Sometimes you don’t write the script, you just play your part.
These are the words of a reflective Troy Fischer, whose property and white Suffolk stud was nearly completely destroyed in the Pinery fires in South Australia in 2015.
His wife Nette recalls. “November 25, 2015 was a 42 degree day, with extremely high winds. We knew if a fire started it would be unstoppable.” Unfortunately, it did, and the resultant fire destroyed 85,000ha, including all of Troy and Nette’s place, all their fences, all their hay, 650 stud sheep, and all of their stud ewes. Just 550 stud ram lambs survived.
Troy remembers: “Within 24 hours we had to make some big decisions:
- What to do with the 550 stud ram lambs which now had no feed?
- How to replace the stock which were lost?
- How to utilise the offers of help which were now flooding in?
- Would insurance come to the party?
- And, most importantly, where to start?”
First step was to divide up who does what.
- Troy was in charge of sheep replacement and agistment
- Nette was in charge of resources, insurance, procurement and people
- Troy’s father was in charge of infrastructure and livestock transport
- Troy’s mother was in charge of keeping life as normal as possible for their children
They set themselves three key goals in rebuilding their flock
- They committed to holding a stud ram sale as intended in spring 2016.
- They undertook to breed enough 2016 drop lambs to have a ram sale in 2017, despite the fact that on January 1st 2016, they had no ewes at all.
- They were determined that the genetics they purchased, borrowed or accepted in any form would be as good as, or better than what they lost. They didn’t want anybody’s culls.
Very early on, Troy remembers he received advice in the form of an email from a Victorian Merino breeder, Tom Silcock, who himself had been burnt out several years beforehand: “If people offer to help, say “YES!”, because eventually the help dries up. People forget and move on”.
So Troy hit the phone and rang the owners of what he considered to be the top six studs throughout Australia and told them his story, and asked if the studs would loan him, gift him, or sell him some of their best female genetics. And all of them said yes!
Around this time, Troy was approached in a pub by a stock agent who said: “This will set you back ten years, won’t it?” It made him incensed, and was just the motivation he needed, as he drove around the country organising stud ewes from ten different properties in three different states.
Meanwhile, at home, the rebuilding began. Blazeaid and other volunteers arrived to rebuild fences. The Fischers were so impressed with the work ethic of the volunteers, who worked through terrible dust storms that were a regular occurrence in the burnt areas.
Stock began arriving, and needed to be inspected for any potential disease; drenched, feet inspected and vaccinated.
Fodder arrived from far and wide including the Eyre Peninsula, 8 hours drive away.
And eventually the rain came. Too much at first for the naked paddocks, but eventually the pasture returned and a good season greeted them.
They met their goals, and conducted their ram sales, as they had promised they would, and today find themselves in a better position than before the fires, but they have learnt a lot about recovery and resilience.
When they reflect on the experience of the fires, they often remark that it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change, and they took that unexpected opportunity.
Despite the tragedy of the fires, they were heartenedby the generosity of human spirit that came in the aftermath, and that made them feel valued. That was so important, because there were stressful times when relationships were tested.
Today their business is larger and more profitable, their internal resolve is stronger than ever, and the future is very bright for the next generation.
They may not have written the script, but the Fischers have done more than play their part. They altered the script to create their own happy ending, when fate could easily have forged a different path for them.
Troy and Nette Fischer will be guests at the Gippsland Red Meat Conference which has now been postponed to Tuesday October 26th at the Riviera Convention Centre, and are pleased to tell their story, in part as a way of saying thanks to those who helped them with their recovery, and hoping that their experiences might inspire others to do more than just “play their part”.
The Gippsland Red Meat Conference is brought to you by the Gippsland Agricultural group, with assistance from the National Recovery & Resilience Agency, Agriculture Victoria, Wellington and East Gippsland Shires and Meat & Livestock Australia and support from major sponsors, Elders, Nutrien Ag Solutions, Maiagrazing, Ruralbank, the Herd Improvement Co-operative and National Australia Bank.
Tickets for the conference are available at https://gippslandredmeat2021.eventbrite.com.au or follow the link on the Gippsland Agricultural group facebook page.