As Australians, we belong to an ancient land with a story that spans 60,000 years.

From the oldest continuing culture in the world, to our most modern chapter; all drawn on the sweat, struggle and courage of millions of ordinary citizens.

We are a people who prevail. Not through luck or chance or fortune, but by our efforts and our willingness to stand by each other. That’s why I’m so hopeful.

From the ancient to present day – we have attracted people from around the world to our shores to create our distinct and diverse culture.

Australia has had a difficult summer.

The horrific and unprecedented bushfires have claimed 33 lives – including nine brave firefighters – and destroyed over 2900 homes, with more than 10.4 million hectares burnt out.

It is an unprecedented environmental disaster, devastating ecosystems and wildlife, already suffering from prolonged drought, and exacerbated by our changing climate.

Such heartbreak defies words, and our love and thoughts are with every Australian impacted, especially those who have lost family and friends.

Yet in the worst of times, we can see the best in our country: the Australian volunteer spirit has shone this summer.

We’ve witnessed heroism, grace and generosity from Australians everywhere. A groundswell that this Australia Day calls us to reflect on our beautiful continent – and the unique way we look after each other when threats and challenges arise.

Our volunteering spirit recognises that being an Australian is about what you bring to the country.

We know that being Australian is about making a contribution, rather than taking one.

It’s about knowing that the rights and rewards of being an Australian are exceeded only by our individual responsibilities to our nation to make it even stronger.

So much of our nation’s character resides in the strength and vitality of thousands of local communities working together. A sum greater than its parts. In turn, these communities are dependent on the strength of the families and individuals who live alongside each other and support one another.

This unrelenting fire season, our volunteer fire services and emergency services volunteers have led the way. Their courage has been extraordinary, even as they grieved the loss of mates and colleagues.

On top of this, many have kept up the effort despite losing their own home or suffering property damage.

It’s a spirit which we must honour and celebrate this Australia Day.

Behind every volunteer there is a story of service and dedication.

One NSW volunteer firey Alex Newcombe was in the thick of it just 12 weeks after a kidney transplant. His donor was none other than his wife Kate – a fellow firefighter in the same brigade.

Our volunteers have been joined by the Australian Defence Force, with almost 6500 men and women assisting our fire efforts. For the first time in our history, the Government has enacted a compulsory call-out of the ADF Reserve Brigades with about 3,000 Reservists.

One of those called-out was Lieutenant Kynan Lang from the 10th/27th Battalion. On the day the call came through to be part of Operation Bushfire Assist, Kynan was at home, shattered because he had just been told he’d lost his uncle and cousin in the Kangaroo Island fires.

Lieutenant Lang didn’t blink when he got the call. He packed his kit and joined the deployment to Kangaroo Island.

It’s what Australians all over have done all summer long, rallying behind each other with courage, sacrifice, generosity and resilience.

Like the more than 150 truckies who formed a convoy to bring supplies and smiles to Buchan and Omeo in East Gippsland.

Among them were cattle farmers, diesel mechanics, tree loppers and beekeepers.

They were dubbed an “army of angels”.

Also on the road was a group of Muslim men from Auburn, who loaded their ute with 30kg of sausages and drove six hours to cook a barbecue for the devastated community of Willawarrin in northern NSW.

And the Sydney to Casino XPT train made a special unscheduled stop one day in Rappville to deliver five-gallon drums of lollies for children.

Communities have also welcomed those in need with open arms.

Cricket ovals, showgrounds and community halls across Australia have become evacuation centres. Churches and RSL clubs are offering shelter and meals. The CWA, Lions, Rotary, and Apex Clubs are all lending a hand.

At the Queanbeyan Showgrounds, scores of people from the Snowy Mountains and the south coast are being supported. Donations have rolled in: prams and phone chargers, toys, DVDs and home-cooked meals. Teenagers have turned up with hot pies after their Saturday holiday jobs and the local pound offered shelter for pet dogs.

Australians, wherever they are, are putting up their hand and donating generously: millions of dollars have been raised for charities including the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul to provide food, fuel and cash.

Small businesses are pitching in too – using general stores as collection points, opening early to give victims clothes to wear, offering water or meals to fireys, and baristas donating their tips. We’ve seen many big businesses playing their part – Telstra, for example, paying the mobile phone bills of firefighters, and Qantas has been flying firefighters and equipment to fires for free. All the big businesses are contributing.

The children of this country are simply fantastic: running cake stalls, sending love and encouragement and shaking down their parents as well. One nine-year-old sent me her $10 holiday pocket money and asked if I could get it to the families who lost homes.

On a quiet street in Port Douglas, Queensland, two young boys set up a lemonade stand to raise money.

The local police intervened, but only insofar as to move them to a more “strategic” location – right next to a roadside breath-testing site.

After clearing their tests 50 drivers were served lemonade before the supply ran dry, with $380 raised. Our country’s kids are incredible, and it gives me such confidence about the future.

In Gippsland, the owners of an Indian restaurant have been cooking thousands of free meals of curry and rice for bushfire victims.

In Bega in NSW, a Sudanese refugee offered his own home to a family that was sheltering overnight in an underground car park to escape falling embers.

While back on Kangaroo Island, a pair of teenage cousins gathered frightened and injured koalas into their car, echoing efforts by wildlife rescue and rehabilitation charity WIRES and others who have come to the aid of fauna across the country.

Meanwhile, our business leaders, sportspeople and entertainers are doing what they do best: Andrew and Nicola Forrest, Celeste Barber, Paul Ramsay Foundation, Chris Hemsworth, Kylie, Ash Barty, Nick Kyrgios and The Wiggles among those who are fundraising or digging deep.

And as a Government we will do whatever it takes to support those communities and businesses hit by these fires. Right now we are providing immediate financial assistance to those that need it, while our $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund will help communities to recover and rebuild.

We will continue to support all Australians in their time of need, and whatever it takes means just that.

Everybody has been touched by what has happened – and we have witnessed 25 million acts of bravery, generosity and kindness. That’s what we celebrate today: the good-hearted people that make us Australia.

Our willingness to generously support each other is a reflection of the gritty practicality that has always been part of our national character.

And that is what our national volunteer spirit serves: our communities, and the families and individuals they comprise.

No country is perfect and none have a perfect history. But we have goodwill and generosity, and strive to help each other out.

This is the greatness of Australia, and the strength of Australia – the way we treat and take care of each other.

It is why, when tragedy strikes, we can look to the horizon and emerge a stronger nation.

In the midst of our country’s struggles this is the character that we celebrate and honour today.

Happy Australia Day!

Published in The Daily Telegraph