Over the past few months we have all heard many times about the generosity of spirit, the resilience, the giving nature and the helping hands that have helped heal the wounds caused by Mother Nature in Queensland this year. All media has been full of stories of individuals who have gone out of their way to do something astounding and those who have joined together to achieve great things, all in aid of those they do not know. The recent chaos in our State has highlighted the good in all of us. It has galvanised entire communities. All working for a common goal. To ease the pain of those who are suffering.
We made the decision to evacuate before the cyclone hit the coast and we went as far south as Rockhampton to do so. With three young children and Larry a not too distant memory, we chose to spare our children the anxiety of a Category 5 whopper. In hindsight, with the cyclone veering south of Cairns, I still maintain that it was the right choice to make. Besides, we had an adventure we would never have had if we'd stayed.
Rockhampton is bearing the signs of recent flooding. Buildings still have a brown ring around the middle of them to show where the water sat. The grass in most areas is dead from being underwater for an extended period and the roads are littered with huge pot holes. One thing that strikes you the most about Rocky is not the obvious blights on it's appearance. It's the people who live there. I have never met more helpful, friendly people in any other town or city I have visited.
They were happy about my few dollars being spent there and the many others who also evacuated to Rockhampton from as far south as Airlie Beach and as far north as Cooktown. Mostly though, they were just happy. We stayed there for three days and experienced the same level of service everywhere we went. The doctors (yes, one of the kids was sick), pharmacy (yes, they required medication), the food outlets, shops and the accommodation. A smiling, cheerful face greeted us every time and they went out of their way to ensure we left wearing similar smiles.
The drive home was an interesting one. From Home Hill we could see the devastation caused by Yasi and as we made our way further north it just got more and more harrowing. The roads are surprisingly good, much better than those in the flood zone, but the loss of homes, livelihoods and peace of mind is just heartbreaking to see.
In Townsville we stopped to get supplies for those in the Cardwell/Tully region. The local Woolies questioned why I would need such huge quantities of water and lamingtons. When I explained myself they added more lamingtons to the pile. In Cardwell, those lamingtons were snapped up very quickly by residents sick of sausages and bread. My offerings were a drop in the ocean for those residents we met. They are collecting water several times a day from the Recovery Centre just so they can get it cold. Then they head back to the area that used to house them and now is rubble.
The clean up effort is happening with full force and the volunteers have now added extra hands to the cause but this part of our coastline will take a very long time to fully recover. Roads can be fixed and houses renovated or re-built but the sight of your home, holding all the things you have gathered to make it yours, lying in pieces on the ground is not something you can just 'fix'. This community is trying though. They have got stuck in and are already seeing signs of progress for their efforts. Further north and businesses are re-opening, almost the whole of the main street of Tully is open for trading. Tarps are up, trees are being piled high and the streets are cleared for travel.
Some areas have not fared so well. Tully Heads and Hull Heads, along with the islands of Dunk and Bedarra, are as far from habitable as you could get. Yet, in the coastal communities that bore the brunt of this ferocious storm, residents are staying. They are without many basic essentials, living in conditions beyond the scope of most imaginations and the clean up here has not yet really begun.
The cause of the delay is irrelevant, the fact that there is a delay and these residents are not being informed properly of what is occurring is not acceptable. On the weekend many groups and individuals headed to these areas in search of people and properties that might need their help. What they entered into has been described as 'ground zero after an atomic explosion' and the 360 degrees of devastation is something none can fully explain to those of us who have not seen it too. Some went with packages of food, some with batteries and water, others with chainsaws and gloves. All left feeling like they had just skimmed the surface. Over and over again I have heard stories of people who were feeling forgotten and very alone and the overwhelming relief they felt when they saw the army of volunteers converge on what is left of their main street. Those who went down have promised to go back. They brought back to the rest of us the stories of those who are isolated and homeless and have galvanised many more into action.
This weekend and for many more to follow, those in need of help and assistance will be met by swarms of people, ready and willing to do whatever is required to create conditions you could live in. The actual reconstruction of homes and businesses will take months but the volunteers will be there at least until those residents are no longer living with sewage underfoot, shards of glass strewn about, asbestos fears and lack of basic services.
All over this State we have shown what we are capable of. Our strengths have come to the fore and Queensland has fought back against forces we can't control. The fight continues. Sometime in the not too distant future we will recognise that we are winning. 'You never really know how strong you are, until being strong is your only option'.