Young Ontario girl donates ‘life savings’ to philatelic fundraiser for Australia bushfires

By Jesse Robitaille

An 11-year-old girl from the Greater Toronto Area has donated all her money – $60 – to a fundraiser organized by an online stamp forum for Australia’s devastating bushfires.

Glen Stephens, the Australia-based stamp dealer and owner of Stampboards, first made an appeal for donations on Jan. 2. Within two weeks, $10,000 poured in from collectors around the world, including in Mississauga, where an aspiring zoologist used her “life savings” to help save the koala’s habitat, Stephens said.

“How few good news stories have come out of this tragedy? Darn few,” said Stephens, of Castlecrag, Australia, who’s a life member of the American Stamp Dealers Association and Philatelic Traders Society.

“Anyway, this one has a brilliant feel-good Canada connection and is pretty heartwarming.”

Glen Stephens, an Australia-based stamp dealer and owner of stampboards.com, where the bushfire fundraiser was co-ordinated, mailed Fallon several zoo-related collectibles as a show of thanks.

Brad Fallon, of Mississauga, Ont., who goes by the username “Uppercanadian” on Stampboards, recently donated $60 on behalf of his daughter, Sophia, who’s a “huge fan” of the koala.

“It is her very favourite animal,” wrote Fallon, “which says a lot for someone who wants to be a zoologist one day. Her dream is to move to Australia, but she is pressuring us to at least take a trip there very soon so she can go (to) Sydney Zoo and hold a koala.”
Heartbroken over the fires in Australia, she donated “all of the money she has,” Fallon added.

“Sophia thanks you for your generosity and time in doing this for Australia (and the koalas).”

Sophia’s donation spurred Stephens to auction a hand-signed, hand-numbered $6 “Koala Research” mini-sheet issued by Australia in 1990 for the fundraiser. As of Jan. 15, it had a top bid of $100.

In a show of gratitude, Stephens also mailed Sophia one of the signed and numbered 1990 mini-sheets plus a pair of 1995 Australia koala sheets, one regular and another overprinted by Australia Post for that year’s Australian Stamp Exhibition.

“As Sophia is aiming to be a zoologist, I added a range of zoo-based stamps as franking that were laying about my junkyard of a desk,” said Stephens, who’s also a prolific philatelic writer – including, on occasion, for CSN.

A stamp collector, Sophia has “a few small collections” of mostly animal and plants, her father said.

Forum members are also auctioning items to raise money for the bushfire appeal fund.

“Stampboards is a true global community, and we show time and time again that we do care, and that makes me very, very proud,” said Stephens.

Among the stamps mailed by Stephens to Fallon is a hand-signed and numbered ‘Koala Research’ mini-sheet.

PAST FUNDRAISERS

Stampboards members have raised money for several past tragedies, including Myanmar’s worst natural disaster, from Cyclone Nargis, in 2008, when collectors raised about $20,000.

“We had a man on the ground that we knew from our visits there buy tents, plastic sheets, candles, cooking pots, canned food, fresh water, sacks of rice and cooking oil, etc., and take them by boat directly to many of those left homeless and without any food or shelter in the ensuing downpours,” wrote Stephens on the forum, adding these funds “reached survivors days before any foreign NGO (non-governmental organization) could get into the country as the Burmese military stymied all relief support for a week.”

As money is donated for the current Australia bushfires, it’s being sent to the Salvation Army Bushfire Disaster Appeal, which Stephens called a “respected and highly trusted, very low overhead, mostly volunteer national body” with a fleet of food and aid caravans across Australia.

“Everyone reading this globally is aware of the unprecedented catastrophe occurring in all states of Australia right now,” said Stephens.

“Like everyone, I am sure, one feels quite helpless and dazed and powerless to do anything to help, and everyone, even if not directly affected, wants to assist in some small way.”

Despite assistance coming in the form of money and personnel from around the world, “this crisis is not even remotely over,” added Stephens. “Huge fires are still burning and bushfire season has two months to run, so ongoing assistance will be needed.”

To see the fundraising thread on Stampboards, visit tinyurl.com/FiresOz.

FORUM MEMBERS

Stampboards.com is the world’s largest stamp forum with more than 6.25 million posts made through its 13-year existence. Some of the forum’s Canadian moderators include Ontario dealers John Armstrong, owner of Armstrong’s Stamps, and Greg Barcroft, owner of Jace Stamps. Award-winning exhibitor, collector and member of Canada Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee Jean Wang, of Toronto, plus collector Mark Wrobel, of Stoney Creek, Ont., are also moderators.

ONGOING DISASTER

The current Australian bushfires are the result of record-breaking temperatures and severe ongoing drought, according to reports from the country’s officials.

As of Jan. 14, more than 100 separate fires were burning in the south-eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria. Death tolls include about 30 people and one billion animals – some possibly driven to extinction – as a nearly 19 million hectares (186,000 square kilometres) have burned – an area larger than England’s landmass of 13 million hectares.

Late last year, four deployments totalling 87 Canadian firefighters were sent through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, marking the first time since 2009 Canadian personnel were deployed to Australia.

In 2009, 173 people died when 450,000 hectares of Australia burned during the “Black Saturday” bushfires, which saw upwards of 400 individual fires recorded on Saturday, Feb. 7 of that year. It’s among Australia’s all-time worst bushfires and resulted in the country’s highest loss of human life from a bushfire ever.

The causes of the recent bushfires are varied and complex, according to the Australian Academy of Science.

“Bushfires, along with other weather and climate challenges, pose complex and wide-ranging problems. Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle and address.”

The AAS is recommending improved policies to remedy the ongoing problem.

“Everything, including urban planning; building standards; habitat restoration; biodiversity and species preservation; and land, water and wildlife management will need careful and measured consideration.”

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