News Release

Adelaide Mormons Spend Australia Day Helping Those Ravaged by Bush Fires 

The hills were alive with the sights and sounds of a yellow army on Australia Day. Members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- 240 strong -- answered the call to help clean up Adelaide properties ravaged by bush fires, wearing their distinctive yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests.

The call came via Rachel Thistleton's 'Adelaide Fires 2015' Facebook page. Rachel is not a member of the Church, but is an involved member of the community who set up the page.  She has only lived in Adelaide for five months but saw the need and posted it.

It was a plea for hands-on support for the bush fire victims that struck a chord with Church member, Kylie Barnes. Kylie was recently given the assignment, by her stake president Rainer Korte, to look out for meaningful opportunities for Church members to serve the community.

When she saw the Facebook page, she first got priesthood leader support and galvanised three stakes (dioceses) and the Australia Adelaide Mission in just 48 hours by social media, phone, e-mail and word of mouth, 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. "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, age 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," said 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 12 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 the Latter-day Saint workers on to do their best for families affected by the trial of nature.

The service project was opportune, according to Humbug Scrub property owner, Colin Perryman. "Many thanks to 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 move the tree. 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 showed a real community connection.

"The teams were hardworking, compassionate, and patient and they demonstrated initiative. The feedback already coming in 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."

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, but the underlying message tied to that labour -- a love for fellow Australians and the knowledge that people care about what happens to them – will remain”, said Sujatha Rice, a member of the Church’s Adelaide Public Affairs council.

The support has been on-going, including close to 100 Church volunteers on Saturday 31st January and more committed to serve on Saturday 7th February. People as young as 12 years of age have been part of the property clean-up.

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