For Kynan Lang, the decision to help with the recovery effort on Kangaroo Island was prompted partly by family tragedy, but also by family pride.
- Dick Lang and his son Clayton died in the Kangaroo Island fires earlier this year
- The men’s relative Kynan, an Army reservist, is now helping with recovery efforts
- Today he paid heartfelt tribute to the victims, kneeling in front of a small memorial
The police officer and Army reservist was at an Adelaide Hills market with his family 10 days ago when he received a news alert about the worsening fire situation.
Only later did he discover the disaster would affect him personally.
“The headline came up on my phone that there were in fact two people killed on the island,” Lieutenant Lang recalled.
“It wasn’t until I’d gotten home that my father rang me with the tragic news.
“He said that his brother had been killed and my cousin had died trying to help him … when it’s your own blood, it makes it hard.
“I spent most of the afternoon kicking around at home reminiscing about me and Clarrie and Uncle Dick.”
The bodies of bush pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his youngest son Clayton, 43, were found on Saturday, January 4 — a day after Kangaroo Island’s fires were described as “virtually unstoppable”.
“They were helping local families with their farm vehicle and trailer and water tank on the back and they were helping put out fires,” Lieutenant Lang said.
“When they were driving towards Gosse on the Playford Highway it appears they’ve had some trouble with their vehicle, and they’ve been overcome by the fire.”
Shortly after Lieutenant Lang was informed of his family’s loss, he received another series of phone calls.
“It just kept ringing, and it was the Army and they were asking us to step up,” Lieutenant Lang said.
“The very first call I had, my wife was sitting next to me at the time, and I looked at her and she said, ‘go for it, get out there and help’. And absolutely, the answer was yes.
“We came as quickly as we could, we set up near the airfield and we started helping.
“Both Dick and Clarrie were trying to help to community, and I believe they had a baton and they’ve dropped that baton.
“I’ve now picked that baton up.”
‘They loved Kangaroo Island … this was their passion’
Bushfires have been burning on Kangaroo Island since before Christmas, but conditions worsened in early January.
Another major flare-up occurred last week, when the townships of Parndana and Vivonne Bay came under threat as fires again broke containment lines.
Almost half of the island has been engulfed by fire.
The devastation prompted drastic and unprecedented measures, including the deployment by the Australian Defence Force reservists and the Army.
Lieutenant Lang — a logistics officer — is one of several hundred personnel sent to the island.
Today, he and his colleagues took part in a small, makeshift but heartfelt roadside memorial service to honour his loved ones.
He said as soon as he saw a photograph of their burnt-out car, he knew “there was no hope”.
“Dick Lang was the uncle I used to brag about in primary school. I’d say to all my mates that he was the safari-ing uncle who went around the world, and took people to do it,” he said.
“There were times I’d ring him in South Africa, and I could actually hear the wildlife and lions roaring behind him.
“My uncle was a mad pilot, he did everything. He took anyone anywhere.”
Dick’s son Clayton was one of four brothers and was a renowned plastic surgeon.
“We were pretty tight,” Lieutenant Lang said.
“He was extreme, he was a skydiver, he’d do anything he’d get a thrill out of. He spent 35 years of his life studying to be a doctor.”
Lieutenant Lang — whose ancestors were among South Australia’s first European settlers on the HMS Buffalo — said he had spoken to the wives of both men.
He said his connection to Kangaroo Island “is through my surname” and he wanted to continue the legacy of his lost relatives, whom he referred to — in military tradition — as “the fallen”.
“They loved Kangaroo Island, this was their passion and they had a hobby farm here. They loved coming here and being a part of the island,” he said.
“There was a man at the airport, and he didn’t have to say anything — he came up to me, he saw my name, he extended his hand.
“The emotions I’m going through — it’s a mixture of pride and sadness.”
A funeral for Dick and Clayton Lang will be held on Friday.
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