Today I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to Colin and Michelle French, owners and operators of Kinglake Ranges Wilderness Camp (KRWC) and Kinglake Sustainability Leadership Centre (KSLC). I'll refer to the camp/centre throughout this article under its old acronym of KWAC (or its old name of Kinglake West Adventure Camp), as that is the name that I associate it with (Old habits die hard - sorry Colin).
KWAC is, or had been, primarily a facility hosting camps for schools, youth and other groups. It is located on the Whittlesea-Yea Road, on the left hand side, a kilometre or so past the turn off on to Kinglake, if you are heading towards Yea.
KWAC, has been operating for over 15 years and is one of the largest employers in the region. Colin and Michelle have been involved with the camp for over 5 years. The business has a strong reputation for the high quality of the activities provided to all participants, with a very experienced crew managing the whole process (and the food was pretty good too). As their accountant, I have been privileged to have been involved with the business since 2007.
On Black Saturday, in February 2009, the camp facilities were completely and utterly destroyed.
We are now 29 months from that horrific day and, whilst the going has not been easy, the camp is now up and running again, with new, and better, facilities and activities conducted by a committed team, all under the expert management of Colin and Michelle.
Those of you who have not been intimately involved with the recovery process in Kinglake, and other bushfire affected regions, may have some difficulty in fully appreciating the enormity of the task that lay ahead for Colin and Michelle after the fires. As a business person also affected by the fires I am but in awe of the way they have gone about the process of rebuilding. Patience, determination, persistence, flexibility. These are the attributes that have been needed to get the camp rebuilt.
Government has helped. DSE's financial contribution and the collaboration with GOTAFE have meant a facility that is now able to be utilised throughout the year (even in the cold months!). The facilities that have been built bear no relation to those detroyed by the fires, and that's probably a good thing. A fully equipped, and spacious kitchen, cosy teachers' retreat and training rooms are just some of the added extras to the old camp. Outside, and a new and challenging ropes course has been created, as well as the Leap of Faith. A new permaculture garden will provide fruit and vegetables for the camp all year-round.
There has been royal interest in the rebuild. Back in early 2010, when Prince William visited Victoria's bushfire affected regions he stopped in to visit the KWAC site. Here are some photos of the prince, and his entourage with the French family (courtesy of The Australian, and Kinglake Ranges News).
KLMS Australia, a company specialising in modular building construction. Local tradesmen have been used, as much as possible, making this a distinctly Kinglake project.
The reopening of the camp is good news for the Kinglake community. As one of the largest employers in the area, a number of locals will be able to work close to home. The goods and services that the camp sources locally will benefit local businesses, allowing them to employ more staff. Aside from the economic benefits, it provides a boost in local morale to have one of the local iconic businesses back up and running again.
With the facilities fully operational, a number of schools (and other groups) have already experienced the new Kinglake Ranges Wilderness Camp, with other groups booked in up to a year in advance! If you are connected with a school looking for a new camp experience (or maybe a band looking for a weekend band camp) you should contact the camp. Colin, Michelle and the team will be able to look after you.