The mum says on the day the bushfires broke out, it had begun like any other.
“Sam was busy with building and maintenance work, while I was tending to the animals – caring and feeding them as usual.”
But by the evening, officials warned that the fire could come through at any time. Dana, 30, and her 1-year-old son, Connor, fled, while Sam stayed behind.
“My heart broke not knowing what would happen,” Dana recalls.
Despite the fire lapping at their doorstep, the property was unscathed. But sadly, the rest of Kangaroo Island wasn’t as lucky. There were already hundreds of badly burned wildlife.
Dana and Sam launched into action mode.
“We converted our lounge room and dining area into a 24-hour care area for orphaned koalas and kangaroo joeys,” she says.
“Most of the animals coming off the fire grounds needed treatment for severe burns on their feet, faces and rumps, as the staff scrambled around putting gum tree branches out for them to eat and filling up water bowls.”
Knowing they’d need help with vet fees, medication and extra enclosures, the Mitchells set up a GoFundMe page looking to raise $15,000 for the ongoing care of the first 14 koalas that came in.
But costs kept increasing with the number of animals they were treating. Yet thankfully, so did donations from around the world.
News of their incredible rescue efforts reached Hollywood star, Matthew McConaughey. Through his Wild Turkey ‘With Thanks’ platform – an initiative to preserve the wilderness – he got in touch with the couple.
“He was such a down-to-earth and relaxed guy. It felt like a chat between friends when he called us,” says Dana.
“He was keen to find out what had happened, and how he could encourage people to get back to the wild.”
Matthew wasn’t the only celebrity to shine a light on the island, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also organised to have a video call with the Mitchells – and also a number of other members of the community.
“Kangaroo Island is such a small island and the fires burnt nearly half of it, but to receive acknowledgment and support from the royals was so heart-warming,” says Dana.
“They were lovely to chat to and genuinely interested in checking in on the community’s welfare.”
The Mitchells, along with the vets from local clinics, the army and RSPCA, gave their all following the bushfires. Remarkably, they were able to release 250 koalas back into the wild.
With their donation money, Dana and Sam have set up a charity – Kangaroo Island Koala Rescue Centre. With this charity, they’ll be able to continue their animal rescue, rehabilitation and conservation work well into the future.
For more, pick up the latest issue of New Idea. Out now!