It was just five days before Christmas 2019 when residents in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia were delivered a blow no one saw coming.
As much of the rest of the world was preoccupied with last-minute shopping and fussing with plans for the festive season, in the Adelaide Hills, thousands of residents suddenly found themselves in the fight of their lives.
A rapidly moving and uncontrolled bushfire ripped through the Cudlee Creek area in the Mount Lofty Ranges, destroying more than 25,000 hectares in a single day.
In an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire-affected communities, Open for Business, Adelaide Hills resident Carly said the catastrophic bushfire took the region by surprise.
“We were all very unprepared,” she said.
“The fire was so wind-driven and so erratic. It was just moving so quickly.”
By the time the Adelaide Hills fires came under control, one person had died, about 80 homes in the region were lost, multiple businesses were in ruins and the entire population was shell-shocked and shattered.
“It was just devastation,” Mount Barker mayor Ann Ferguson said.
“It’s just so challenging mentally to comprehend that you’ve lost it all. It is just incredible when you think about these industries that have to bounce back.”
The Adelaide Hills, just east of the South Australian capital, is particularly famous for its wines.
About a third of the region’s wine production was believed to have been wiped out as the deadly flames ripped through vineyards, including at Simon Tolley Wines, where 90 per cent of the property was affected by fire.
The region’s famous apple and pear growers and other primary producers were equally devastated.
“About half a dozen growers lost a significant part of their orchard,” Cam Stafford, the owner of Stafford Orchards, said.
“And (they have) the challenge of whether they remove those or regenerate them somehow.”
The spirited local community rallied quickly around the region’s growers and farmers, as well as residents who had lost their homes and possessions to the bushfires. But local woman Carly noticed there was something crucial that was missing in the post-bushfire response.
“After the fires I felt there was so much help for adults in the mental health recovery, but I remember thinking, what about our children?” she said.
Worried about how the kids of the Adelaide Hills were coping with the trauma of the fires, she founded the Facebook group Bushfire Kids Connect to offer specific and unique support to them.
“(It’s) a community group that is actually led by our children, and what we do is we create fun events and educational workshops to assist and connect children in the Adelaide Hills region that helps in their recovery journey after the fires,” she said.
“Connection is the key to resilience, and so we’re connecting our children by injecting fun back into their lives.
“Without realising it, these children of Bushfire Kids Connect today will actually be mentors in helping children of future fires in Australia.”
More than a year on from the bushfire, the Adelaide Hills region is well and truly rebuilding itself back to life.
Simon Tolley Wines, which had almost all of its vineyard affected by fire, planned to open a cellar door this month in a signal of how it has thrived beyond the 2019 tragedy.
“We’re really looking forward to that, and that will really be a start of a real recovery for us,” owner Simon Tolley said.
Mount Barker mayor Ann Ferguson said it was clear locals were getting back on their feet.
“They are very aware of the value of what they have to give to the community through the produce they make,” she said.
“It’s so rewarding to see that we can be so resilient and helpful of one another to make sure they’re building better than what they had.”
And that’s where the rest of Australia comes in – there’s no better time to visit this once-again thriving community, and experience the towns, culture, jaw-dropping natural landscape and world-class produce of the Adelaide Hills region, just a stone’s throw from the Adelaide CBD.
“We want (people) to come pick our strawberries, we want them to come and taste our wine, we want them to eat our juicy pears and apples, devour our cheese and chocolates,” Carly said.
“We want them to come and support our local community.”
“There is nowhere like the Adelaide Hills,” Mr Stafford from Stafford Orchards said.
“There are some fantastic places here in the hills. There are beautiful views, but also fantastic little glens and things to explore – and don’t forget the personalities.
“We have every ingredient here for a fantastic holiday.”