Farmers help farmers in fire recovery on ‘tour of hope’

Kangaroo Island farmers affected by the devastating 2019-20 bushfires have met and learnt from fellow landholders affected by the Pinery fire in 2015 as part of a specially designed three-day tour.

The tour, facilitated by Rural Business Support (RBS), saw 25 KI farmers travel to the Barossa Valley and Lower North regions to gain an insight into resilience and recovery from other farmers who shared a similar harrowing experience.

RBS CEO Brett Smith said the event was designed to be a tour of hope for the KI farmers, while providing a much needed wellbeing break away from the Island and its physical fire reminders.
“Our financial counsellors work in farming communities daily. We’ve seen how the period following a crisis event, when the external community appears to have moved on, can impact the wellbeing of individuals and the fire-impacted community,” Mr Smith said.

“A year after the fire there is the burden of fatigue, the constant pressure of continuing to move forwards to rebuild infrastructure and the farming enterprise, all the while holding yourself and the family together. Many think they need to do this quickly. But the reality is it takes years – and it’s exhausting.

“This unique event was about providing an opportunity for these Islanders to get away from the fire ground and emotionally recharge, while learning and being supported by others who have been through a similar trauma and recovery process.

“We hope that hearing from the Pinery producers and learning how they have faced up to the challenges of recovery and rebuilding may help the KI farmers to re-imagine their own businesses and start moving forward towards some new goals.”

RBS received a generous Bushfire Assistance Grant of more than $35,000 from BankSA Foundation, which enabled it to create and deliver the program. BankSA Foundation was started by bank employees during World War 2 to support soldiers and, 80 years later, is still driven by bank staff, through payroll giving.

BankSA Foundation Manager Olivia Thomas said “it is projects like this one that give us a shared sense of pride”.

“The devastation caused by the Kangaroos Island bushfires last summer was significant and while the Island community is slowly recovering, the economic, emotional, physical and mental toll continues to impact many on a daily basis,” Ms Thomas said.

“We are proud that we can back SA communities at a time when they need it most, with practical, hands-on support and Rural Business Support certainly met the brief with this wonderful tour. It must not be easy to take time out, leaving behind their families, farms and community, but I do hope these farmers found some comfort and strength through the connections that were made.”

The tour included visits to a number of fire affected properties in the Pinery area, including Troy and Nette Fischer’s at Wasleys, where the couple shared how they have rebuilt their Ashmore White Suffolks business with “grit, stubbornness and realistic goals”.

“After year one, it’s still consuming your life – you think about it every day,” Nette said. “After year two, it is not such a big consuming part of your life. At the end of year five, it is now a part of our life story. You feel proud. We did it. And we’re still writing the script.”

The next stop for the KI group was a moving visit to the Moquet Lee Pinery Fire Memorial at Grace Plains, where Pinery farmers and Moquet Lee Custodians Derek Tiller and Peter March shared how the memorial was installed “to remember and recognise the importance of the fires on the community in a factual and respectful way, and to pay respect to lives lost.”

It was then onto meet the Barr and Cay families at Pinery, where ifarmwell founder Dr Kate Gunn led an important session on wellbeing. Taryn Mangelsdorf, from the Northern and Yorke Landscape SA Board, also gave an informative session on the importance of landscaping and plant selection to change potential future fire-storm behaviours.

Ed and Belinda Cay then shared their inspiring Emerging from the Ashes story and what recovery has meant for them as a couple and their four young children. Ed also explained the extensive fire protection measures that were researched, considered and prioritised in the designs of their new family homes.

After a session on Planning for Infrastructure at Adrian McCabe’s chemical and implement shed and shearing shed, the group was treated to a sunset dinner of friendship and hope at the McCabe family home at Alma.

The tour finished on Saturday with a seminar focussing on recovery and positive steps to improve personal and farming resilience.

RBS was privileged to create the special event through its close relationships with Agriculture Kangaroo Island, the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, South Australian Government’s PIRSA Family and Business Mentors, Grain Producers SA, AgCommunicators and SeaLink. RBS also sincerely appreciates the wonderful support from Visit a Farmer, the South Australian Country Women’s Association (SACWA) and the Mallala Football Club.

Kangaroo Island Mayor Michael Pengilly and BankSA Kangaroo Island Branch Manager, Kaytee Collins, were also wonderful advocates for the program and helped RBS to connect with the families.

“The vision behind this event was for it to be a memorable trip of inspiration, friendship and promise for the future,” Mr Smith said.

“It’s very much about farmers helping farmers and sharing vital learnings of what long term recovery might look like.”