Australia

Fire-hit South Australia farmer proposes with hay bales

Hay bale proposal from the air Image copyright Ben Kemp/Jadine Mold
Image caption Mr Kemp used the 5% of his hay bales which survived in his barn to spell out the message

A farmer in South Australia who lost most of his crops to a bushfire last month has used the surviving hay bales to propose to his girlfriend.

Ben Kemp's family farm was caught up in the Pinery fire, which destroyed 82,000 hectares of land in the state.

He told the BBC he had been planning the extravagant proposal to Jadine Mold for some time, but the fire convinced him to go ahead.

She said yes, and they hope to have a wedding at the farm next year.

"She said she always wanted to be a farmer's wife," Mr Kemp said.

Image copyright Ben Kemp/Jadine Mold
Image caption Ms Mold thought the helicopter flight was to see the damage caused by the fire

Weather threatens romance

Mr Kemp said the Pinery fire had been "terrifying", with strong winds and temperatures around 35C. Two people were killed.

"The scale this burnt in such a short time has been unbelievable - they're talking about the worst conditions ever."

His family farm - called Youldoo, as his parents couldn't think of a name - lost about 1,000 hectares of land in total, though their home and cattle survived.

"We only lost about 5-6 hectares of unharvested crops but a lot of neighbours were only half or two thirds through the harvest."

Image copyright Ben Kemp
Image caption The fire caused huge amounts of damage across the Kemp farm and surrounding areas
Image copyright Ben Kemp
Image caption The Kemp family farm did not suffer as much damage as some other properties

The couple, who met through mutual friends, have been together about 12 months and Mr Kemp said he had known for some time he wanted to marry Ms Mold.

"This was planned to happen before the fires - I had an idea I was going to do it but the fires highlighted it."

He spent a few hours setting up his message on Tuesday morning, using the 5% of hay bales which survived inside one hayshed, about 80 in total.

Despite his hard work, the proposal nearly didn't go ahead - the helicopter pilot wanted to call it off because of bad weather.

"But with all the planes and drones flying overheard after the fires, I knew they'd see the bales and I'd blow my cover," he said.

Image copyright Ben Kemp/Jadine Mold
Image caption The writing was not immediately obvious closer the ground

"I thought once we got to the place we were taking the helicopter from she would click with what was going on," Mr Kemp told the BBC. "But she thought we were taking a flight to see the fire effect over the farm."

Ms Mold told the Adelaide Advertiser: "I was a little bit shocked. Once I realised it was real, there were tears. I looked out the window and saw it and said: "Oh my God ... No!"

Mr Kemp had the ring and a bottle of wine waiting on the ground next to bales, where he "got down on one knee and made it official".

He said he'd received a lot of messages and phone calls from neighbours, including "other guys that are not married telling me I've set the bar too high".

While they have no fixed plans as yet, they'd like to get married within the year, and hold the reception in the same field, possibly inviting some of their fire-hit neighbours.

Mr Kemp said it would "take a long time to recover" from the fires.

"We're a tight-community. We'll get through and rebuild and re-fence and grow crops again."

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