BlazeAid reaches 500km fencing milestone on Kangaroo Island, new camp managers appointed

BlazeAid camp coordinators Maxine and Graham at the Parndana Showgrounds camp with backpackers volunteering with the fencing program, Kelly Geven from Stein, Holland and Rikayla Baldin from Granite Island, Canada.
BlazeAid camp coordinators Maxine and Graham at the Parndana Showgrounds camp with backpackers volunteering with the fencing program, Kelly Geven from Stein, Holland and Rikayla Baldin from Granite Island, Canada.

BlazeAid volunteers on Kangaroo Island at the end of last month celebrated the milestone of 500 kilometres of new fencing.

Parndana camp coordinators Greg and Ann Stevens this month handed over the reins, after landing themselves in the middle of the Kangaroo Island bushfire disaster on January 9.

New camp coordinators, themselves veterans of the KI campaign, are Graham and Maxine Norfolk.

Also retirees, the Norfolks are from Quorn at the base of the Flinders Ranges. They have been volunteering on KI since March 15.

Camp coordinator Ann Stevens outside the kitchen at the BlazeAid camp at Parndana.

Camp coordinator Ann Stevens outside the kitchen at the BlazeAid camp at Parndana.

One question raised at last weekend's bushfire community meeting was how long BlazeAid was going to stay.

"BlazeAid is here till the job's done and till the phone stops ringing!" Mr Stevens said, noting there was still potentially months of fencing work ahead.

PIRSA figures indicate 5500km of fencing once stood in the burned area, but it was not known exactly how much of this was destroyed.

KI lost close to 60,000 sheep, which remarkably was about 70 per cent of Australia's total livestock losses in the summer's fires.

First Kangaroo Island BlazeAid camp coordinators Ann and Greg Stevens. Photo Facebook

First Kangaroo Island BlazeAid camp coordinators Ann and Greg Stevens. Photo Facebook

Speaking from their home back in North Haven, Adelaide, Greg and Ann Stevens are happy to be back home after an exhausting five months.

They came straight to KI after coordinating the BlazeAid camp at Edithburgh on the Yorke Peninsula in November and December.

They arrived on KI on January 9, finding themselves evacuated along with the rest of Parndana soon after.

The first few weeks were very hectic. It took six weeks before Mr Stevens was able to catch up with all the messages on his phone.

The peak number of volunteers living in the Parndana camp was 127 but this has fallen down to about 25 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The camp was initially set up in the Parndana sports club at the oval but when it looked sport was going to resume, the BlazeAid camp was moved over to the showground pavilion.

Mr Stevens said the day they completed the move, Jaan Kuchel from the sports club came over to say the footy season had been cancelled.

The nature of the camp changed dramatically after the pandemic hit with older, retirees being replaced by young, mostly European backpackers, stranded by the travel restrictions.

"Managing backpackers certainly is different from overseeing grey nomads, let me tell you," Mr Stevens said.

Among them is Flo Boniface from London who is travelling around Australia with her boyfriend.

"I have enjoyed it immensely and its been fantastic to see the progress being made in the two and half weeks we've been here," she said. "When you get to let sheep into a paddock you've just repaired, it's a great feeling."

The BlazeAid volunteers celebrate the milestone of 500 kilometres of new fencing on Kangaroo Island. Photo Blaze Aid Kangaroo Island Facebook page

The BlazeAid volunteers celebrate the milestone of 500 kilometres of new fencing on Kangaroo Island. Photo Blaze Aid Kangaroo Island Facebook page

The Stevens just need a break and Greg is focussing on health after long days from 5am to 9pm, seven days a week.

At the 500km milestone celebration on May 30, not only the volunteers were recognised but everyone who had assisted.

"Thank you to all the 647 volunteers who have made this possible. Also thank you to all the people who have supported BlazeAid with equipment, food and vehicles etc. we couldn't have done it without you," Ann posted on the BlazeAid Facebook page.

This story BlazeAid reaches 500km milestone on Kangaroo Island first appeared on The Islander.