Real Life

Real life: The heroes who gave their lives to save Aussie farmers in the Kangaroo Island bushfires

The bushfires have taken so much, and we’ll never get over the angels we lost.

By Brittany Smith
There's not a single Australian who hasn't had their heart broken by the horrific bushfires that have swept our nation.
Yet, remarkably, from the ashes the spirit of Aussies has shone through stronger than ever as people from every walk of life band together.
During this time of destruction and devastation, kindness is keeping hope alive to help Australia heal from fires that would have brought many other nations to their knees.
The road to rebuild will be long, but as a nation we will – brick by brick, fence by fence.
Across Bauer Media titles, we have launched a campaign to help our neighbours in their time of need.
Each week, in Take 5 and at Rebuild Our Towns, we will shine a spotlight on the areas affected, informing our generous readers on ways to help, from the best fundraisers to donate to that benefit the locals, to products you can buy to support small businesses.
Our thoughts go out to every person, but actions speak louder than words, so join us to make a lasting difference.
This week, we focus on Kangaroo Island in SA…

Kynan Lang, 41, Adelaide Hills, SA.

The second I heard an engine roaring, I raced outside to see a small plane circling above our house in Loxton North, rural SA.
I could just make out my uncle, Richard, 38, sitting in the pilot's seat.
"Mum, Dad!" I called out. "Uncle Rich is here!"
I was 11 years old and Rich, who most people called Dick, was my hero. He was a pilot and tour guide, and had travelled to loads of exciting places.
One time he phoned me while he was on safari in Africa, and I could hear lions roaring in the background. My school friends loved hearing stories about him.
"There's not a single place in the Aussie outback my uncle hasn't been to," I bragged proudly.
I was also close to his youngest son, my cousin Clayton, who we called Clarrie. While I was a typical country boy, he was two years older than me and lived in Adelaide.
I always thought he was the bee's knees. He loaned me mixed tapes of albums like Diamonds And Pearls by Prince, and in return I'd let him ride my motorbike whenever he came over.
As we grew older, we stayed close, even though we chose different paths. I joined the police force and Army Reserves, and Clarrie became a plastic surgeon.
When we each married and had kids, I loved watching our little ones form the same close bond we'd always shared.
Uncle Rich and Clarrie in the 1990's. (Image: ABC News)
Eventually, Uncle Rich retired and bought a property at Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island, with his wife, Aunty Helen.
He loved working with his hands, so they set up a hobby farm.
I couldn't wait to see their place, but with three kids, Cooper, 13, Siena, 10, and Jaxon, one, a trip to Kangaroo Island would set my wife, Joanna, and I back financially.
When I turned 41, we'd planned to visit them in January, during the holidays.
Jo and I saved up for months, then booked the ferry and accommodation. Best of all, Clarrie would be there, too.
Our family always got together for Christmas in Adelaide.
We dubbed it "The Lang Lunch" and it was one of our favourite days of the year.
Seeing Uncle Rich and Clarrie was what I looked forward to the most. They were larger than life and their presence lit up every room.
Uncle Rich loved his planes. (Image: Adelaide Now)
Our tradition was to have someone dress up as Santa for the kids, but Christmas Day was always a scorcher.
When my brother, Nathan, emerged in just a white beard and a pair of shorts, we couldn't stop laughing.
Clarrie's chuckle was the loudest.
After lunch, we got ready to part ways. Our family always said goodbye with a hug and kiss, like it was the last time you'd see each other.
Clarrie and I gave each other a big squeeze, then I moved on to Uncle Rich.
"See ya in a few weeks," I grinned, patting his back. I couldn't wait to see the place he'd spent 10 years fixing up.
Clarrie was one of my best mates. (Image: ABC News)
Days later, a bushfire broke out in Duncan, at the north end of Kangaroo Island.
We monitored the fire alerts website closely, making sure it didn't spread further north-east, towards Rich and Clarrie's Emu Bay property.
Four days after New Year's, I was at the Adelaide Markets when my phone buzzed with a news alert.
Two people killed in fires on Kangaroo Island, the headline read.
My heart raced with panic, but the article said the fire was in the middle of the island.
Emu Bay seemed safe. Those poor people, I thought sadly.
Hours later, my phone rang again. It was my dad, Darryl – and he was quietly sobbing.
"Uncle Rich and Clarrie have died," he choked.
Sinking onto a chair, I listened in shock as Dad explained that Rich and Clarrie had taken Helen to an evacuation zone, then driven towards the fire to help farmers struggling to defend their properties.
The blaze had swept through unexpectedly, trapping them in their car.
The grief is still very raw. (Image: Commonwealth of Australia 2020)
It was so typical of them to risk everything to help others.
I was still processing the devastating news when I got another call. As a member of the Army Reserves, they needed me and a team of officers to go to Kangaroo Island to help distribute food and water.
The fires were still raging, but I didn't hesitate.
Uncle Rich and Clarrie had sacrificed their lives to help their community. I had to do what I could, too.
Jo was supportive, but scared.
"We can't lose you, too," she said, fighting back tears.
"I'll keep myself safe," I promised. "But I need to go."
When I arrived, the devastation was surreal. On one side of our truck, there were views of pristine coastline, and on the other side was a charred mess 
as far as the eye could see.
We started distributing resources, but it was emotional work.
Many of the locals had known Uncle Rich and Clarrie.
We made crosses to honour my brave uncle and cousin. (Image: Commonwealth of Australia 2020)
"So sorry for your loss," said one woman, whose home had been destroyed.
"Sorry for yours, too," I nodded sadly.
After a few days, I visited the spot where Uncle Rich and Clarrie's bodies were found. The fire had surged through so quickly that only the tree trunks were burnt and fresh leaves still rustled above.
Army boys made two crosses out of scrap metal as a memorial. I cried as I kissed the tributes and knelt in front of them, remembering the selfless, courageous acts of the two men I'd loved so dearly.
Ten days later, I returned to the mainland for Uncle Rich and Clarrie's joint funeral. Jo was relieved to see me, but no-one was happier than little Siena.
She clung to me for hours.
The island isn't out of the woods, but I'm grateful the farm has remained unscathed for Aunty Helen.
I hope that when it's safe, people from all over the world flock to Kangaroo Island and pour their money back into the community.
Despite the recent devastation, it's still a stunning place filled with unique beauty.
Uncle Rich and Clarrie loved Kangaroo Island and died protecting it. I'll make sure their deaths weren't in vain.
The fire obliterated the bush land at Flinders Chase National Park. (Image: AAP)

How to donate

The SA Bushfire Appeal raises funds for people directly affected by bushfires in Cudlee Creek and on Kangaroo Island. Every dollar goes to people in need, and the South Australian government absorbs all administration costs. Donate here.
The money raised through the Kangaroo Island Mayor's Bushfire Appeal will go directly to locals who need it most. This is the official donation appeal for Kangaroo Island.
BSB: 105 094
Account Number: 035 680 540
Account Name: Mayoral Bushfire fund
For international deposits, enter Swift Code: SGBLAU2S
All money in this fund will go towards care, medication and the infrastructure needed to house and treat the koalas and animals taken into the park's care. Go to: kangarooislandwildlifepark.com
The CFS Foundation provides financial assistance to volunteer firefighters and their families who have suffered through death, injury, loss or damage of property in the line of service. Go to:
The Kangaroo Island Stall in the Adelaide Central Markets has a beautiful array of products that are made on the island. From wine and spirits to health and beauty products, this is a great way to support local businesses.
Visit Stall 17 at Adelaide Central Markets. It's open every day except Sunday and Monday.
Find out more at: www.kionline.com.au
Blaze Aid is a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation that has helped set up relief centres for farmers and affected families. If you are fit, willing and able to assist, you can register to volunteer your time and service at: blazeaid.com.au
You can help by donating to a variety of organisations. (Image: Getty)

Lend a hand

IT consultant Andy Adcroft, 42, from Sydney, was devastated to hear native animals were suffering from extreme dehydration following the bushfires.
With retailing water stations selling for roughly $50 each, he designed a version that could give animals a drink for just $14 – and, best of all, anyone can do it!
Using equipment from the general hardware store, he created a vessel that is completely safe for koalas, wombats, kangaroos, possums, birds and even small reptiles to drink from.
Since uploading the instructions online, Andy's video has been viewed by more than 42,000 people.
His DIY water station has even been used to help wildlife on Kangaroo Island.
Andy's clever animal drinking station. (Image: Supplied)
You'll need:
■ 1.5m length of 90mm PVC stormwater pipe
■ 1 x 90 degree 90mm PVC pipe bend (male – male ends)
■ 1 x 90 degree 90mm PVC pipe bend (female – female ends)
■ 1 x 90mm end cap
■ 1 x PVC glue
■ Rope or cable ties
■ Methylated spirits
  1. Clean all the surfaces with methylated spirits.
  2. Glue the two pipe bends together, forming a half-circle. Make sure to follow the instructions on the glue bottle.
  3. Glue the half-circle to the stormwater pipe, creating a J-shape.
  4. Glue the lid on the straight end of the stormwater pipe.
  5. Lay the pipe flat on the ground and fill with water, until you can see water coming out of the bend.
  6. Lift the station upright and tie it to a vertical tree or post with ropes or cable ties, so any passing animal can quench their thirst.
This standard water station should fit 11 litres of water – enough to last two weeks before needing to be refilled. When the area has recovered from the fires, remove the water station.

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