High temperatures. Hot winds. When they combine, as they did in Australia on February 7, 2009, whole forests of eucalyptus explode. As humans move further into bushland, they become witnesses and participants in a landscape where many cannot outrun the fires.
On Black Saturday, as the fires soon came to be called, my partner and I were in Adelaide. We watched the flickering screen in horror as towns and forests where we had happily wandered became infernos.But we were only distant witnesses. Stella and Alan Reid were participants. Before the fires died out, their work of twenty years had been destroyed. Wildhaven, where they nurtured and loved rescued wildlife, was in ashes. Their beloved animals had not escaped.
On a Web page titled, “Before Black Saturday”, photographs celebrate kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats who lost their lives in the fires.
The Reids write: “These are not sad photos – though most of the wildlife appearing in the before images perished on that fateful day – they are a reminder to us and all those who care for our fellow creatures that there is a wonderful, fulfilling relationship just waiting to happen between our wildlife and ourselves, if we are only willing to open our eyes and our hearts.”
Indeed, they are not sad photos, and Wildhaven’s is not a sad story. Hundreds of animals and all of the buildings were destroyed. But there were survivors, including the committed and spirited Reids.
Suddenly they were the centre of media attention, as the only wildlife haven completely destroyed. The Reids began to rebuild. They formed a trust so that donations could be tax deductible.In an article for the Eltham Town Community News, Andrew Lemon wrote: “Their grief was not for the material things but for ‘the kids’, a term they use with intent and without sentimentality. Because if you watch Alan and Stella even on this brief visit you see the power and reality of the bond that is possible between humans and the sorts of animals whom we would never normally regard as pets. Alan and Stella demonstrate that these wallabies, kangaroos and wombats have individuality, character and intelligence.”
Carol Mason, who has contributed to the blogs (Hand across the distance, Dreams and lessons, Fellow travelers) writes, “With such trauma, recovery is a long process. But,as soon as they could, they established facilities to take in orphaned kangaroo joeys. Gradually their new ‘family’ increased. Two of the first, Cooper and Merlot, have always had an incredible bond, hugging one another. From the trauma, the circle of joy began to increase as they all bonded….humans and fellow species reacting to the one ingredient that we all have most in common, the beauty of love.”Rebuilding from nothing requires a rare brand of determination. The Reids have it. In the face of loss and grief, opposition from those who put the wishes of human settlers above those of native wildlife, and all the bureaucratic and financial hurdles, Stella and Alan are re-creating Wildhaven.
Stella’s photographs tell the story. A few of them are here. Many more of them are on the Wildhaven Web site.
We catch courage from their example.