Last week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed a special visitor to their video call: a koala named Grace. The sweet little marsupial met the royals as part of their virtual chat with residents of Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
While their interaction with Grace was nothing short of cheery, the Duke and Duchess were on the call for a more serious reason—to speak with Australians about their devastating January wildfires. Over several weeks this winter, approximately 48% of Kangaroo Island was affected by bushfires, leading to two deaths and significant property damage. On the video call were local business owners and first responders, who are attempting to rebuild their lives again.
During the call, the royals heard from Captain Mike Swayne, a volunteer firefighter, who outlined the challenges he and other first responders faced, including weather conditions and the fast speed at which the fires spread.
Prince William thanked Swayne and his colleague Brigadier Damian Cantwell, also on the call, for their service. "Both Catherine and I would say to you and Mike, to your teams, what a fantastically brilliant job you guys did in what sounds like the most difficult circumstances," he said. "I think you should be very proud of yourselves and how much effort went into this."
Wildlife park owner Dana Mitchell also spoke, discussing the care her park provided for at-risk animals and noted the tragic impact the fires had on the island's koala population.
"Unfortunately, prior to the fires, there was estimated around 60 to 80 thousand koalas on Kangaroo Island, and since the fires now, they're doing surveys at the moment, but they're estimating the numbers to be only around five to ten thousand," Mitchell said.
The Duke and Duchess gasped in response. "That's devastating," Prince William said.
Will and Kate also heard from Stephanie Wurst, who was one of the many Australians to lose her home because of the wildfires. She also lost all of the infrastructure on her farm, along with half of her livestock. She has since been working to rebuild her livelihood and help her family get through the tough times. Wurst noted the immense support she has received from friends, and even strangers, during the past few months.
Overall, despite the devastation, the Duke and Duchess expressed appreciation for the Australians' hope and sense of togetherness. The pair praised the group's efforts in rebuilding what has been lost.
"It’s fantastic to hear about the community spirit in Australia as always, which is what Catherine and I see when we come down there," said Prince William. "Aussies are very good at looking out for each other and it’s fantastic to see that you’re all pulling together."
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