22 February 2011. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Canterbury, New Zealand, centred around Christchurch (at the time, the second most populous city in the country). There was widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure, already weakened by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that had occurred the previous September. Though a lesser magnitude, this second earthquake was far more destructive, because of its shallowness. 185 people died in what was New Zealand’s fifth deadliest disaster. Almost a decade later, the city is still being rebuilt.
That’s just one city. Now imagine how long it is going to take to recover from the devastation of the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires. At the end of last month, the fires (many still burning) had burnt over 18.5 million hectares, destroyed around 6000 buildings (around half of those, homes), killed an estimated 1.25 billion animals, and driven some species to extinction. The human death toll stands at 33.
Thankfully, there are a lot of individuals and groups throughout the world who are aware of the help that Australia needs, and doing their utmost to get it to them. Largely, these efforts may have seemed to people in the UK to have originated from outside Australia, and that does make a lot of sense. Those closest to the devastation are too busy dealing with it, and those further away can really only help by going there personally, or by helping through charitable events and releases. But I was not convinced this was necessarily the case.
I spoke to Lachlan Dale and Bonnie Stewart of Australian record label, Art As Catharsis to find out how they feel. One of the things I was interested was whether the perceived discrepancy of where most charitable actions were originating was actually accurate. Does charity come more naturally from a distance? Thankfully, I was reassured it does not, and though it may not be reported so much in the (social) media on this side of the globe, there has been an amazing local response in Australia.
In fact, so much so that Bonnie hadn’t heard of much of the international efforts, but was able to tell me that “There has been a lot going on here, with many artists organising bushfire relief shows, writing songs, or auctioning merch, and even gear.” I was particular interested, and heartened, to hear Bonnie tell me that she felt “the arts has been one of the most successful and active sectors in raising money for the fires. I think King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have just released some live albums with donations to WIRES actually. There has been so much, but to be honest I’ve felt so overwhelmed with it all, I haven’t taken in everything that everybody is doing…”
Bonnie, as Bonniesongs, has herself provided a song for charity. “I was in New Zealand over New Years which was when there was mass devastation around Australia. I felt so helpless and gutted, that I just wanted to be able to offer something. It’s a very small financial offering, but it felt like Sand Dunes would be of some weight at this time. The release was to honour Australia’s natural landscape and wildlife as well as to help send the message that the land is beautiful and we should take care of it.” All proceeds from Sand Dunes are going to the Australian bushfires charity WIRES, and you can buy it HERE. A live video can be watched below, and if you want to see more and are in the UK, Bonniesongs are co-headlining a tour with Yumi and the Weather in April and May. (Two more Art As Catharsis acts will be playing in the UK, too – with SEIMS and Lack The Low playing this year’s ArcTangent.)
Meanwhile label boss Lachlan, in his capacity as a band member of Hashshashin, is taking part in Prog Aid. Nine/Eight Touring, in conjunction with HeavyMag, Behind The Scene, and BHSS are holding this progressive music gig on March 15, and while you need to be in Australia to physically attend, remote tickets are being sold so that anyone in the world can watch a live stream of the performances. It’s an impressive bill to be part of, consisting of The Omnific, Teramaze, Red Sea, I Built The Sky, Hashshashin, Anubis, Hemina, Genetics, Halcyon Reign, and The Winter Effect. All proceeds from the show will be going to WIRES and the Australian Red Cross. Remote tickets for the live stream can be purchased HERE.
I don’t know if this is the first event of this type, but it’s definitely the first I’ve heard of, and I love the idea of it. Live Aid and Band Aid are big ideas that would just never work these days, but I can see a huge future for charity gigs like this, offering remote tickets. It’s a very clever way to include a greater audience, and raise a greater amount of money for charity.
I asked Lachlan how Hashshashin made it on to the bill, as while they might be my favourite band performing at Prog Aid (with last year’s sophomore album one of my favourite releases of 2019), they are certainly not as well-known as other bands playing. The answer was simpler than I expected, as these things often are. “ProgAid has been arranged by Nine/Eight Touring. They’ve interviewed us previously, and are really supportive of our music. We really appreciate the chance to play with bigger names like Teramaze, The Omrific and I Built The Sky.” If you’re not familiar with Hashshashin, do check out this performance of the final track from last year’s Badakhshan, Then He Hid Himself In The Refining Fire.
From a personal point of view I do hope the devastation of the Australian bushfires remains in the public consciousness for some time yet. News, by its very nature, needs to be new to be of interest. But it will take a long time to put things right, particularly when further fires are inevitable. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Christchurch is still recovering from its earthquake almost ten years on. It is just over ten years now, since Haiti was hit by their earthquake, and that country is not even as far forward in rebuilding as New Zealand.
It’s important to realise two things, in regard to the bushfires. The first is that they do occur annually in Australia. The second is that might be the case, but the 2019-2020 “season” has been particularly devastating. Lachlan points out that they “are more severe than anything else I can remember. For weeks Sydney city was choked with smoke to the point where I couldn’t leave windows open in my house. For days the entire city was sepia-toned, and at sunset the haze made me feel like I was in New Delhi rather than Sydney.”
Lachlan had a lot more to say, and rather than break it up, I’d rather present it here in full:
“This is an emergency that calls for an enormous response. It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of support and donations from the general public – it’s almost like this has been the first legitimate large-scale community response to climate change that I can recall – but we need more than that. We need concrete action to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce emissions and minimise man-made climate change.
It’s been touching to see the support and concern from around the world, but we can’t rely on the generousity of others – or even of the Australian public – to address the cause of these issues. If we fast forward ten years, these sorts of disasters will be common place. And if this happens again year after year our economy is going to be deeply damaged, and we won’t be able to properly finance a response. And that’s setting aside the ecological catastrophe: the species and ecosystems that have been irreparably damaged.
My parents lost a close friend of theirs in the fires. I also don’t want to minimise the very real costs of this tragedy: the people who have lost their lives, livelihoods and homes, and the scale of ecological destruction that is beyond imagining.
For too long climate change has been subject to political posturing in this country. Our democratic debate around the science of man-made climate change has been distorted by fossil fuel lobby groups. Our economy is reliant on income from mining, and there is a lot of money to be made in maintaining the status quo. It feels like the Liberal Party and Nationals (“the Coalition” who currently govern this country) are just openly corrupt.
Hopefully this recent disaster moves us closer to addressing climate change. These fires are only a small taste of what is to come for us in future years.”