Shearing crew waiting and hoping in island fire crisis

The shearers and woolhandlers escape the Kangaroo Island fires with a beer tonight in Penneshaw. Photo/Tina Rimene
The shearers and woolhandlers escape the Kangaroo Island fires with a beer tonight in Penneshaw. Photo/Tina Rimene

Hawke's Bay shearers and woolhandlers evacuated in the Australian bushfires remain hopeful their homes have not been damaged.

They were evacuated on Thursday morning from the Parndana area on the south coast of Kangaroo Island, and spent the night at Penneshaw, the northeastern coast port town servicing the ferry link to mainland Australia.

Employer and shearing contractor Stuart Sandilands, from Havelock North, remained in Kingscote, the island's main town, with a population of about 1800, which was reported on Friday to have been isolated by fires whipped-up by winds threatening the only roads in or out.

The evacuation of inland Parndana came while many of the New Zealanders were 40km away in Kingscote at the funeral for shearer Raniera (Dan, or Umu) Sullivan, from Hawke's Bay and who died in January 2, aged 67.

It was a "prevention" measure, according to former Golden Shears and World woolhandling champion Tina Rimene, working on Kangaroo Island for the first time with partner Jackson Haraki, from Hastings.

But soon afterwards she said: "I think by the maps we may have all just lost our homes. Very sad, but we are safe."

The island is a popular destination for workers from New Zealand woolsheds, and Rimene said the majority of the employees are from Hawke's Bay.

"There is quite a big Kiwi community here," she said. "Around 75 per cent would be Kiwi."

At the funeral many were from related Sullivan, Tahau, and Sandilands whanau — "all from Hawkes's Bay," she said.

Similar types of Kiwi family connections are evident in other Australian shearing towns.

Rimene, a three-times Golden Shears Open woolhandling champion who in South Africa in 2000 won a World teams title - the same title won last July in France by daughter Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, and Sheree Alabaster, of Taihape - said she just had time to return to gather her belongings from her rented home in Parndana, a town with a pub, two small cafes, a laundromat and a hardware store.

They were evacuated to Baudin on the north coast and later in the day were at a friend's home in Penneshaw, doing what Kiwis do best when without anything else to do after being evacuated amid the bushfires.

"We're all having a drink," she said. "It (evacuation) is a prevention move. We don't really know what it's like just now, but if it's gone ... [it will] start again."

Reassuring family back home seemed as much an issue as the evacuation, and she said her daughters were being "drama queens" — "booking tickets for me to come home and things like that. It's not that easy. We've got a home and three cars here."

A report from Adelaide daily The Advertiser on Thursday said an Emergency Warning had been issued for Vivonne Bay and residents of Parndana had also been urged to leave their town as a fire bears down.

"Anyone left in the area is warned to leave now (before roads were closed and it became unsafe to travel)," it said on a website mid-afternoon New Zealand time. "It will soon be too dangerous to do so."

The South Australia Country Fire Service CFS was battling extreme fire conditions today, with gusty winds and temperatures about 40C and the CFS expected multiple flare-ups across the Ravine fire, which encompasses about a third of Kangaroo Island.

Fires near Parndana had broken control lines on Thursday morning, and with apparent escalation of the island's situation and no sign of abatement six armoured personnel carriers based at Edinburgh in Adelaide's north had headed to the island on the Sealink Ferry to help with the fire effort.


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