Couple blown away by kindness and generosity

One year on from last summer's devastating bushfires, Kangaroo Island couple Peter and Nirbeeja share the story of their recovery journey so far.
Peter and his partner Nirbeeja lost their home in last summer's bushfires. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Aysha Leo

“I expected that I’d be in a house pretty much now,” says Nirbeeja.

But for Nirbeeja and her partner Peter, having a house is still a long-term dream. Last summer’s fires destroyed almost half of Kangaroo Island. Peter and Nirbeeja escaped with their lives and some essentials, but everything else was lost.

For the past 12 months, they’ve sheltered in a camper trailer, a van, a tent and a temporary accommodation pod.

“There were some really trying times, times where we were just about at the bottom of our patience and resilience. It was a real struggle,” says Peter. 

They were living self-sufficiently before the fires, which meant that the task of rebuilding has been particularly challenging and time-consuming. From getting debris cleared, to installing a power source – first a generator, now solar – putting in plumbing, rebuilding orchard enclosures, and getting their new shed equipped with everything they need to live day-to-day until they can get a house rebuilt, this year has been hard work.

The clearing of debris took much longer than expected because so many homes were destroyed. “We couldn’t do anything until that rubbish was gone. We were coming here twice a week and were still in that highly emotional stage, stressed to our eyeballs. We’d put out some feed and water stations for the animals and that’s all we had the energy to do. We were just exhausted,” recalls Nirbeeja.

Going through a disaster affects you so much more deeply, mentally and emotionally, than you could ever expect. Surviving day to day, staying sane, staying positive and just looking after your own wellbeing takes so much of your energy.

Yet Peter and Nirbeeja are quick to speak of good things, too. Witnessing the recovery and regeneration of the bush around them and seeing the animals return to their property has been great source of strength and solace.

They’ve also taken comfort in the generosity they’ve seen. 

“Complete strangers who donated to the Red Cross, who wouldn’t know us from a bar of soap but they’ve all given financially, that has been an amazing help for us this year, because it has taken the pressure off,” Peter reports. “Whenever we’ve needed money to do things, it’s been there.”

The bushfire grants the couple received helped them to rebuild their shed - the one they live in until they can get their house rebuilt - install a solar system, rebuild their orchard and buy essential household items, such as a fridge and beds, and tools for rebuilding.

“We’ve had amazing help from everyone … the giving from humanity has really blown me away, and Red Cross has been a huge, huge help,” Nirbeeja concludes.

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