Why I’m still travelling to Australia during the bushfire crisis
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You’ve likely heard about the devastating bushfires that have been ravaging Australia for months. I’m Australian born and bred, and bushfires in summer are a fairly common fact of life. What has been unprecedented this summer is both how early the fires have started and how ferocious and widespread they have been.
Worryingly, there’s still plenty of summer left to come. Temperatures can be scorching in multiple states through the end of March.
I’ve been following the bushfire crisis online from London as well as receiving regular updates from family and friends. Fortunately, my city-based family has not been directly affected by the fires, though they know plenty of people who have.
I’ve been living in the U.K. for almost four years now and haven’t been back home for two years, but I’m heading to Australia this week for a visit.
To be honest, I’m nervous about what to expect when I arrive. Will the air be full of smoke? Will friends really care about my visit, given what they’ve been through the past month or two? I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about this trip, and here is why I’m still going.
I want to help
I’ve already donated money to a bushfire fundraising campaign, but beyond sending money, I’m feeling quite helpless. The photos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard are almost too devastating to believe. While I’m not a firefighter, I do want to help when I am there —even if that means being there for those people who have been directly affected.
I want to best understand what they are going through and help where I can.
Australian tourism will suffer
I’ve heard of other travellers cancelling their trips because of the fires. The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning for visitors to “exercise increased caution” due to “natural disaster/bushfires”, while the Home Office has said “If you’re in or near an affected area or planning any travel, stay safe, monitor TV news, radio and social media channels for updates, and follow the instructions and advice of local authorities”.
Australian Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has said that Australia is very much “still open for business” though, and that “most destinations around Australia remain safe and are unaffected by bushfires”.
If you were specifically visiting an area directly affected right now, it might be a wise decision to postpone. But if you are visiting major cities and are worried the smoke might mean less-than-perfect Instagram photos of the Sydney Opera House, I would encourage you to consider how supporting the Australian tourism economy can help the country as a whole. As a point of reference, Australia has been given the same travel advisory level from the U.S. government as destinations like the Maldives, the Netherlands and even the United Kingdom.
There is an Instagram account that has been set up to promote businesses that have been hardest hit by the bushfires called @spendwiththem, so the public knows which brands to support. My sister was married at Golding Winery in Adelaide several years ago and I was there for her special day, so I’m looking forward to hunting down a bottle or two of its wine while I’m Down Under.
It’s a huge, beautiful country
Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world by land mass and a similar size to the whole of Europe. There’s plenty of this country to explore, and plenty of places that have not been affected by the fires.
Even if the mood amongst family and friends may be sombre, I’m confident that I will still be able to enjoy visiting and enjoying everything Australia has to offer, and maybe even put a smile on the faces of some residents that are living through a difficult time.
I love being in Australia at this time of year, as there are long days and nights of dry heat to enjoy, which is great coming from a grey, dark and cold U.K.
I’m excited about seeing family and friends I haven’t seen for two years but at the same time nervous about what my “sunburnt country” home of Australia will look and feel like. I’m pushing on with the trip because I want to help beyond just sending thoughts and donations from the other side of the world and I’m sure I can still enjoy this wonderful country.
Featured image by Getty Images/PETER PARKS/Contributor