By Saturday night, the total raised was more than $11 million and by Sunday night it was approaching $30 million. The tally has kept rising and on Friday afternoon had reached a mammoth $50 million.
A Facebook spokeswoman said Barber’s fundraising effort was “by far and away the biggest ever we’ve seen on our platform”.
More than 1.2 million individuals from at least 75 countries have chipped in, with the average donation almost $39.
“It’s been such an outpouring,” the spokeswoman said. “There’s been an enormous number of people donating small amounts.”
More broadly, Facebook has hosted 19,000 individual fundraising campaigns for the bushfires since November. This has raised more than $73 million for 250 different charities. Barber’s campaign counts for nearly 70 per cent of the money raised through Facebook with many of the fundraisers being grass-roots efforts from people who want to help.
While celebrities and multinational corporations loudly announced million-dollar donations, Barber’s crowd-sourced micro-campaign just kept ticking over. Only Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s $70 million pledge exceeds the amount Barber’s gang of Facebook donors has raised.
Barber did not respond to requests for comment but she has been providing regular updates to her social-media followers. Her motivation was deeply personal after her mother-in-law had to evacuate her house in Eden on the Far South Coast.
In response to Barber’s fundraising heroics, street artist Matt Tepaea painted her mural on Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane. The caption simply says: “Thank you Celeste”.
“Are you kidding me?!?” Barber replied on Instagram. “This is incredible. I’m bawling.”
Tepaea told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the mural took two days to paint and it was “very nice” to hear Barber’s positive feedback.
“It’s always humbling when the person I paint sees my artwork. I don’t expect her to share it and for it to go viral – I’m just glad she saw it,” he said.
Tepaea described Barber as “our beaming icon, our voice for the people”.
“I think there’s Australians 10 times more famous out there who haven’t done [this]. She’s just used her platform to her ultimate advantage. It’s just awesome to see in all this sadness. It’s a little ray of hope and her voice is for the everyday people who want to do their part.”
Gary Johns, head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, said it was “very heartening” to see the strong national and global response to the bushfire disaster.
He cautioned people to avoid scams and donate to legitimate campaigns to ensure the money went where it was intended to go.
“Donating directly to a registered charity is the best way to ensure that your donation is going to that charity and supporting your chosen cause,” Dr Johns said.
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.