How an international student helped Australia rebuild after bushfires

Due to Australia’s sweltering heat, bushfires can start from something as simple as a cigarette butt to a malicious arson. Students that were here this summer can probably attest to how bad the bushfires were this season. Not only were they raging in several areas of Victoria but also came dangerously close to suburbia.

Bushfires are viewed as a serious danger due to Australia’s past history. Back in 2009, Victoria experienced the worst bushfires, later dubbed as ‘Black Saturday’. Over 170 people lost their lives in the fire, a little more than 2000 homes were destroyed, and over 400 people were injured or temporarily torn apart.  Australia still feels the gravity of these losses, and communities remain fearful of another out-of-control blaze burning through their lives.

Bushfires are fires that occur mostly in rural areas due to extreme heat conditions such as searing 40 degree days. What starts the fire vary from deliberately lit fires, a spark from operating machinery, barbecues on total fire ban days, open fires and much more.

Due to the vast greenery that Australia is blessed with, the fires are able to spread quickly, claiming lives and homes in the process. A mixture of hot weather and windy conditions are the perfect recipe for a Bushfire, making it a big threat to not only the local community but also international students.

Ex-international student and Black Saturday volunteer, David Goei, speaks of his memories with the fires and where he sees the role international student’s have in helping.

Although David now lives in Singapore, he is a stead-fast Melbournian at heart.

“The years after the first in Melbourne were the most transformative of my life, they made me the man I am today,” he said.

He was exposed to the bushfire news leading up to Black Saturday by television, with Facebook or Twitter not yet the news engine tycoon it is today.

David has a history of volunteering for people who find themselves in the wake of nature’s unpredictable power. When he received word of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Indonesia, David volunteered with Singapore’s Armed Forces’ rescue operations without a second thought. So it’s no surprise that David also offered his time to help the Australian community rebuild after Black Saturday.

His efforts would go on to change lives, one especially being Colin Timms. Colin had his home destroyed by the bushfires and was in the process of rebuilding a log cabin home in Marysville.

“He had not completed the initial stages of the process, so I organised a group of student volunteers (shout out to the OCFers of 2009!) to head up and help him strip bark from the trees. We’d like to think we helped him but boy, was he far more efficient than us! Ha! We also helped by preparing the meals for the day, so he did not have to cook at all,” David explained.

However, David remembers the grim realities and disastrous impacts of the bushfires too. Colin took them to his backyard one day which faced a forest to show them the damage.
“He pointed out a hundred odd year-old tree that had been felled and how the nearby waterfall had been dammed up. Almost everywhere was charred black or muddy brown,” David recounts.

Despite this, Victoria managed to pick itself up with the help of many volunteers, including international students like David. Colin’s home was eventually rebuilt, and communities banded together to help others in a similar situation. Year after year, however, the fires still threaten Victoria.

David believes that while students may be aware of the bushfires, overwhelming news cycles today ironically downplay the severity of bushfires. Speaking from experience, he advises students who want to help but don’t know how to that the most important thing is to provide assistance safely.

“There are tonnes of ways to assist from an indirect position, such as raising awareness and supporting policies for climate change to prevent the fires from getting worse. Prevention IS better than cure after all.”

In line with that, Crime Stoppers Victoria representative Cass Joyce also urges students to be vigilant during extreme heat days

“Reckless fires cost lives. We need your help to keep the community safe from bushfires this summer by being aware of your own fire behaviour and that of others,” Cass said.

She also urges students to learn the fire rules for their local areas or areas they’re planning to travel to.

“If you know of anyone engaging in reckless fire behaviour or have any information about reckless or deliberately lit fires, we urge you to make a report to Crime Stoppers Victoria confidentially,” she stated.

It is a criminal offence to cause a bushfire recklessly, because one ember is all it takes to ignite a full blown blaze. Reckless behaviours can include lighting fires at home, the use of firecrackers, leaving a campfire unattended, lighting bins on fire and much more.

If students witness any behaviours they believe can lead to a dangerous fire, they should report it to Crime StoppersVictoria immediately.

For students who want to do more, David recommends putting out a message to local clubs or communities that you want to aid in bushfire relief. There are like-minded individuals out there that will reach out.

When asked why he so strongly wanted to help out with bushfire rebuilding efforts, David said other than it being the right thing to do, he believes there is an overarching implication for the future of Australia because international students are the face of their home nation, and of all the people who have hopes of living in Australia.

“With the current political climate, it is not the leaders of your respective countries or the celebrities that the people of Australia are looking at, it is you. Every time you litter, every time you smile and say thank you, they are watching and remembering.”

“Remember, we are visitors in Australia and if we hold hopes of actually living there in the future, whilst honouring our roots and traditions, we must integrate and embrace Australian culture (and really, it is pretty awesome).”

He believes the impact international students have in their host country can be a positive one.

“Somewhere in the small town of Marysville, there is a garden which was once crowned the most beautiful in Victoria and at the centre, a charred tree trunk which bears the names of Australians and international students from Singapore and Malaysia alike who helped a man rebuild his life.”

Students who want to report any reckless behaviours that can lead to bushfires should contact Crime Stoppers Victoria at 1800 333 000 or at All reports are confidential and students can choose to stay anonymous. In dire emergencies, contact 000.

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