The people trapped on beaches or in South Coast towns have also shown community spirit and grace under pressure. They have accepted queues at the few supermarkets and petrol stations that remained open and bunked down together in evacuation centres.
Yet this unity has been tarnished by some other ugly sides of Australia. Several people have been charged with looting damaged or abandoned properties.
Another 24 have been charged in NSW with either deliberate arson or reckless lighting of fires, while more still were charged with breaches of the fire bans.
Although statistics suggest this is a relatively minor cause of fires, it is incredible that when the nation is facing an inferno some people want to make it worse and others are criminally irresponsible. Australians are just as capable of being stupid as they are heroes.
If that was not bad enough, the reaction to the bushfires has exposed how ugly the divisions are in Australia over issues such as climate change. This crisis has drawn the world’s attention and many have been shocked by Australia’s refusal to accept the science of climate change and the role a scientific consensus says it plays in making bushfires and droughts more likely and more severe.
In many other countries this is a bipartisan issue but here Liberal Party backbench MP Craig Kelly continues to talk nonsense that embarrasses Australia.
The bushfires have also exposed the vitriol of Australia’s culture wars. Foreign media were amazed by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s attack on “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” when asked about the issue of climate change in December.
The bushfires have confirmed that many Australians no longer trust experts and increasingly turn to cranks and hate-merchants on social media for answers to complex questions.
Rather than taking the time to look for evidence of what caused the fires and what needs to be done to mitigate their effects, ill-informed online campaigns are looking for scapegoats.
The internet is full of conspiracy theories that have, for instance, inflated the role of arsonists in starting the fires. Some claim a Chinese fifth column started the blazes.
The internet and the usual climate-sceptic sections of the media have simultaneously leapt to the conclusion that this could all have been avoided by hazard reduction burns in national parks.
But true experts, such as the commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service Shane Fitzsimmons, have firmly stated that hazard reductions are a strong weapon but they are not a “panacea”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the bushfires would show the “Australian spirit” and it is true that there have been great examples of strength in adversity, resilience and mateship.
But the crisis has also shown we sometimes struggle to listen to those with expertise or conduct a polite and rational debate before making decisions on complicated problems.
The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.
Since the Herald was first published in 1831, the editorial team has believed it important to express a considered view on the issues of the day for readers, always putting the public interest first. Elsewhere, we strive to cover a diversity of views without endorsing any of them.