CHARRED trees along the roadsides of Kangaroo Island are a stark reminder of the devastating bushfires that burned more than 200,000 hectares - almost half the Island's land mass - killed thousands of livestock, destroyed dozens of homes and took two lives 18 months ago, but its people are displaying resilience and positivity as they continue on the long road to recovery.
On December 20, 2019, lightning strikes sparked the first series of fires which was to be the start of a month-long nightmare for Island residents.
The fires weren't officially contained until January 21, 2020, and their impacts will be felt for many years to come.
Agriculture KI chairman and South Coast grazier Rick Morris said many farmers were back on their feet 18 months later and many were positive about the future, though it was a different experience for all given the range of loss, impact on business, impact on home and human nature.
"It's just so variable," he said.
"We've got a young cohort of farmers on the Island, who are energetic and positive about the future, while some of the older farmers are too stubborn and too proud to walk away as well.
"Then there are others that have got out or are still struggling.
"On a whole, I think we were lucky to have a good season last year and it helped a lot of people get back on their feet."
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The Morris family are putting the horrors of 2020 behind them.
Not only did they lose 400 of their maternal composite sheep and have 90 per cent of their farm burnt in three separate fire fronts over a hellish 10 days, their flock was then decimated by campylobacter - a bacterial disease that causes abortions and still births.
"We had our best scanning results last year, then we got news of this disease," daughter Tanner Morris said.
"This time last year we were picking up dead lambs and the placenta, because the disease was so contagious that other ewes can catch it by just sniffing it," Rick added.
"You could not think of a more sinister disease."
While they lost another 700 lambs, the Morris are quick to reflect on some of the positives to come out of a challenging 2020.
Their burnt fences were replaced within three months thanks to 900 hours of work put in by the Army, 1300 hours by BlazeAid and 1100 hours by friends and family.
It was friends again that came to help with an emergency vaccination and antibiotic treatment of their sheep when campylobacter was confirmed.
That support has been instrumental in helping the family rebound. They held on to dry stock last year to build their numbers back up and have just hit a significant long-term goal, which bodes well for their future.
"We've hit a 10-year business goal of having 5000 ewes in lamb this year, so that's exciting," Rick said.
TOURISM DEALING WITH DOUBLE BLOW
THE Kangaroo Island tourism sector is confident the double hit of bushfires and COVID-19 will not be a knockout blow.
While uncertainty continues over their traditionally strong international market, KI Tourism Alliance chair Pierre Gregor says business have adapted to target SA and interstate visitors and most are cautiously optimistic about the future.
Mr Gregor said the 2019-20 summer bushfires had a "devastating impact" on international tourism to KI, particularly sensationalist headlines like 'Australia burns' and 'KI burns'.
He said the post-bushfire 'Book them out' campaign led to a brief revival, with record visitation numbers for February.
"It was short-lived however, because then COVID-19 came into play in March, affecting both international and interstate travel," he said.
There was a 90 per cent reduction in visitation in April 2020 and visitor numbers in 2020 were down 26pc on average.
"Two-thirds of our traditional visitation was international and interstate, so both of those markets were impacted heavily during 2020," Mr Gregor said.
The KITA chair said while visitation was still down in 2021, there were positive signs, including the average length of stay increasing and tourist spend increasing "significantly".
"We are still on the road to recovery," Mr Gregor said.
"We don't have any international visitation and there's still a degree of caution from interstate travellers (due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures), but it is improving.
"It's a long haul and we're not there by any means, but we're certainly taking steps forward."
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