Steven Childs needs more help than he used to but the Kangaroo Island (KI) farmer, who has quadriplegia, is as ambitious as ever.

The 57-year-old father of two is spending millions to turn his bushfire-ravaged pine forest into productive farm land.

“I really enjoy turning shit into strawberry jam,” Mr Childs said.

Mr Childs or “Chillers” is known for his entrepreneurial spirit. In the 80s the wool grower had to quickly diversify to survive the wool market collapse and soaring interest rates.

He switched to a lamb operation, ran cattle, farmed marron, opened a backpacker business and set up a seed-potato business with another KI farmer Rodney Lade.

“I found him quite inspiring … the ideas come from nowhere, almost on the back of a postage stamp,” Mr Lade said.

The farmer with big ideas is known to be a tough businessman who likes to take risks.

“Steven had this classic saying of: if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space,” Mr Lade said.

Mr Lade says his former business partner is inspiring.(ABC Landline: Carl Saville)

Not living by the rule book

His risk-taking extended beyond work.

“I was always in trouble, it’s just the depth that varied and with whom,” Mr Childs said.

“I guess I live by what I think is right, rather than the rule book.”

Mr Childs is known for his adventurous spirit.(Supplied)

While his antics didn’t always go down well, friends speak highly of the compassionate man behind the big personality.

“He was a wild man, there’s nothing surer than that,” said long-time friend and stock agent Greg Downing.

“If you had a problem in life and you needed to talk to someone, Steven’s always there.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’ve known him for five minutes or you’ve known him all your life.”

“He did a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t realise about helping young ones get through issues,” Mr Lade said.

Life-changing crash

Mr Childs has had a big impact on his nephew Lleyton Hedges, giving him a job on KI after he finished school, becoming both a mentor and father figure.

Lleyton Hedges and Mr Childs cherish their relationship.(ABC Landline: Carl Saville)

“He showed a lot of the qualities I wanted to be and what I was looking for in being a man,” Mr Hedges said.

“I was literally living the dream … I loved every minute of being over here.”

It was a good time for Mr Childs too. He was debt free and all his businesses were thriving.

But in June 2018 the good times came to a devastating end, when a bit of four-wheel-driving fun went wrong.

“I set the paddock up where it was a nice, smooth paddock, nothing to hit, no sheep in it,” Mr Childs said.

“And I suggested Lleyton take the wheel and do a few ‘snakeys’, which is supposed to be a controlled slide.

“Anyway the controlled slide became uncontrolled and you know a one-in-a-million thing happened where the car rolled over.

“I went out the window, [the] car rolled over the top of me.

“I just laid there next to the vehicle, knowing I had a broken neck.

“I was quite calm. I got people to shut the gates in the right places … didn’t need to have sheep getting out cause I had a broken neck.”

Mr Childs in hospital after the incident.(Supplied)

Mr Hedges said his uncle looked at him and said “I’m glad it’s me not you”.

“A lot of months after that were just a big blur to be honest; it all was very emotional and got the better of me,” Mr Hedges said.

Mr Childs spent 40 days in intensive care followed by months of rehabilitation. The reality of life in a wheelchair set in.

The farm helped distract and motivate him to keep going.

Mr Childs in front of his specially designed vehicle that allows him to get out on his farm.(ABC Landline: Carl Saville)

“Doctors were not keen for me to live too far from hospital,” Mr Childs said.

“I never considered the option of living in the city, I was going back to the farm, right or wrong.”

He did a year later.

Back on the farm

Mr Childs drives an electric wheelchair with the limited use of one hand but relies on support workers to manage pain and all his other needs, including eating and daily physical therapy.

Mr Childs with farm manager Dan Rowsell in the sheep yards. (ABC Landline: Kerry Staight)

He has a unique working relationship with farm manager Dan Rowsell.

“We do a lot of talking. He’s good at that. And I do a lot of listening,” Mr Rowsell said.

“Between the two of us we make fairly good decisions I think.

Six months after Mr Childs returned to the farm he was dealt another major blow when the deadly Black Summer bushfires tore across Kangaroo Island.

While his sheep survived, not much else did.

“Burnt every piece of the property, all the fences, every blade of grass, my accommodation business, a pine forest,” he said.

Fire damage at Mr Childs’s property.(Supplied: Ben Liddle)

Again Mr Childs didn’t think twice about staying on.

Mr Childs is turning a bushfire-ravaged pine forest back into productive farmland.(ABC Landline: Carl Saville)

‘Hit after hit’

The life-changing hurdles have been hard on his family and friends, who have helped keep things running.

But they’ve also strengthened bonds between generations.

“In latter years our relationship is quite strong, especially since the accident,” said Mr Childs’s father Allen.

“He’s got more guts that I could ever imagine.”

Mr Childs’s daughter Fiayla has returned to the farm to support her father, who has experienced “hit after hit”.

“But he just keeps thinking about how he can fix it and eventually finds the answer and sorts it out, so yeah, he’s unbelievable,” she said. 

For several years after the accident Mr Hedges kept his distance, but Mr Childs was determined not to let guilt consume the young man.

“He [Mr Childs] was always there, always messaging me, always calling me, asking everyone about me,” Mr Hedges said.

“But I probably just wasn’t ready to answer, until recently.”

Mr Childs said reconnecting with his nephew was emotional. 

“We were both in tears and I emphasised how much responsibility that I had in the accident and he went back to Adelaide, packed his bags and moved back the next day,” he said.

“Both my daughters and Lleyton have given me a lot of drive and purpose to battle on.”

And it has been a battle, with lamb prices plummeting in the past 12 months and no potato or accommodation businesses to fall back on.

But as the burnt pine forests gradually transform into multi-purpose farms, this very determined farmer is confident his latest calculated risk will pay off.

“The potential of what this can be with adding water is huge,” Mr Childs said.

“I think it will be some of the most valuable land on the island.”

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