WA farmers lend a helping hand at Kangaroo Island

Cally DupeCountryman
The volunteering group, dubbed WA Fencing Farmers, at Kangaroo Island.
Camera IconThe volunteering group, dubbed WA Fencing Farmers, at Kangaroo Island. Credit: Paul Brown/Supplied

The first of two convoys of WA volunteers have hopped across the border to help their farming counterparts in South Australia.

The group, called WA Fencing Farmers, travelled from Norseman last Saturday before arriving at Kangaroo Island on Sunday night — smashing out 2000km in less than 48 hours.

On the way, they stopped at Kimba and were greeted with a community barbecue.

Port Hedland Export Depot owner Paul Brown helped organise the grassroots group of volunteers, which will stay on the island until February 27 after a second crew arrives the day before.

Driving through the fire trail, Mr Brown said it had been shocking to see the damage.

WA Fencing Farming volunteers Ryan Meldrum and Brian Welke, of Esperance, are among the WA contingent at Kangaroo Island.
Camera IconWA Fencing Farming volunteers Ryan Meldrum and Brian Welke, of Esperance, are among the WA contingent at Kangaroo Island. Credit: Paul Brown/Paul Brown

“The moment you drive away from the housing and to the farmland, it is just devastation,” he said.

“It is just kilometre after kilometre in every direction, as far as you can see.”

The trip comes after bushfires burnt 215,000ha across Kangaroo Island since January 4, with tens of thousands of sheep and cattle killed, fences decimated and hectares of pasture scorched.

The enthusiastic group of WA volunteers range in age from 20 to 70, and all responded to a call-out led by Mr Brown and Arthur River farmer Sam Burgess.

In a matter of weeks, the pair generated interest from more than 60 people willing to up and leave their homes, businesses and families to travel to the island and spend their time helping others.

They decided the most effective way to manage the trip would be to conquer and divide — so they split the group into two, with Mr Brown leading the first group and Mr Burgess the second.

Since arriving, the WA Fencing Farmers volunteers have teamed with BlazeAid teams on the island, and are working in close proximity to Australian Army personnel, who were called in for the same cause.

WA Fencing Farmers volunteer Damien Healy, from Geraldton, gets to work.
Camera IconWA Fencing Farmers volunteer Damien Healy, from Geraldton, gets to work. Credit: Paul Brown/Paul Brown

BlazeAid is a volunteer organisation with teams working across Australia’s fire-affected areas, helping communities to rebuild fences and other structures destroyed by natural disasters.

The organisation was pivotal in helping the Esperance and Yarloop communities in 2015 and 2016.

When the fire, which had raged on the islands for weeks, finally settled down, officials last weekend opened the gates for other volunteers to make the trip across and start to help.

“A lot of us have been affected by fires ... and putting it out there really struck a chord with everybody, and the Aussie spirit came through,” Mr Brown said.

“It is a bit of pay it back, pay it forward ... without doubt, there will be a catastrophic fire in WA, and we will have the support of people in the east to support us.”

The second group of volunteers will arrive in Kangaroo Island on February 26 until March 8.

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