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Friends forged through fire – a silver lining from Kangaroo Island’s 2020 bushfire

Photo – Belinda Cay, Sabrina Davis and Nette Fischer

They say “$20 is $20”, but sometimes, what can be done with that $20 is worth so much more.
That was certainly the case when South Australian organisation, Rural Business Support (RBS), reached out to Kangaroo Island (KI) farming families who had lost their homes, stock, fencing, equipment and treasured belongings in the destructive 2020 bushfire.

“We’re homeless” – Kangaroo Island’s most destructive bushfire left families with nothing

It was January 3, 2020, an eerie and strangely calm day. After weeks of living on edge since lightning strikes ignited the KI blaze on December 19, Sabrina Davis had a good feeling. She had taken over keeping the farm and family safe, checking the perimeter of the property multiple times a day with the kids in tow, while her husband was out firefighting, close to 24 hours a day for three weeks over Christmas and New Year.

That morning Sabrina recorded a video for her mother in Germany, reassuring her that it was a beautiful day and everything would be ok. “Go to bed and don’t worry” I remember telling her.

“By the time my mother woke up again, the children and I had packed the dogs, our emergency box and a sleepover bag and had been escorted out by my husband, to evacuate to the other end of the Island. Shit had hit the fan.”

“Two fires were burning together, a wind change had made the beast nearly unstoppable. By the time I had reached my mother-in-law’s house, power and phone lines were down, there was no way to communicate with my husband or check what was happening at home- 100 kilometres away.

“After a few dreadful hours, multiple panic attacks, hundreds of phone calls, and me constantly pressing the update button on the CFS page, the call finally came. My husband was alive, so was his dad and his brother. They were on their way to us, travelling into safety while checking all neighbouring properties for casualties. The situation was dire and ‘we lost the farm’, my husband said. I couldn’t believe it. Torn by emotions, happy I still had a partner, but completely emotionally wrung out and incapable of even understanding what it meant, I rang my mother and said we’re homeless.”

For months Sabrina just “zombied around”, living in temporary accommodation, applying for funding, dealing with insurance companies and simply keeping her head above water. She struggled to sleep and eat and couldn’t see how her family could come back from their loss.

Rural Business Support steps in to lend a hand

It was an invitation from Rural Business Support (RBS), to a little place German-born Sabrina had never heard of, that gave the Davis family a glimpse of hope.

A trip to the mainland, to meet the people of Pinery – an Adelaide Plains farming community devastated by a fast-moving bushfire five years before. The Davis’, along with a group of fellow KI families, were excited to be put up in a motel in the nearby Barossa Valley. – Sabrina said the room alone was bigger than the ‘Minderoo Pod’ ( a 20ft shipping container) her family of four were calling home, on their blackened and scorched property.

Stepping off the Island and spending time with others, sharing stories and experiences and having a break from the rebuild and recovery meant the world to Sabrina.

“We met people who shared where they were at. I remember vividly how Nette and Troy Fischer shared their very simple emoticon presentation with us.”

The Fisher’s used simple yellow emoji’s to describe how their feelings changed in the years after the Pinery fire. For Sabrina to hear that in another two years, the horror and loss would become less and less a part of everyday life and more just a chapter of her life’s story book, gave her hope. “I couldn’t believe it at the time, but it gave me hope, it gave me a lifeline. And I really needed that. And they were right”.

Sabrina Davis with Mon Saunders from Rural Business Support.

So in that third year after the KI fire, the crew from Pinery and other fire affected regions of SA, were ferried to the Island by RBS, to give the KI farming group, Sabrina and her family a chance to show off where they were at, and to say “you were right”.

“There is something really special about communities connecting with one another, especially when you have gone through something so significant as a disaster. Yes, Pinery burned in six hours, Kangaroo Island, in six weeks. It didn’t matter. We could relate to the losses, the pain, the devastation, the rebuild, recovery, the financial pressure, the mental load and the strength required to pull yourself back out.”

Eternally grateful for RBS, Sabrina has since committed her time to connecting communities, in South Australia and across the globe.

“Over the past 18-months I have co-designed a community learning network called DisasterWISE, with the aim to connect communities with one another, and institutional stakeholders, resources and knowledge, so we can enable and encourage learning from one another to create positive change for communities all around the world.

“Thanks to the inspiration of the RBS tours, if I can keep sharing my story and that of my community, and it helps just one person, or saves one life, that is what I keep working for.”

In fact, despite the trauma, Sabrina has risen from the ashes remarkably, throwing herself into the recovery and championing her community. In 2021, she was awarded an SA Woman of the Year “Community Champion” Award, for her fundraising efforts to re-equip the Islands farm firefighters, raising over $80,000. The SA Office for Woman added her to their Honour Roll in 2021 for her efforts in “helping rebuild communities by sharing stories of resilience”.

She released a book, Humans of Kangaroo Island, which aided fundraising efforts and was awarded Kangaroo Island Council’s Project of the Year, and in 2022, was recognised again with a Red Cross State Humanitarian Partner Award.

You can check out the beautifully written and heartfelt stories from Humans of Kangaroo Island here.
To find out more about what Rural Business Support can offer click here.
And here’s the link to find out more about DisasterWISE.



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