Australians are overwhelmed at the support from the Cook Islands community towards the victims of the devastating bushfires.
Cook Islanders here and abroad are running fundraising drives in a bid to help victims of the bushfires which continues to spread across Australia.
Cook Islands Police this week held various fundraisers to support the cause, culminating in a family concert last night.
And in Australia, the Cook Islands community has also visited some of the affected areas and donated boxes of food and water.
Chris Munn, the charge d’affaires of the newly-established Australian High Commission in Cook Islands, says the support has sent a message that Australians are not alone in the time of grief.
Australia had previously come to the rescue when Cook Islands and other Pacific island countries needed support, especially post cyclones and other natural disasters.
But Munn says to see the same from the Pacific island countries has “really touched them”.
“I would like to acknowledge and thank the police force for their fundraising appeal for bushfire relief. I was really touched when I heard about this the other day and I went to see the Police Commissioner (Maara Tetava) to offer my thanks personally,” Munn says.
“It’s an incredible effort by the Cook Islands Police for a country which is quite a long way away but have the emotional ties.”
Munn also acknowledges the statements made by the Pacific islands leaders that “Australia is part of the Pacific”.
Australians have always tried to come to help Pacific island countries when help is needed, he says.
“But we are really touched that it’s been done in reverse. It’s not unexpected but it’s very, I suppose, generous. I think people have seen on TV (the effects of bushfires) and it’s incredible to see that people here do care.”
ei George, a member of the Cook Islands community based in Sydney, New South Wales, has also been leading a campaign to help the victims of the bushfires in her state.
George has teamed up with her husband Ben Tokahere, putting up a post on their 3rdAve apparel business Facebook page, asking the local community for donations of bottled water, non-perishable food, clothes, household items, etc.
The post – which generated 150,000 views – led to people knocking at their door with donations.
“We thought we would get a couple boxes of food and cases of water. We received phones calls all hours of the day with people wanting to help. We were amazed by the different cultures, total strangers who came by with car loads of donated goods,” George says.
“What started with one table filled of donations ended up with our entire granny flat, deck and garage full of supplies by the end of the week.”
They also received support from Cook Islands Touch Association New South Wales leaders Terry and Joanne Joe, who helped drive the appeal in the Cook Island community by gathering donations and assisting with packing and loading.
n Saturday last week, George and her team of Good Samaritans loaded their trucks and made a nine hour drive to Wallaga Lake to distribute the goods to the bushfires victims there.
“We headed to a local indigenous community in Wallaga who were in need of supplies.
“We arrived at 9pm and we were welcomed onto the Koori village by Warren Foster and Terry Hill who graciously accepted our donations.
“We were welcomed into Uncle Terry Hill’s home where we spent the night while he told us dreamtime (aboriginal stories) all night,” George says.
The following day, the Cook Islands group returned to the indigenous community where they hosted a BBQ lunch.
“As they we having lunch Terry Joe bought out his uke and we entertained them with some Cook Island music.
“We said a few speeches and shed tears together, their culture is very similar to our Cook Islands culture.
“We walked into Wallaga Lakes as strangers and walked out family.”
Chris Munn said they were also touched by the support from the Pacific islands communities in Australia.
“We certainly aren’t expecting anything more from the Cook Islands, what the police and the community in Australia have done is more than enough,” he says.
“I think emotionally it sends a message to the people of Australia that we are not alone. And the same after cyclones or tsunamis or something in the Pacific, they will know that they are not alone.
“Australia, New Zealand and their friends will come and help.”