Kikuyu haven for livestock in fire

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Jack and Theo Oorschot and Greg Hard watch as the fire approaches the Stockyard Road property.
Camera IconJack and Theo Oorschot and Greg Hard watch as the fire approaches the Stockyard Road property. Credit: Countryman

Merivale farmers Theo and Sheila Oorschot chose to actively defend their Stockyard Road property last year when the fires that ravaged the region threatened to consume their home and livestock.

The couple say they owe the survival of their livestock and farm buildings to the kikuyu pastures they established on their 200ha property, located in the undulating coastal hills east of Esperance.

Mr Oorschot said that the November 17 fires consumed about 80 per cent of their fencing and destroyed remnant vegetation on fragile swales.

“The house and the buildings survived,” he said.

There was some damage to the gardens around their house, with Mrs Oorschot saying the rose garden was “swallowed up” because it was surrounded by bush. “We lost some hens that were on the edge of the lawn, but none of those that were surrounded by the kikuyu,” she said.

The Oorschots’ property was threatened by the fire after an effort to back burn suffered from a wind change. Mr Oorschot said he had earlier helped to extinguish a fire started by lighting on Hicks Road, but this day presented perfect conditions for out-of-control bushfires.

“There was a 180-degree change in wind direction, and suddenly the fire was headed our way. There was no stopping it,” he said.

Having made the decision to stay on the property and defend it, rather than evacuating, the couple moved their cattle, sheep and horses to grass around their stables.

“Greg Hard helped us move the cattle about 2km from the west side of the property to the area around the shed and stables, where they were on kikuyu,” Mr Oorschot said.

Once the livestock were in the safest place they could be, the Oorschots and their son Jack used their fire unit to put out spot fires near the stables.

Once the fire had passed, Mrs Oorschot remained at the stables, watching over the horses with water on hand to continue tackling spot fires.

Mrs Oorschot said she “patiently waited to find out if we still had a home”.

Mr Oorschot said for a brief moment he wondered if his family had done the right thing to defend their home and property.

“But only for a moment, and then we were too busy dealing with it to think about it anymore than that,” he said.

Mr Oorschot said the family enacted a plan that had been in place for about six years, and that it had worked well.

Mrs Oorschot said that the only thing she would do differently now would be to ensure that there were more sprinklers in place up at the house, and she would move the poultry further on to the grass.

The couple said the support and help they had received from friends and family had been tremendous.

Because of the loss of their fencing, it had been necessary to agist their stock elsewhere.

Friends and gardeners ensured the Oorschots received replacement roses for their garden.

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