By Ellen Morgan
Last updated on: January 20, 2021 at 10:41 am
It’s hard to think back to one year ago when many South Australians were picking up the pieces after devastating bushfires.
We’ve been through a lot since then, to say the least. And now in the midst of another summer, we’ve already seen bushfires ravage parts of our state, affecting local farming properties and residents.
But amongst the ashes and waves of change that 2020 brought, there are welcome glimpses of green regrowth – signs of recovery for our great state.
Residents and business owners on Kangaroo Island and throughout the Adelaide Hills say despite taking hit after hit from the bushfires and the pandemic, community strength and support has shone through.
“We can still see the black scars on the horizon from our place,” says Sharon Pearson, owner of Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard.
“I think there are parts of the countryside behind us that will never recover – there are still black trees and ground that hasn’t recovered, but most of it has come back, which has been great to see.”
The December 2019 bushfires crept up to 200m away from the Mt Lofty Ranges cellar door, something Sharon and her husband Garry will never forget. But a year on, Sharon says there’s much to be thankful for.
“The support from within the local community here has been amazing,” she adds.
Then came the visitors.
“In February 2020, the Book Them Out campaign [by the South Australian Tourism Commission] had an amazing effect on our business,” says Sharon.
“It worked incredibly well for the whole Hills community; people realised it was safe to come up again and support local businesses, and this supported all the little cafes and shops and petrol stations, too.”
Like many Hills wineries, their vineyard had a low yield due to the heat and drought and where they source their shiraz was smoke-tainted. This meant 2020 produced very little wine. But what they did make, they’ll not soon forget.
“Our restaurant staff became grape pickers after the fires,” Sharon recounts.
“They helped pick our 2020 riesling which just won an award for best riesling – it makes that wine extra special for us.”
Sharon says visitation continues to grow, despite the abrupt stop in interstate and international tourists.
“The silver lining is that South Australians have discovered our little piece of Lenswood for the first time, because they’re looking for places to go.
“Every second person who walks in the door says, ‘we didn’t know this was here… it looks like Tuscany or Germany or the South of France!’”
Kangaroo Island is experiencing similar support from local tourism, as well as some heart-warming bushland regeneration, after fires saw almost half the island blackened.
“Kangaroo Island is a very busy place at the moment, which is fantastic,” says Julie-Anne Briscoe, Marketing Manager of SeaLink South Australia.
Whilst visitors to Kangaroo Island form a large part of SeaLink’s ferry business, over the last year, they’ve been carrying equipment and building supplies across to the island, too. It’s formed another important part of their business, particularly after the bushfires.
“We’ve been carrying a lot of equipment for the rebuilding of houses, sheds and fences and we’ll probably be carrying a lot more grain off the island this year too… possibly more than ever before,” says Julie-Anne.
“It’s been a brilliant year in terms of rain. So many of the crops will be the best ever, which is great for our business and great for farmers on the island as well.”
SeaLink has also reimagined some of its tours with one of their most innovative being the Road to Recovery tour, run by a SeaLink-owned company, Kangaroo Island Odysseys.
The 2-day experience takes you to some of the island’s fire-affected areas to see the regrowth and learn about fire ecology, along with local flora and fauna.
With a visit to Seal Bay, a luxurious night’s accommodation and meals organised throughout the journey, it’s a great way to experience the island and learn something new.
Tour guide and passionate KI resident Nikki Redman says this experience came out of a chat she had with her mum while driving through the bush. Since its conception, the tour has educated and inspired many visitors.
“It’s not so much about the devastation, but KI’s rebirth – it shows the strength and resilience of nature here,” says Nikki.
“People are blown away by how quickly everything is growing back. Full regeneration can take 6 to 8 years, but it’s started coming back a lot more than we thought.
“I had a woman say she’d been through every emotion on the tour… it’s certainly a cathartic experience for everyone involved, but it’s still very raw.”
As well as employing and supporting local people, Nikki says tours are a wonderful way to soak up the beauty of the island and educate yourself. Plus, your guide will ensure you don’t put the fragile natural environment at risk by accidentally stepping on regenerating areas or leaving any unwanted rubbish or belongings behind.
If you’re going on a self-driving adventure on KI, Nikki advises to be mindful of designated paths for walkers and cars, as even stepping on the ground can interrupt regeneration.
“If you’re going to come to an area of natural beauty, it’s important to respect it.”
Another fantastic way to support regenerating regions is to take part in the Empty Esky campaign and buy local products where possible.
The social media campaign started in January 2020 to aid in the support of communities Australia-wide once visitors were allowed back. It encourages people to visit our regions with an empty esky and return with it filled with locally-made produce and goods.
“The support of people coming here with the Empty Esky campaign has been mind-blowing… they’re asking questions and taking produce home. It’s been amazing to see,” Nikki says.
So, go on, get out there and buy some KI honey or take home a bottle of locally distilled gin.
Stock up on some cool climate wines in the Adelaide Hills or book an experience with us online. There are plenty of ways to explore and support SA.