I recently had the fabulous opportunity to be part of a group of 14 Victorian public service staff from across government deployed for two weeks to work with the Queensland Department of Communities on cyclone recovery.
Working as part of Department of Communities’ Needs Assessment Teams, we were based in Cairns and travelled each day to the cyclone-affected areas of Mission Beach, El Arish, Tully and Cardwell along the Cassowary Coast in far north Queensland. The main relief centre was located at Tully, and from there we would divide into teams of two, and together with a representative from Life Line or Red Cross and with (literally) a cut lunch, map, four-wheel drive and a cheque book, we would set out to call on all the properties in the area assigned to us each day.
Whilst the humidity, torrential rain and flash flooding, concerns about Dengue fever and crocodiles, and five hours each day on the bus where a challenge, this was one of the most amazing and humbling experiences I have had. The Needs Assessment Team members, both Victorian and Queensland, proved to be an intrepid, experienced group who showed amazing versatility and commitment, no matter what the task. Navigating unfamiliar roads (where many of the road signs had blown away), arranging emergency accommodation, tracking down material aid, assessing grants, even rescuing three chickens and an injured rooster – it seemed no job was beyond us and there were lively stories each afternoon on the bus.
It was such a privilege to meet so many local people and to be shown, first hand, the affect TC Yasi on their homes, farms and livelihoods. Anna Bligh was right when she said they breed them tough in Queensland; we found such courage and stoicism in the midst of the most terrible damage to properties and communities. In one small town the impact of the cyclone had been so severe that the actual coastline had been re-shaped to the extent that one person’s block of land no longer existed.
I found a great many similarities between cyclone recovery and bushfire recovery – the need for water, fuel, generators, clothing, temporary shelter, grants, insurance claims, the sense of disrupted lives, the guilt of those whose homes were intact, the need for social support and to be able to tell your story.
I am so grateful to have had this experience and hope to use it to further illustrate the value of building community resilience as a strategy for disaster preparedness and recovery.