The road to bushfire recovery

The alumni rising from the ashes.

Liberty Hogg

Over the 2019-20 summer, Kangaroo Island experienced an outbreak of dry lightning-induced fires that scorched almost half of the Island, claiming countless livestock and wildlife.

Two hundred and forty kilometres away, a separate bushfire blackened 25,000 hectares of the Adelaide Hills, decimating a third of its vineyards.

Amid these difficult times, the University of Adelaide community banded together to support impacted students, staff and alumni, replacing perished graduation certificates, and offering the North Terrace campus' Barr Smith Lawns as grounds for a Fire Aid fundraising event.

According to the University’s Head Winemaker Associate Professor Paul Grbin, for the Waite campus it was a matter of “finding a way to give back and support the industry that has widely supported us”.

This support manifested in the Waite campus offering wine-making facilities to those in need, along with the volunteer efforts of staff and students to remove burnt posts, damaged irrigation systems and burnt vines from bushfire-affected properties.

It was also involved in making small-batch wines in collaboration with the Adelaide Hills Wine Region Association to help determine whether or not the grapes were affected by smoke, and producing some smoke-affected wines on behalf of Wine Australia to be used as a resource for training and future research projects.

This sentiment of support was echoed at the Roseworthy campus, with staff coordinating the distribution of medical supplies, collecting donations, and volunteering on Kangaroo Island alongside South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management, as well as at the Koala Triage Centre treating Adelaide Hills koalas.

Beyond supporting recovery efforts, the University was also innately linked to the devastating fires by the members of its alumni communities on the ground, including Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Oenology) alumnus David Bowley and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine alumna Dr Liberty Hogg.

David Bowley

Owner and Winemaker, Vinteloper
David Bowley

“It was a horrible day in our history, the darkest day.” 

David Bowley first learned that fire had ravaged his Adelaide Hills vineyard after seeing an image of his burning property on a news website.

The 72 acres of land situated at the corner of Cudlee Creek and Berry Hill Road was home to Vinteloper, a venture that first began as a virtual winery in 2008.

For the past 12 years, David had grown the business from a sole-trader “side hustle” of 300 cases to a twentyfold increase in production.

For David, purchasing the Cudlee Creek property in 2018 “was our skin in the game”. But by December 2019, it was destroyed.

David Bowley

With just five per cent of the vineyard considered viable, Vinteloper lost its crops for at least the next five years. The house had also burnt down and was home to two of his employees – fellow University of Adelaide alumni – as well as Vinteloper’s office.

A careful planner, David said he was devastated when his property was burnt, despite the protective measures in place.

“I’d ticked every box, I’d crossed every t and dotted every i and this is still what happened. It makes you feel pretty small in the scheme of things,” he said.

It was enough to cause the winemaker to momentarily contemplate throwing in the towel, but a tight-knit Adelaide Hills community fueled David to carry on.

“I was completely crushed by what happened, and if I said I didn’t think about packing it in I’d be lying,” he said.

“But those kinds of thoughts subside pretty quickly when you start receiving the support that we’ve had.

“Even though it’s a risk to continue, we’ve been shown so much love through the support of the community and the support of those who buy our wine or want to share our story, that we’d be doing ourselves and them a disservice not to.”

Dr Liberty Hogg

Veterinarian, Kangaroo Island Veterinary Clinic

As Kangaroo Island grappled with volatile weather conditions and out-of-control bushfires, newcomer Dr Liberty Hogg played her part in helping to move, treat and euthanise livestock.

The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine graduate had relocated to the Island in July 2019 to be with her partner Peter and work as a vet at Kangaroo Island’s only veterinary clinic.

Less than six months later, when the blazes first broke out in mid-December 2019, Liberty was quick to get involved.

On Christmas Day, this meant putting out fires on a nearby farm. By early-January, she spent 14-hour days in the vet clinic and attending affected farms.

Equipped with a wealth of large-animal expertise, a firearms licence and experience treating animals in the 2015 Pinery bushfire, her unique skillset was an asset to the Island’s quiet sufferers: the farmers.

Liberty Hogg

“They’re the last people to ask for help. They suffer in silence and keep on keeping on,” she said. 

In the immediate aftermath of the bushfires, Liberty accompanied farmers as they returned to their properties for the first time to “identify what would survive, and what wouldn’t or wasn’t fair to survive because of immense suffering.”

When it came to the latter, the number of casualties climbed well into the thousands.

“Being able to euthanise the stock as soon as possible, effectively and humanely, needed to be done and I was glad that I could help to do it properly,” she said.

When Liberty left her home that Thursday, it was her third evacuation. But this time she “had a gut feeling”.

At 3 am, 18 hours after evacuating, “the sky was orange”. And by the time Liberty and her partner returned to their home, it had perished along with everything inside.

“You don’t realise how much you take your possessions for granted until you don't have them anymore,” she said.

Despite this, the Kangaroo Island new recruit plans to stick around.

“If the clinic hasn’t been too financially impacted by the fires, it will still hopefully continue to support the number of vets that we do have, so my plan long-term is to stay here, live here and be part of the community,” she said.

“We’re hoping for the best, planning for the worst. But I think everything will be okay. Thank you to everyone who has supported us through this, we are beyond grateful and lucky to have each other.”

Story by Michaela McGrath
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen summer 2020, lumen