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Parishes rally to aid bushfire recovery


A month after bushfires devastated areas of the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, local parishioners have spoken about picking up the pieces with the support of their local Catholic communities and charities. 

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Peter Clark, chair of the Kangaroo Island Parish Council, was one of several parishioners directly impacted by the fires.

Nearly all of the 500 hectares of his home property near Parndana was burnt by the ferocious blaze, along with most of the fencing and hay. About 300 sheep died in the fire with another 300 having to be destroyed later – a task he described as the “worst thing” you can imagine as a farmer.

A neighbouring property leased by Peter and wife Anne-Marie was also burnt but fortunately a smaller farm they own at Birchmore remained unscathed.

“It was an uneasy feeling,” Mr Clark said of the wait to see when the fire would hit and the impact it would have.

“We were lucky though, because we had three or four days to prepare – we knew it was coming.

“Our house actually caught alight but a couple of young blokes on a farm fire-fighting unit put it out.”

Mr Clark was in Kingscote as the fire raged around, with his son Nick and a mate manning their fire-fighting unit.

“I felt completely helpless and wanting to go back… I thought I should be out there helping with the fire.”

Mr Clark said several parishioners – including the Mumford family at Parndana and the Glynn family at Cygnet River – experienced major losses in the fire. As the crisis continued over three weeks, weary parishioners were grateful to Fr Philip Marshall who travelled to KI to celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church in Kingscote on Sunday January 12.

Fr Marshall, who also celebrated the first Mass in the Adelaide Hills following the devastating fires there in December, recently wrote to the parishes directly affected inviting them to collect ashes from their local areas for distribution on Ash Wednesday.

“Lent is a time of repentance and renewal, of turning to God, each other and to creation in restored relationship,” he wrote.

“The inclusion of ashes from your fires will be a sign both of our solidarity with you and of our commitment to build a world of Easter hope for all.”

As the clean-up and rebuild begins on KI, Mr Clark said it was amazing to see how the tragedy had unified the small community.

“I can’t believe how people have got together and how generous they are with their time, not only fighting the fires but with the help afterwards,” he said.

“All sorts of people have rung up wanting to help out – in my case especially from Jamestown (where he previously owned a farm).  Priests have also rung to offer their sympathies and prayers.”

Mr Clark said Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci, who once served as parish priest in Noarlunga, has been in regular contact and had organised for Emeritus Bishop Eugene Hurley to visit and stay on the island for six weeks to offer pastoral support to the parish community.

Adelaide Hills parishioner Leonie Holmes said a number of parish members had been directly affected by the fires, including one couple whose rental home was destroyed, several winemakers who lost vines and farmers who had fences damaged. During the fire organist Denise Rofe was forced to shift horses from her dressage school, taking them down the main street initially, and is now awaiting funding to replace the arena.

But she said the whole community was rallying together and the atmosphere in the towns was “just unbelievable” with everyone giving each other “great big hugs”.

Mrs Holmes is coordinating a group of Adelaide Hills parishioners who have joined local churches on a roster to prepare and serve meals for Blaze Aid volunteers based at the Lobethal Oval.

Twice a month the group cooks for about 50 volunteers while other parishioners have been donating food and cash for the meals.

Members of Vinnies conferences are providing volunteers for the Bushfire Recovery Centre in Lobethal, helping people with applications for financial support.

St Catherine’s School at Stirling is planning a ‘buddies for bushfire relief’ day where students dress in emergency services colours and join with their buddy classes for a variety of activities.

Students will be asked to bring a donation to purchase tree growing kits from Trees for Life as well as to a bushfire charity.

The Vinnies Bushfire Appeal was the recipient of a special collection at Mass centres across the country on Australia Day.

In SA, donors had contributed more than $1.3 million to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal by the end of January.

A Vinnies spokesperson said the organisation was working closely with the Government State Recovery Office, assisting with material donations as requested, and acting as a link between donors of products and services and people who require this type of assistance.

She said 100 per cent of donations were being used to support people affected by the fires, with no money being taken out for administration fees or for future disasters.

Nationally, the appeal has raised $12.5 million of which $2.65 million has been distributed to date. In addition, significant amounts of material goods including food, water, clothing and bedding have been given out.



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