Woman smiling and standing in an office

Mark and Fiona Jago have turned around the fortunes of the Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park since evacuating during the Black Summer bushfires.

Rebuilding with resilience on Kangaroo Island

Mark and Fiona Jago are the proud owners of Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park and Wildlife Reserve. After the Black Summer bushfires tore through the region, theirs was the only business left on the Western end of the Island. This came with significant challenges but also presented some opportunities for the business. With the help of AusIndustry and their Strengthening Business Facilitator, Sue Arlidge, the Jagos have been able to not only rebuild their business but also diversify their offerings to support recovery in the region.

Western KI Caravan Park is nestled amongst the natural bush and grasslands on the far West of Kangaroo Island. It is close to some of the Island’s biggest natural attractions and is also home to many resident wildlife species such as koalas, wallabies, echidnas, goannas and cape barren geese. The Jagos are entering their eighth year of owning the Western KI Caravan Park but the challenges of the Black Summer Bushfires and COVID-19 have meant that last two years have been the most difficult by far.

When the Black Summer bushfires were headed straight for their caravan park, Mark and Fiona prioritised safety, evacuating their 250 guests and staff. The fire approached more quickly than they anticipated. After ensuring the safety of their guests and staff they were left with very little time to gather their own belongings. In the end they fled to safety with only the clothes on their backs.

Four days after the fires had swept through the park, the Jagos were able to return to assess the damage. The pair acknowledge that were luckier than some, with at least some assets reaming intact. “Once we came in we saw we still had some of our cabins left. We still had our toilet blocks left. Not much else was left but it gave us a drive to rebuild our business” says Fiona.

Our first step was to get the cabins reinstated that we had lost. It’s very much a stage process. We just worked in stages, replacing the cabins, then the kitchens, then the office.

Whilst Fiona and Mark were determined to rebuild, they knew that they couldn’t do it without help. The Kangaroo Island Commissioner introduced Mark and Fiona to the aid agencies working on the island, including AusIndustry’s Strengthening Business service. Fiona and Mark were able to access advice and mentoring from the Strengthening Business Facilitator (at the time), Sue Arlidge. Fiona explains that they were really lucky to work with Sue as they had worked with her previously, so she had a thorough understanding of the business and the region.

Customer story: Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park

Sue helped the Jagos by taking on some of the mental load and navigating through all of the paperwork and administrative hurdles required to rebuild. Fiona explains that Sue helped give them the confidence to locate and apply for grants, because she took the grunt work out of it for them. “When you are stretched to your mental limit, you need someone to help you get through a 40 page document. Having Sue as someone we could lean on made our life easier in that we could concentrate on our business and ourselves”.

With Sue helping manage their grant applications, Mark and Fiona were able to focus their energy on getting water and electricity back up in time to open for Easter. They achieved this goal, but when Covid-19 hit they were forced to close. Initially the Jagos were very disappointed. Fiona reflects that this at least gave them the opportunity to build without having to worry about the safety of their guests on the premises.

Rebuilding was an iterative process. “Our first step was to get the cabins reinstated that we had lost. It’s very much a stage process. We just worked in stages, replacing the cabins, then the kitchens, then the office”

A lot of what we have added to our business isn’t necessary just for our greater gain, but for the whole island.

Aside from helping with the rebuild, Sue was critical in connecting the Jagos with the right people and identifying opportunities they may not have considered. For example, Sue and the Jagos met with Business Council Australia (BCA) who acknowledged the need for workers accommodation, as there was now a shortage after the fires. The Jagos were funded by BCA’s Foundation BizRebuild to build a ten room workers accommodation facility to support the rebuild on that side of the island. Fiona says ‘that facility has housed various workers and volunteers, including researchers. All who contributed to help get the west end back to what it originally was’.

Fuel was also required on the Western end of the Island for workers, locals and tourists. The previous fuel station was burned down, with no plans to rebuild, and the closest fuel station over in Kingscote on the Eastern side of the Island. The Jagos added this service to their Caravan park, not just for themselves, but because it helped the whole of the Western end of the Island.

Additional Commonwealth government funding through the Black Summer Bushfire Fund has also helped in the construction of a 44 bed bunk house which can house further workers, researchers, schools and tour groups. ‘A lot of what we have added to our business isn’t necessary just for our greater gain, but for the whole island community’ said Fiona.

Being a business post fires is a really trying time’.  Fiona says having an honest relationship is very important. ‘There are specialist people that can help you. It’s no good asking someone to come and help you if you’re not prepared to help them help you. It’s an ongoing relationship which has been invaluable in getting us through and helping us keep going post fires.”

Today, the Western KI Caravan park is up and running again with fresh new buildings, amenities and playgrounds. The wild life is making a comeback and the land is looking rejuvenated, ready to welcome new and returning guests.

Fiona says that the guest’s feedback is what make it all worth it. ‘It’s worthwhile when you have guests that come back and say “thank goodness you’re here, that we’re here to come and enjoy and support you”. That’s a real big component of getting out of bed each day.”

‘Seeing people come back, seeing people enjoy the environment and seeing the recovery. The people that come with their eyes open rather than having a negative connotation to the fire. Because it is fascinating to watch [the recovery]. Koalas have got their babies, the kangaroos have got their babies. The trees are coming back. The wild flowers are coming back. It’s a beautiful place to be. And that’s what gets you through everyday’.

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