homes Disaster Relief (click the link and scroll half way down the page).

Other options include registering with findabed.info , which is supporting people across the east coast; or signing up with helpinghomes.com.au (as well as for humans, “room” can also be for pets and livestock).

Giving blood: the Red Cross’s blood donation service Lifeblood says they will need more donations in the coming weeks. You can find out if you’re eligible and find out how and where to give blood via donateblood.com.au.

Giving ‘stuff’: GIVIT – Goods for Good Causes is coordinating donations of items – you can either browse the list of items required, or submit what you have via the form on their website givit.org.au/give-items

Knitting and sewing pouches for orphaned joeys (baby kangaroos) and other marsupials: Young wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, gliders and possums all need pouches. Different animals need different sizes. WIRES has written an excellent guide if you’re keen to contribute in this way.

The Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild has an even more comprehensive guide for stitchers, knitters and crocheters with all kinds of patterns for pouches, wraps and other needs. You can find them on Facebook – the pinned post has their current most needed items.

Writing a Letter

If you’ve been meaning to write to your local politician urging action on climate change, now is that time. If you’re in Australia, great, but even if you are overseas, the climate emergency is a worldwide issue.

In Australia I’m told that the most effective way to communicate is by email rather than post.

First, you need to find your local MP and their contact details – just ask the internet. (In Australia you will have both a State and Federal MP and I would suggest writing to both.)

Next, you’ll need to know what you’re going to say.

I came across a letter by Anna Richards (via Instagram) which she sent to her local MP and I think it is a good template (it’s downloadable) if you’d like to write but are at a loss for what to say.

Joining a Protest

Protests are happening across Australia on Friday afternoon (January 10th). You might not be a protester. I’m not a protester, either. The September climate strike of 2019 was my second march ever… and my first was in 2001 (for student tuition fees).

I’m not a protester, but I’ll be there. Because it’s important. And I’m furious that it’s come to this. And I want our government to know. I want to be counted.

Hopefully you’ll be there too.

Sydney: 5.30pm Town Hall

Melbourne: 6pm State Library

Brisbane: 5pm King George Square

Canberra: 530pm Garema Place

Adelaide: 5pm Parliament

Perth: 5.30pm Forrest Place

Newcastle: 5.30pm City Hall

Geelong: Little Mallop Street Mall

Woolongong: 6pm Arts Precinct

If there’s one good* thing (* well, sorta) that has come out of the bushfire crisis, it’s the way that people have banded together, supported one another, donated and volunteered and taken action. Whilst I’d love you to share this, what I’d love you to do even more is to do something on this list. Take action, in whatever way you can. No matter how small. We’re in this together.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If there’s any good fundraising drives, interesting ways to donate or volunteer or anything else you think we need to know about, please share. And if you take an action, let us know what you did. As always, please share any other thoughts in the comments!