The hills came alive with the sights and sounds of a yellow army and power tools on Australia Day, when a 240-strong Mormon Helping Hands crew answered the call to help clean up Adelaide properties ravaged by new year bush fires.
The call came via Morphett Vale resident Rachel Thistleton’s ‘Adelaide Fires 2015‘ Facebook page – a plea for hands-on support for the bush fire victims that struck a chord with church member, Kylie Barnes.
Kylie then galvanised three stakes (diocese) and the Australia Adelaide Mission in just 48 hours to form the backbone of a service activity that participants will not quickly forget.
“They just kept arriving on Monday morning at the rallying point at One Tree Hill and before we knew it, we had a sea of helpers,” said Kylie, who made phone calls and used social media, emails and ‘urgency of language’ to gain that support.
“Everyone was so keen to do what they could, and with their combined efforts what they achieved was incredible.”
For Modbury Stake volunteer Sarah Pilkington, aged 24, it was a sobering but uplifting experience: “It was a good opportunity to serve while seeing the reality of what people had gone through. There was a good feeling of community spirit there.”
Along with scores of other volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sarah put on her ‘war paint’- the inevitable carbon streaks from burnt, black and dying trees – and attacked the task in true Aussie fashion.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Australia Day than helping other Australians, or anyone in need for that matter,” shared Sarah.
The work included sawing dead or dangerous trees, dragging boughs to a safe storage site, and clearing wide areas of burnt bush from baked-hard surfaces across 13 properties in the badly affected Kersbrook and Humbug Scrub townships. Volunteers also cleaned some exterior walls of homes and sheds that survived the fires.
Kersbrook vineyard owner Paul Clark’s home was saved but he lost a shed full of expensive equipment and another building that housed living quarters once full of family treasures and mementos. Hearing about those, and similar, losses spurred on the LDS workers to do their best for families affected by the trial of nature.
The service project day was timely, according to Humbug Scrub property owner Colin Perryman.
“Many thanks for the workers, they did a great job. Timely too – a large tree had fallen across the road on Sunday afternoon,” Colin said.
“We had about 25 people ranging from 10 years old to maybe 70 years old, all wanting to help. It was strange watching the teenagers getting blacker and blacker from moving tree branches and rubbish, and enjoying themselves and asking what more they could do.
“I have asked, told, and ordered many people in my life, but I have never had a group so willing to do the dirty work. The hearts of these people are big and in the right place.”
According to Rachel Thistleton, the turnout and outcomes showed real community connection.
“The teams were hardworking, compassionate, patient and they demonstrated initiative. The feedback already coming back from owners is beautiful. Thank you to everyone who answered the call to help, and were so happy to spend a day working hard for those who’ve lost so much,” she said.
“I’m really thankful to all those who volunteered on the properties, and also to those who baked goods (an additional part of the service project) for the children returning to school.”
As everyone who took part would attest – the feeling at the end of the day was not weariness so much as gratitude for the chance to help people who value their independence and who would have worked around the clock, week in and week out, to undertake the clean up themselves and yet welcomed the volunteers en masse.
“The physical labour was important and the work needed to be done,” said Adelaide Public Affairs council member and Australia Day volunteer Sujatha Rice. “But the underlying message tied to that labour impacted the most – a love for fellow Australians and the knowledge that people care about what happens to them, and there will always be those willing to serve when and where they are needed.”
Update: Almost 100 volunteers headed to the hills again on Saturday 31 January to tackle further clean up service for fire affected residents. A call for available helpers for Saturday 7 February was cancelled due to the heat. Watch this space for upcoming volunteer days.