I instinctively threw all the coins I was carrying into a tsunami bucket a few days ago. The sense of obligation was overwhelming, but then so were the feelings of inadequacy. What about that 10-year-old boy who donated his entire savings? Or that other kid who’s been pogo-ing for days and raised thousands?

Then there’s the mother of three who wants to donate her old sewing machine; the chief executive of the ANZ Bank who’s personally pledged $250,000; Surf Aid, Book Aid -“ hell, even the Midnight Shift raised $1,200. Frankly, my contribution is paltry.

But how much is enough? Is there a point at which guilt can be assuaged? Is my generosity gauged by my income, by the manner in which it was expressed, by the audience?

I’ve been following the unofficial International Tsunami Aid competition, which Australia is currently winning. Howard really threw down the gauntlet with that $1 billion. As World Vision head Tim Costello said at the Reach Out For Asia concert, For perhaps the first time in our history, Australia actually is so far out in front it’s magnificent.

This whiff of competitive sport -“ as picked up by some cartoonists -“ has bothered me. Reports of Ray Martin initiating a chorus of Come On, Aussie among troops in Banda Aceh made me want to pick up a cricket stump and insert it somewhere. Still, it works. Millions of dollars are donated. I hope the pledges are fulfilled.

I also wonder how long this extraordinary burst of charity will last. They might unearth even more horrifying footage of surging water to shake our conscience. Bert Newton and Rove McManus might reprise their fundraising kiss for yet another special. I hear at least one more musical event is being coordinated.

I don’t know what they have planned for the national day of mourning this Sunday, but I imagine there will be more self-congratulatory speeches, more genuine and spontaneous acts of goodwill and more tut-tutting about Mark Latham’s silence. (Exactly what was he meant to say?)

Whatever happens, I hope people remember this national charity high after the media have moved on to other catastrophes, like the next celebrity marriage breakdown. Keep in mind that the Iranian city of Bam, devastated by an earthquake exactly one year before the tsunami, was promised US$1.1 billion in aid.

They’ve received $17.5 million.

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