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Creating a more compassionate world

Be kind to every kind

Kym Henley says a miracle happened at Freedom Hill Sanctuary in December 2019, when the terrible force of the Cudlee Creek bushfire barrelled towards it.
Kym, who owns the sanctuary, was picking up supplies from Woodside when she saw the rising plumes of thick smoke.
“I rang my friend, who has goats in Lenswood, and I said ‘I’ve seen the smoke and looked at the CFS app on my phone and it looks like it’s heading in her direction’,” she recalls.
“I told her that if she needed me, to call me and I’ll come back to help her move her goats.”
Kym returned to her property – a 20ha farm at Harrogate that had been a sanctuary for cats, dogs and rescued farm animals for about eight years.
But after tending to her animals she was preparing to settle down when she suddenly got a call from her friend.
“She said ‘I don’t think you need to worry about me’,” Kym says.
The winds had changed and Freedom Hill Sanctuary was directly in the path of the rapidly expanding fire.
“We’d already had extremely hot weather in the week leading up, so we had the cat baskets by the front door and were prepared for a fire,” she says.
“The sprinklers had been on out in the main shed area all week to keep it cool for the sheep to come into.
“I started ringing people to ask if they could come and help me with the evacuation, but the roads were being closed and no one was being let through.”


Kym had lived through the 2015 Sampson Flat fire, which threatened the northern Adelaide Hills, but didn’t reach Harrogate.
But this time was different.
She says the Cudlee Creek fire was more violent and much closer, fuelled by weather conditions akin to an open-air fan-force oven, with baking winds so powerful that a large aerial water tanker brought in from interstate to help local firefighters was grounded.
“We ran the generators to keep the sprinklers going in the shed and moved all the small animals and sheep in there,” Kym says.
“We opened the gates to our paddocks to let the horses and cows run freely between the two dams.
“I had already packed up the cats and the dogs and put them in the car.
“We wanted to take everyone, but we knew we couldn’t, so this was our Plan B.”
As she and her husband, Richard, were getting ready to leave, Kym could see the fire rapidly approaching.
“It had arrived in no time at all,” she recalls, fighting to hold back tears.
Kym, Richard and their cats and dogs escaped to safety, but every waking minute was spent hoping the animals they left behind were safe.
As the fire spread through the night Kym was restless and pushing to return home, but they weren’t allowed to go back until daybreak.
“We waited in a queue to get back in and, when day broke, we drove in the direction of home,” she says.
“All the roads and everything as far as we could see were black.
“Trees were down and trees were on fire everywhere – it was a waking nightmare.
“One of those things you wish you’d never seen, a vision you would never wish on anyone.”
As they drove around the last corner to their property, Kym saw the hill at the back and started to panic.
“The whole hill was black, which meant the fire had gone through the front of our property,” she says.
“Richard floored it around the corner and into the driveway, everything was scorched at the front.”
But she heard something incredible as she looked over at the shed.
The animated bleating of sheep – which she says were complaining about their trotters being soaked by the sprinklers.
“I ran to them and said ‘guys, that’s not the worst thing to happen to you, stop complaining – you’re alive!’,” she says.
“Then I ran all the way to where the cows and horses were.
“The horses had returned to their paddock and were standing at their feed bags, waiting for breakfast, while the cows were standing at the dam.
“No one was hurt, everyone was alive.”

…the Cudlee Creek fire was more violent and much closer, fuelled by weather conditions akin to an open-air fan-force oven…

The fire had reached the fence but didn’t breach it, instead jumping over in the direction of the house, which Kym credited a perimeter of agapanthus plants for protecting.
She still can’t explain how the fire avoided every animal, describing it as an “absolute miracle”.
But Richard had a theory.
“My mother had passed away only a year before the fire,” Kym says.
“My husband said she put a dome over the place for me and protected all the animals.”
It would be several more weeks before things settled down, as fires continued to break out across the Hills and power remained cut off from the property.
Six months on from the ordeal, having thought it was all behind her, Kym was out shopping when a helicopter flew overhead.
“I dropped what I was holding and burst into tears because I wasn’t home,” she says.
“All you hear in a bushfire is choppers, planes, sirens, so it was then that I realised I wasn’t okay and I wasn’t okay keeping these animals where they were.”
Kym and Richard agreed that it was better for everyone to move Freedom Hill Sanctuary to a 40ha property at Brinkley, which they have since been able to double in size.
The flatter land, scarcer trees and wide open space has given them some comfort that the creatures they care for are better protected from future fires.
Freedom Hill Sanctuary continues as a volunteer-run, not-for-profit service that offers a better life for rescued farm animals, motivated by Kym’s strong belief in the equal value of all living beings – a principle she lives by through her strict vegan lifestyle.
It all started when she took a sheep named Lynn into her care back when she was living in Crafers West, prompting her decision to move to Harrogate and a desire to adopt a friend to keep Lynn company.
“We started with wanting one friend for her, with the possibility of rescuing a few others,” Kym says.
“Lynn now has over 180 friends – cats, dogs, sheep, cows, horses, ponies, goats, donkeys, deer and more – who eat together, play together, sleep together.”
Every day is an all-encompassing routine of caring for the creatures at Freedom Hill Sanctuary and, while she has the support of a small team of volunteers who put in a day or two or work here and there, it mostly falls on Kym to maintain the property.
She hopes to share what she’s doing with more people, with a mind to offering insight into what a more compassionate world might look like.
She knows she can’t look after every animal, turning away rescued native animals due to the specialised care they require.
But for those she can, she will always try.
And while memories of what she saw in late 2019 still haunt her, Kym looks to the future, treating those in her care with the same love and worry that a mother always has for her child.
“I learned everything I needed to know about looking after these animals from being a mum,” she says.
“Everything else I learned along the way.”

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