Since the roads to their property reopened, the pair have been coming back home almost on a daily basis, to leave out food and water for the wildlife. Dotted around their property are ingenious DIY feed and water stations (equipped with sticks in case a small critter falls in and needs to find a way out). There are bird baths too, around a half-a-dozen. These attempts at life preservation are a stark visual contrast to their surrounds.
Left: Nirbeeja with one of the DIY feed stations they created for the local wildlife. Right: One of the many bird baths the couple have put out on their property.
Their 250-acre property of heritage bushland that shares two of its sides with Flinders Chase National Park looks like a warzone. What they have lost is immense. Almost too big to comprehend.
“It was the most gorgeous valley, we used to joke that it was almost like the Amazon.
You couldn’t see the road because it was all trees…so for people who love nature it was really heaven…now it looks like it’s been nuked, just black and ash now,” says Peter.
They also lost their home. A beautiful two bedroom cottage overlooking the valley. Their extensive orchard – Peter’s pride and joy – gone. Their vegetable gardens, gone. The two thousand trees they had just planted to help boost the local Glossy Black Cockatoo population, all burnt.
“You should have seen Nirbeeja’s collection of herbs and veggies,” says Peter.
But it is the enormous loss of animal life they struggle with the most. The first time Peter and Nirbeeja came back, after evacuating to Kingscote early on 3 January – a decision that ultimately saved their lives – they describe as one of the most difficult days they’ve ever had to endure.
“That was probably the most distressing thing we’ve ever seen. Driving up our road and seeing countless dead animals was heartbreaking, seeing the bush around us that had been annihilated – that was probably the worst thing I have ever seen in my life,” recalls Peter.
Since then they have been able to stay at a friend’s house on the other side of Kangaroo Island. When they are not caring for the wildlife out at their property, they are busy picking up the pieces of their lives.
“We went to the Kingscote Recovery Centre and we saw Aaron – a volunteer for Red Cross – he was working there the first time we went in. He was the first person we met. He was very compassionate – we were in a pretty fragile state, he took some details and got things in motion for us, and took us around to some of the other people involved in the recovery efforts,” says Peter.
Red Cross were also able to help Peter and Nirbeeja apply for an emergency grant. At the time it was $5,000 for anyone who has lost their primary place of residence but the grant has since been increased.
“We applied for the online grant and that came through a few days later. And then the second payment came through as well. So that has been an amazing help for us. We lost everything and we’re trying to replace it all from the ground up, and just realising all the things we’ve lost as we go along. That money’s been absolutely critical.