On Christmas Day 2019 many family conversations were about the terrible bushfires in the Adelaide Hills as well as those that destroyed swathes of the eastern seaboard.
In fact many volunteer firefighters were still on duty that day mopping up.
Little did we know that even more devastation was about to shock the community – at a time of year normally associated with holidays, fun and relaxation.
On 3 January 2020, another bushfire ripped through South Australia’s beloved Kangaroo Island, burning almost half the island, taking two lives and destroying 87 homes, almost 60,000 livestock and the Southern Ocean Lodge.
The bushfire burned 96 percent of Flinders Chase National Park, taking an unimaginable toll on wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, microbats and pygmy possums.
Looking on in horror at the images and vision coming out of Kangaroo Island, were people from Barossa Enterprises in Nuriootpa.
Their immediate reaction was to want to help.
The largest employer and supporter of people with disability in regional South Australia, Barossa Enterprises has workshops in the Barossa, Clare and McLaren Vale, and is best known in the wine community for producing those beautiful timber gift boxes that showcase some of our finest wines, including Henschke Hill of Grace.
A division of Barossa Enterprises is Barossa Skills Plus, a skills-building program where people with disability develop timber making skills for future work in the enterprise or for their own micro-business.
“Through this program, participants build their confidence and independence as their skills increase,” Barossa Enterprises chief executive officer Garry Velt says.
“The products and services facilitated through the program open opportunities to engage with community and get involved in a whole range of new experiences.”
Since the program began in July 2019, the group has made and sold hundreds of timber garden and household products, with the earnings going towards memorable activities for the group.
In early 2020, Skills Plus embarked on a program to assist with Kangaroo Island’s rehabilitation, constructing nesting boxes for endangered wildlife and growing native KI seedlings with Trees for Life.
They have so far made 20 kangaroo pouch stands for orphaned joey kangaroos, 300 pygmy possum nesting boxes and 30 microbat houses.
Nothing but the best for those pygmy possums – their new homes coming in the form of timber boxes normally used to house Australia’s finest single vineyard wine – Henschke Hill of Grace. Henschke donated the boxes back to Barossa Enterprises for this project, with 300 modified into “twin studio apartments” for the possums.
Participants in the Skills Plus program have built these items at no cost to Kangaroo Island, using recycled pallet material donated by Barossa Bottling.
“These boxes were among the very first nesting boxes on Kangaroo Island to be found with pygmy possum families inside,” Garry says.
“You can imagine how thrilled the group was to hear this news – and so was Prue Henschke.”
Photo: A pygmy possum (Ashlee Benc of the Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife).
With the income generated in the first 18 months of the program, the Skills Plus group and supporters – 26 people in total – went to Kangaroo Island in May for five days, led by coordinator, Rick Mierisch.
They handed over 2,000 native seedlings to landholders and also visited sites where the nesting boxes are installed and the joey pouch stands utilised.
They also helped to remove tree guards from one-year-old trees.
The work done, there was some time left over to visit some of the beautiful sights.
“It was a truly memorable trip for our group, the holiday of a lifetime for many of them,” Garry says.
“This is a special project, embracing community involvement, native wildlife and bush rehabilitation, and inclusivity.
“Our participants have loved being involved, since they all decided they wanted to take some real action in support of KI residents.
“Everyone was equally distressed about what happened in January 2020 and the devastation that was caused.
“So often our participants are the ones receiving help and assistance, but here they had a chance to give back, to give something of themselves to those in greater need.
“They grabbed hold of this opportunity unhesitatingly. They have felt energised and motivated by what they have achieved so far and are immensely excited about what lies ahead.”
Barossa Enterprises wants its new-found friendship with Kangaroo Island to be long-lasting. “We don’t just see this bushfire relief as a once-off project,” Garry says. “We are hoping and wanting this to be a 10-year connection.”
Barossa Enterprises has built strong partnerships with people and businesses who share the project’s aim and want to acknowledge KI Wildlife Network, KI Nesting Box Program, Trees for Life SA, Henschke, Barossa Bottling Services, Barossa Bushgardens and Startrack Freight Services (which freighted the 2,000 seedlings to KI for free).