ANIMALS caught in the Australian bushfires at the turn of the year have been nursed back to health thanks to a kind-hearted gesture from a County Durham residents’ group.

Earlier this year, Shirley and Ron Read, from Dean Bank, Ferryhill, were preparing to head to Australia for a holiday and to visit their family.

Upset by pictures of the bush fires which affected many parts of the country in January, the couple decided to visit the Healesville Animal Sanctuary, near Melbourne, when they were in Australia.

The night before she flew, Mrs Read attended a meeting of the Dean Bank Reading Group.

This is a group which meets in the reading room belonging to Durham Aged Mineworkers’ Homes Association (DAMHA).

The pair, along with most of the group, live in DAMHA homes.

When Mrs Read mentioned the bush fires and her impending visit, she was amazed when another member of the group, Pat Howard, suggested they have a collection for the sanctuary.

She was even more amazed when, from a group of around 18 people, £375 was donated in just one evening.

The couple then gave the money to the Australian sanctuary when they visited.

Mrs Read said: “They couldn’t believe that people living in England had taken the time to think about them and they were so happy.

“Healesville had taken in many animals which had been rescued from the bush and they have a viewing area where you can see the work going in their animal hospital.

“Whilst I was there, I saw a koala and a bird being operated on and they both made a full recovery, which was wonderful.”

The County Durham couple lived in Australia for more than 25 years before they returned to the UK but two of their children and nine of their grandchildren still live there.

Their other son and grandchild live in America.

Mrs Read added: “We love going back to Australia on holiday and to see our family, and to be able to support a great sanctuary like Healesville during our latest visit was fantastic.

“The fact that a small group of people in Ferryhill were able to help wild animals on the other side of the world made it even better.”

Pauline York, DAMHA’s operations director, said: “We’re delighted that our residents and other members of the local community felt this was something they wished to support – it was a very nice gesture on their part.”