Kangaroo Island bushfire recovery continues in the time of coronavirus

The playground at the Stokes Bay Hall just after the bushfire ripped through.
The playground at the Stokes Bay Hall just after the bushfire ripped through.

The bushfire rebuilding effort on Kangaroo Island properties continues even as the coronavirus health crisis develops.

Social isolation is a major challenge out west due to the lack of telecommunication service and there is concern that labour and material may be more difficult to source.

But the farming community is resilient and is getting on with life on their farms, the best they can, even if living in a shed or caravan.

Stokes Bay Tennis Club members Caleb Pratt and Marina Gregor with kids Abi, Caleb, Sam, Isaac and Charlie.

Stokes Bay Tennis Club members Caleb Pratt and Marina Gregor with kids Abi, Caleb, Sam, Isaac and Charlie.

The Islander spoke to Marina Gregor from the Stokes Bay Tennis Club after the club received $50,000 from the Commonwealth Bank Bushfire Recovery Grant program.

The grant will help rebuild the club's tennis courts, fencing and lighting that were completely destroyed in the recent bushfires.

The fire burned down the sports club, including the hall, kitchen and clubrooms, all of which were recently renovated.

Ms Gregor said while the mood among those impacted on by the bushfires was still mostly positive, even prior to the coronavirus there had a level of frustration about the pace of the clean up.

"There's been a feeling the clean up has been too slow and there is a level of frustration," she said. "What we need is time, only time is going to heal and a good break to the season would be great too."

The community was extremely grateful for the both the financial donations and volunteer work being down by organisations such as Blazeaid.

The volunteering model itself was being reviewed with no new volunteers being accepted and any volunteers willing to stay indefinitely perhaps moving onto farms as way to isolate.

BlazeAid volunteers work with local farmer back in February. Photo Dianne Harry

BlazeAid volunteers work with local farmer back in February. Photo Dianne Harry

Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief and Recovery Fund raised a total of about $5 million, $2 million of which has been been allocated to those who lost lives, property or livelihoods in the bushfire.

Mayor Michael Pengilly said 350 applications for assistance had been met so far and another 26 were being approved this afternoon, March 27.

Applications were still coming in and there were about 200 still to process, a process that would continue despite coronavirus.

The bushfire impacted community is worried about ongoing support and other immediate needs, particularly in light of the pending coronavirus outbreak.

"Are we going to get support in the long haul is what people are asking," Ms Gregor said.

Immediate needs included access to recovery assistance, even possibly home delivery for those isolated on properties.

While the lack of telecommunications and a lack of mobile phone or WiFi towers at Stokes Bay and other locations was a downfall during the bushfires.

This communication blackout now in the time of coronavirus to be a real hindrance threatened to distance learning and other necessities taken for granted in more urban areas.

"The coronavirus is adding a layer of stress that people don't need," she said. "How is going to impact on availability of trades and services we need to rebuild."

The KI Council's Wellbeing Recovery Group, led by deputy mayor Bob Teasdale, was overseeing the rebuilding.

Clr Teasdale said the group was working hard to smooth the process, even though now it has having to move to telecommunications due to isolation rules.

And because of the lack of technology it was through phones, with the first meeting in this form taking place on the afternoon of Friday, March 27 when up to 20 were going to attempt to dial in.

Clr Teasdale said he wanted to ensure all of the remaining donations and grants were making it directly into bank accounts.

Regarding the coronavirus impact, he was most concerned about the psychological impact on top of the bushfire trauma, especially as counselors and psychologists were not as easy to access.

The community was now dealing with isolation at a time when community activities such as sport was needed to get families over the bushfire trauma.

Ms Gregor said the community was really missing tennis, netball and football and being able to get together.

Families were lucky to be able enjoy the outdoors and are even getting creative with ideas such a car rally with families staying in cars to meet the social isolation rules.

"One positive is we actually feel quite safe out there on our farms," she said.

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