Sydney: It’s become a symbol of this year’s tragic holiday season in Australia: a tree crafted from burned bicycles, charred wood and even a fire alarm collected in areas scorched by raging bush fires.
The “burnt Christmas tree” is on display in Sydney’s central business district as “a symbol of support for those who’ve lost their homes and livelihood,” according to the Australian Red Cross, which helped set it up as part of a fundraising campaign.
In the meantime, Australians, aren’t giving up. Aid groups such as the Salvation Army have set up stations across effected areas, while volunteer firefighters have deployed for weeks now despite the low pay and many dangers, including death. Charities are urging people to buy gifts, anything from crafts to a Christmas ham, from businesses in areas affected by the fires. Even firefighters in Canada have offered to give up their Christmas or winter break to come to Australia and help fight the blaze.
There have been little moments of luck or, for some, miracles, along the way.
A man who calls himself Neil - who told Australia’s ABC that he “wished to remain anonymous because he believes that is part of the fun” - has for the past seven years decorated one tree along a road in Queensland with Christmas lights and cheer, after his wife first came up with the idea. Last year, their efforts went locally viral on Facebook when they added solar-powered lights. This year, Neil was so sure the yuletide tree would be lost to the flames that he had already bought new decorations.
But help came in the form of 70-year-old volunteer firefighter Curl Santacaterina, who insisted they save that tree. And so Santacaterina bravely stood on the back of a firetruck and sprayed a hose to water the tree as flames raged around him.
“We’re really, really pleased that everybody is getting a buzz out of it and getting a bit of Christmas spirit,” Neil told ABC.
He added, “When I heard it had been saved I guess I almost got a bit emotional about it. ... I thought ‘wow, this has really taken off and got a bit of community spirit - a bit of something happening.’ “