REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: You can sew animal pouches for our burnt friends, too

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by a guest, one-time ACM journalist Jeanette Stephen.

"City people don't care about what's happening in the country ..."

This comment cut to the core during a visit to see my farming cousins in drought-stricken Queensland.

"No way - you're sooo wrong," I protested

And as if proof were needed that this noisy crowded metropolis of Sydney ever had a beating heart, then the weekend was it.

I still consider myself a country girl even though I've been living in this place for close on two decades now.

The stories incrementally filling our screens and newspaper pages over the past year with the heartache of drought inching across our dry, cracked land were never something distant or far away for me.

Even though the skyscrapers and terraces stood like shields amid the beeping construction cranes from everything occurring beyond Greater Sydney, the ache over the absence of rain was much more palpable than an 'oh, isn't it terrible?' comment you'd once hear from someone washing their car with a hose.

I could still feel the pain of the communities I grew up in and the sturdy resilient people who made up those communities. Tough as nails.

But really, how much more could they take?

And then came the fires. And the full force was upon those most exposed - the animals.

One image, I fear, will haunt me forever from this crisis... one little koala on the ground, raising up its arms and crying out in clear despair at the brutally burning landscape, all glowing orange embers against the black. Still chokes me up.

So when I heard word of an initiative happening in inner Sydney to gather together the city's crafters to produce 2000 pouches, pillows and wraps in one weekend for the rescued wildlife from the bushfires - I was in.

The author Jeanette Stephen at the weekend sew-in for bushfire-injured wildlife.

The author Jeanette Stephen at the weekend sew-in for bushfire-injured wildlife.

About 700 volunteers rolled up to the two-day event - the second of its kind - organised by designer Charlotte Appleby, aka The English Tailoress, and her newly-formed Alexandria Animal Rescue Hub collective.

I was stationed with the pattern cutting team, working on linings for the kangaroo pouches ranging from extra small to extra large.

Even the mere wandering thought of the state of the little furry, feathered and scaled Aussies who would soon be snuggling into these pieces during their treatment and rehab was enough to bring many of us to tears.

"I really wanted to help the animals," Bondi local Naomi Lieberfreund said. "I just keep imagining them scared and suffering out there alone in the burnt forests, injured with no trees, no water, no food. Something like 500,000 wildlife have died already I heard, maybe more, that's horrific.

"I saw the post about this sewing hub and I thought 'I can do that - I can help.'

"I didn't know anything about sewing but I'm an artist with a good eye."

Geraldine Sturzenbaum came in from Camden to volunteer with the sewing machinists on both days.

"I grew up in the bush and the threat of bushfires is on our mind every summer (and every other season now too). My Mum had koalas in her garden just a few weeks ago.," Geraldine said.

"Seeing these forlorn, injured animals on TV, I wanted some way to help and, as I am good at sewing I thought it would be ideal to be able to use a skill that not everyone has."

For Inner Sydney resident Leigh Worth, the event brought together different communities.

All hands on deck in Sydney's Alexandria for our injured wildlife.

All hands on deck in Sydney's Alexandria for our injured wildlife.

"Well, I'm a pensioner so I have more time than money and I love Australian animals. I thought it was quite well-organised with different spaces for fabric, cutting, sewing, ironing and eating.

She pointed out a group of men joined the cutting squad on Sunday, "picking up a pair of scissors", standing strong for an under-represented demographic.

"I didn't realise it was ever going to be as big as this - we're hitting the ground running," Charlotte Appleby told me, the final tally standing at 2450 items.

And that's just what was created on the ground over the weekend.

Volunteers have also offered to drive Charlotte and her team to the NSW South Coast on Wednesday to deliver some of the items made and to see what else is needed and where.

A fellow 'country girl', Charlotte only came to Australia in July, hailing from Hertfordshire in the UK.

"We don't get bushfires at home," she says. "I was really upset by the fires but the response has been incredible. We've received medical supplies for the animals and food as well as the soft items."

Huge boxes of syringes in all sizes, bandages and other veterinary items have filled a room.

Homemade items for injured wildlife - crafted to the weekend's patterns found here courtesy of Piccolo Studio's blog - have also been pouring in from across the UK, United States and Canada. Donations are still being accepted if you want to get the Janome out.

Now, Charlotte says, the focus is on delivery and distribution - particularly reaching individual carers who may live in very remote areas.

The coming weeks will see another call-out to city volunteers to again pick, pack and send items to areas of need, while also asking remote wildlife carers to get in touch via the Alexandria Animal Rescue Hub's Facebook page.

"It's a real passion and I'm really prepared to do what I can here - I just needed people to help me, and they have."

See? This city - and the world - cares. We really do.

Jeanette Stephen, former farm kid and regional journalist now turned city dweller

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