How have you responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Are you decreasing, increasing or maintaining funding levels, or are you still assessing the situation?
The Carrawa Foundation has given more this year. We had done much of our granting by the time COVID-19 started. Our foundation is always looking at how we can get two results from one round of funding. When we are funding environmental benefits, we are also trying to also get social outcomes, particularly for Indigenous people and communities. Recently we have funded projects in the western deserts to support Aboriginal women as scientists and land managers, and to connect older women to country. The older women in particular have so many memories and stories from their country to share with the next generation.
Another group we support is Song Room which works with schools with high Indigenous populations, to get kids back on country with music. We have also funded the development of some cultural burning practices working with the NSW Rural Fire Service and local Indigenous communities. Cultural burning brings Indigenous youth back on country. Planning the burns was going really well after the summer fires, and we had a lot of burns lined up, but they were then held up by COVID-19. As of early August, we are starting to get going again. Lucky it hasn’t been a hot winter so we should get some cultural burns going before the next fire season hits.
These kinds of major shocks to the system, like COVID-19 and the bushfires, can have surprising outcomes. Do you think they will result in lasting change?
I was just talking to someone about this yesterday. My fear is that if there is a magic COVID-19 solution that arrived today all of the behaviour change people have made would be reversed. If you want permanent behaviour change, it takes 12-18 months to have a lasting impact.
When it comes to the bushfires, we had such a good autumn with plenty of rain, hopefully it keeps the fires at bay. I was fighting fires in August last year, luckily we aren’t this year.
What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?
One of the real problems for Aboriginal communities is that it is harder to get people in to assist in programs because of COVID-19. Communities are understandably reluctant to have outsiders come in. That has caused some really big issues. How to re-open communities is a real challenge that will have to be addressed.
On another note, I’ve been heavily involved with invasive species over the years. Thinking about Kosciuszko, because of the fires destroying so much habitat, the feral horses have ended up being overloaded in the few areas that haven’t been fire impacted. It has pushed the issue to absolute crisis point and finally created the crisis we needed for politicians to act, and we have finally seen the NSW Environment Minister get involved which had been very difficult previously.
The pandemic has impacted how we live, work and interact with each other. Did you develop any new hobbies during lockdown?
Sadly, I’ve noticed a lot of native tree nurseries have disappeared in the past six-months. Here in the Central West of NSW, about five or six have disappeared. So I’ve started saving native seeds from my property in the Central West and growing them in Sydney with more time on our hands. I then cart them back to the farm to plant them out.
Scientists estimate 3 Billion animals died from the black summer bushfires. Do you think there’s a role for philanthropy in addressing the ecological impact of the fires?
There is. The issue is what is the role of government. Philanthropy is good at taking on high risk approaches and then government can take on the impactful ones which bear fruit. The fires and COVID-19 are natural events which are largely beyond human control. They remind us of our position in the world. There will be no magic solutions, we have to work together and help others. That is the core of the philanthropic mantra.