Last weekend, the country celebrated a turning point in what has been one hellish summer. The Fire Fight Australia concert pulled out the big guns with dozens of Aussie and International legends rocking Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. Queen and Adam Lambert played their famous 1985 Live Aid set in full, with Freddie Mercury beamed above the 80,000 strong crowd. His appearance was as miraculous as the recent rains that hammered the east coast, extinguishing all the major bushfires. As KD Lang sang, Hallelujah.
This summer has been one that will remain scorched into the memory of every Australian. We’ve not only endured months of fire and smoke, grief and stress, and for many people unfathomable loss, but we’ve also given generously. Already, well over half a billion dollars has been donated to various charities, along with time, goods and services. But what now?
Supporting local businesses is an excellent way of helping the broader community rebuild. Turia Pitt launched a Spend With Them campaign via Instagram that encourages mindful shopping at this time, connecting followers to small businesses that need support. She said on her Instagram account “This is a way to put money directly in the pockets of the people and communities who need it most, and need it NOW.”
Gloria Steinman is quoted as saying, “Wherever I go, bookstores are still the closest thing to a town square.” This holds true over the past few months in Australia. Families have taken refuge in local bookshops after losing their homes. Local booksellers are supporting families and schools as they rebuild. But these stores also need support. They have lost the important summer tourist trade that sees them through the rest of the year.
Janice Sagar from Moruya Books explains, “We rely on the income we make over the summer, but it’s not just the tourist season. Hundreds of homes were lost. Many of these are my customers. They’re not able to buy books when they’re living in vans.”
With neither tourist nor local dollars being spent there, many of these communities are now at risk of losing their local bookstores. Their ‘town squares’.
Help is at hand but it needs to be ongoing. The Children’s Book Council of Australia has partnered with Givit in their ‘Books for Bushfires’ campaign. Donations will be used to purchase books from local bookshops for fire-affected families and communities. Aussie publishers are also getting behind these stores and sending book donations for schools that have lost everything.
Janice said, “The support we’ve received from the publishing industry has been incredibly helpful. All the publishers have called and asked how they can help. It means so much to have this support.”
A number of booksellers were also appreciative of what Michelle Evans from Ulladulla’s Harbour Bookshop calls “the Penguin Random House road trip.”
Penguin Random House CEO, Julie Burland, and Sales Director, Gavin Schwarcz visited the bookshops on the south coast of NSW that have been impacted by the fires. They took with them extensive orders from colleagues, buying from each store and discussing with booksellers how they could support them for the foreseeable future.
Julie said, “The people on the south coast have been through so much and we thought it was important that we visited the stores as a show of support, seeing first-hand the size and scale of destruction the fires have caused is absolutely heartbreaking. Our booksellers have an amazing community spirit and their resilience is truly inspirational, we are lucky to have them and we were keen to do something to support them in a practical way.”
One of the key aspects of the trip, and a way everyone can support these stores, was to buy gift vouchers that are now used for local customers to restock books lost in the fires. We all know how precious certain books can be to us. They represent periods in our lives, in our children’s lives. Many booksellers are helping families replace the books that are important to them.
Michelle said, “Customers are so emotional when they receive the vouchers. We have children coming in to replace their favourite books… People cry at the counter. There is so much trauma and small gestures like these make a huge difference.”
These bushfires have burnt us out. With countless people and animals in need, and so many charities to choose from, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choice. How can we actually help, not just as the country burns but well after the fires are out?
American writer and philosopher, Loren Eiseley wrote a story called The Star Thrower that is widely quoted today and one I often share with my sons in situations like these.
Very badly paraphrased, it goes something like this…
An old man and young boy were on the beach after a big storm had passed and found the beach covered with starfish. The young boy bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it back into the ocean. He did this a few times, before the old man, overwhelmed by the endless beached starfish said, “There are too many of them, boy. You can’t make a difference.”
The young boy reached for another starfish and flung it into the ocean. “I made a difference to that one.”
You can’t make a difference to all the starfish, or all the animals caught in the bushfires, or all the people or even all the bookshops.
But you can make a difference to one.
Over the coming weeks, Better Reading will feature bookshops that have been impacted by the fires. We will give details of how you can support these businesses while they rebuild. If you know of any stores that need our support, please get in touch.