Barossa volunteers help K.I. koalas

Lucy (holding Brian) and James Fechner, Kerrie Charter, Spence Thomson and Wayne Coles travelled to Kangaroo Island last week to help build an animal hospital for injured koalas.

A brand new animal hospital for injured and burnt koalas has been built at Kangaroo Island by a team of dedicated volunteers, including five from the Barossa.

Spence Thomson, Kerrie Charter, James  and Lucy Fechner of Nuriootpa, and Wayne Coles of Tanunda travelled to the bushfire affected area last week with Channel 9, The Block and Today.

By the end of the week, there were about 40 volunteers from across the country all utilising their trades, from electricians and plumbers to carpenters and plasterers.

Spence, who appeared on The Block with his wife Kerrie in 2018, designed the plans, scheduled the volunteers and organised the materials.

 For the Fechners, the opportunity arose after Spence bumped into James in Mitre 10.

“He asked if I wanted to go to Kangaroo Island the following week? I said absolutely. Then as soon as I told Lucy she said she was coming too, with our sausage dog Brian,” said James, who has his own plumbing business.

James explained that when they arrived, they saw a portable hut with temporary make-shift enclosures, which was being used to treat the injured koalas.

Volunteers at this ‘hospital’ had cared for around 600 koalas since the bushfires began back in December, and 30 baby koalas were being hand-fed every single night.

“Thousands of koalas had been killed and something like 80 percent of their habitat was gone during the bushfires,” said James.

With this in mind, the Barossa crew and many other volunteers got straight to work.

There were six volunteers that worked at least 12 hour shifts daily from last Monday, and by the end of the week there was a huge crew on site helping with final touches.

James said the atmosphere was ‘unlike other building sites’, and everyone worked cohesively, on top of each other to get
it done.

Lucy added, “Everyone was willing to not only do their trade, but whatever else was needed. You’d just tidy something up, paint, or help with plumbing and electrical.

“The guys from The Block, including the previous contestants Lysandra, El’ise and Matt, were amazing and worked so hard.”

A majority of the materials were donated for the project, whilst extras were bought from the local Mitre 10 store. 

A lot of interior decorations were also purchased from local stores.

“When you look at everything else people have done over there we haven’t done much. But to do this for their community and give something that wasn’t just money was pretty awesome,” said James.

“Apparently there is a lot of pride within farmers. Spence went to the footy club that was full of food donations and open for all to grab what they wanted, but people aren’t going in because they’re too proud.

Lucy added, “I think that’s what we learnt. There were lots of people donating stuff they don’t necessarily need… I think they’re more inclined to want people that are going over to work.

“Yeah you can hold the koalas, but you can also go around the park and pick up rubbish, or do the washing. The not so glamorous stuff is what they need people to do!”

All five of our Barossa trades agreed it was one of the best things they’ve ever done, and seeing the hospital in use on their final day was ‘the icing on the cake’.

Lucy and James both agreed that if they were asked to do it again tomorrow, they wouldn’t even question it.

“It was one of the hardest, fun and most rewarding things I’ve done in my life. We are just so thankful to Spence and Kerrie for getting us involved… they truly are great people,” said Lucy.

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