The inside story of how this idea has provided accommodation for fire victims across Australia and given them people hope for the future.
The inside story of how this idea has provided accommodation for fire victims across Australia and given them people hope for the future.

The shipping containers giving new hope to fire victims

They're the shipping containers making the world of difference to hundreds of families across Australia who lost their homes in last summer's devastating bushfires.

Conceived and designed at an emergency meeting in Kangaroo Island and produced at Monarto, the containers are transformed into temporary accommodation pods with power, running water, a kitchen and beds.

They're the brainchild of a WA-based mining executive who has spent most of the past six months in Kangaroo Island, away from his family, overseeing the manufacture and delivery of the pods to people who lost their homes on the island and in the Adelaide Hills. Mark Tazewell has given a lot of man hugs in that time. And women hugs, too, for that matter.

He's seen stoic old farmers break down and cry, and usually chokes up himself when asked to talk about what he has seen and experienced.

The pods are jointly funded by Minderoo Foundation, the charity of mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, and the State Government, and produced at Monarto by Australian Portable Camps.

About 100 of a planned final tally of more than 200 pods have already been delivered to bushfire-hit communities across SA and NSW, including 38 on Kangaroo Island and eight in the Adelaide Hills.

A crane prepares to unloac the shipping container onto Heather Hartley’s property. Picture Matt Turner
A crane prepares to unloac the shipping container onto Heather Hartley’s property. Picture Matt Turner

Mr Tazewell and a crane crew will deliver the last one in the hills next week - just over six months since the Cudlee Creek fire ripped through 23,253ha, destroying or damaging 154 homes.

The pods have been a godsend for the families, some of whom had been living in tents, caravans or shearing sheds since the fires.

"They've been so well received it's been a little bit overwhelming," Mr Tazewell told The Advertiser.

"I've given lots of man hugs and had old stoic farmers and farmers wives who have just broken down. They can't believe the generosity of Minderoo and the concept and how fast we mobilised.

"People have told me it's changed their lives. It's given them the will to get up in the morning and face what had previously been the blackened doorstep of where they used to live.

"And I've had wives take me aside and thank me because their husbands have slept for the first time in weeks."

The pod is lowered onto the ground. Picture: Matt Turner
The pod is lowered onto the ground. Picture: Matt Turner

Mr Tazewell is manager of infrastructure development for Mr Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group.

It's a title he still holds, but he hasn't touched his day job since January 7, when he was asked to offer some advice at a meeting called to discuss how Minderoo Foundation could help fire victims across Australia.

Two days later, Mr Tazewell joined Mr Forrest and other key Minderoo Foundation personnel on a flight to Kangaroo Island, where Mr Forrest also owns the 2500ha De Mole Estate on the island's northwestern corner. The billionaire's foundation donated $70 million into the country's fire recovery effort.

Mr Tazewell met with traumatised residents, who had lost their homes, at a meeting in Kingscote on January 9, and suggested the foundation could build something akin to a mobile mining camp to help with emergency accommodation.

The farmers appreciated the idea, but stressed they weren't camp people and needed to be living on their farms. As ensuing discussion unfolded, Mr Tazewell sketched a plan onto his notepad how a 7.2m by 2.4m shipping container could be divided up into temporary accommodation.

A few days later, he visited Frank Martino at Australian Portable Camps in Monarto, and six days after that they had finished a prototype. It got the nod from Mr Forrest, who initially approved the construction of five pods and then 10. The first pod arrived on Kangaroo Island on February 15, and eventually the SA and NSW governments came on board to split the costs as production, and demand, ramped up. The State Government has committed $1.2 million, plus another $450,000 to prepare sites.

Each pod costs about $30,000 to make and deliver and includes a 230-litre water tank, generator, toilet, shower, kitchen, washing machine, a fridge and beds.

Mr Tazewell delivered a pod to Adelaide Hills resident Heather Hartley this week. Ms Hartley, 74, had been living half of her time out of a borrowed caravan, with no shower or toilet, and the other half in an unused rectory at St John's Lutheran Church rectory at Norton Summit.

But she will now live in the pod until she has rebuilt on the site of the gutted house she called home for 27 years. As well as her home, Ms Hartley lost sheds, four antique horse-drawn vehicles and other rare horse equipment in the fire. Miraculously, her seven horses survived. On December 20 last year, she, a friend and eight dogs had flames licking at their car as they escaped the blaze that roared up the hill and engulfed her home. Her neighbour, Ron Selth, died.

Inside the pod.
Inside the pod.

Ms Hartley said she had been overwhelmed with the generosity of people who had donated clothes, furniture and other household goods to help her rebuild, and the delivery of the pod was the latest example of this goodwill.

"It's just absolutely fantastic," she said when asked to describe the difference the pod would make to her life.

"I've got a toilet and shower now, which is great because I didn't have either of those things before. So the pod is absolutely making life so much easier. It's just been great."

Kangaroo Island residents Geoff and Margi Prideaux were preparing for the first commercial harvest at their vineyard Flock of Finches, north of Gosse, when the fire swept through and gutted their home and sheds. In the immediate aftermath of the fires, the couple had been making the long commute from Kingscote, about an hour each way, to rebuild their vineyard and plan their new home. They got a phone call from Mr Tazewell a couple of weeks after the fire and, a few weeks after that, were living back on their property in one of the pods.

Bunk beds inside the temporary pods.
Bunk beds inside the temporary pods.

"It's fantastic," Mr Prideaux said. "A lot of thought has gone into the pod, and its design. It's condensed living, but it's comfortable, it's dry and it's warm, and you can't underestimate that."

Mr and Mrs Prideaux hope to be out of their pod and living in a new home on their property by before Christmas.

For Mr Tazewell, installing the last SA pod in the Hills will be the end of a memorable, rewarding and emotional six months.

"It's hard to put into words, to be honest," he said. "I usually end up in tears. When you've been here from the beginning of January, and you've seen the complete devastation. It's starting to come back now … but people were shattered.

"There's very few times in your life, in your working career, where you actually get to genuinely see and feel that people appreciate what you're doing, but this is one of them."

The sketch which Mark Tazewell drew on a notepad on Kangaroo Island which was the inspiration behind temporary bushfire accommodation hubs for Minderoo Foundation.
The sketch which Mark Tazewell drew on a notepad on Kangaroo Island which was the inspiration behind temporary bushfire accommodation hubs for Minderoo Foundation.

Originally published as The shipping containers giving new hope to fire victims



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