FNQ Flood Heroes

Photos of Bill & Michele by Brian Cassey

FNQ Flood Heroes
Words by Stacey Carrick
Photos of Bill & Michele by Brian Cassey

Photos of Bill & Michele by Brian Cassey

Severe Tropical Cyclone Jasper, the wettest tropical cyclone in Australian history, caused widespread devastation to Far North Queensland. Catastrophic damage to homes, livelihoods and the surrounding environments from Cape York in the north to Cardwell in the south.

Residents across the region were prepared for the cyclone, but nothing could have prepared them for the extraordinary deluge that was to follow, leading to absolute loss and heartbreak. Cyclone Jasper made landfall as a Category 2 cyclone at the Bloomfield River community of Wujal Wujal on the 13th December 2023, with wind gusts peaking at 270 kilometres per hour.

Many areas recorded more than a metre of rain, with at least 2250 millimetres being dumped in Bairds near the Daintree River.

As the cyclone crossed the cost within hours, it was another three consecutive days of unrelenting rain as the weather system sat stationary over the entire FNQ region. More than a century of flood records were broken as the immense body of water slowly but surely tore the region apart, doing far more damage than any cyclone that came before it. Landslides moved mountains, river systems permanently changed course, roads broke in half, entire homes that once stood strong, crumbled before people’s very eyes. The sheer scale of the disaster had to be seen, to be truly believed.

As mother nature unleashed her wrath on our tropical paradise, many residents were forced to cling to the rooftops of their homes as they waited in desperation to be rescued in the dark of night. Some left to swim through croc infested raging flood waters, rushing to cling to trees for dear life as they waited to be saved.

Hundreds of families lost all of their possessions and are still in limbo waiting to return to the place they once called home.

Locals suffered from starvation, hypothermia, infections caused by flood waters and mental health issues that continue to plague them.

Several residents felt forgotten by authorities as they struggled to survive the aftermath of Jasper.

Courageous souls were forced to take matters into their own hands, putting their lives on the line as they rescued family members, neighbours and complete strangers.

But despite the dramatic series of events experienced, the community of Far North Queensland stepped up to support one another in their time of need, displaying a massive outpouring of generosity – cleaning, rebuilding, cooking meals, donating groceries, household items, furniture, Christmas presents and even fuel and generators to those hardest hit.

In this edition, CityLife Magazine focuses on some of the shining lights that emerged through this disaster, those who became a beacon of hope for people during their darkest hours. These are the first-hand accounts of our FNQ Flood Heroes.

We would like to acknowledge every single person and organisation who generously donated their time to assist people and we hope you enjoy this edition, one that is full of bravery, hope, inspiration and ‘Making Magic Happen’.

Alec Dunn
A Community’s Saviour

Meet Bill Dunn, the face of a forgotten community.

Bill and his wife Michele from Degarra, on the Bloomfield River, clung to a tree, holding on for dear life, for more than 12 hours, after being swept off their roof by raging flood waters.

The Dunns hoped and prayed for assistance from emergency crews. But help never came.

Their saviour eventually arrived – their son Alec – who has now been hailed a hero after rescuing 17 people over four days with no sleep in his small tinny in croc-infested waters out of trees and off rooftops.

Alec was forced to come to the rescue of Degarra residents after calls to emergency services went unanswered.

He said the rescue mission was deemed too dangerous for emergency services, so he took matters into his own hands.

Degarra was the hardest hit town in the region by the floods caused by Cyclone Jasper. Residents were prepared for the cyclone, however nothing could have prepared them for its aftermath.

“It was too little, too late,” Alec said.

“We had a heap of warnings for the cyclone that never really came. It was a case of the boy who cried wolf, you know?“The storm came out of nowhere. A storm can’t sustain itself for this long, eventually it’s got to run out of steam. This one didn’t.

“People started coming to my place because they were getting flooded.

“I live on a hill, so I’m not too concerned about flooding where I am.

“I was a bit concerned, but not super concerned.”

Alec, a fisherman, was woken early the following morning by a mate who had sought refuge in his house.
His friend alerted him to the rising flood waters and advised him to check on his parents on the south side of the river.
“The south side was getting flooded and I was like ‘Oh, it’s not good’. But my parents live in a two-storey house,” Alec said.
“Where worst comes to worst, they can either get to the top level or they can get to their roof.
“I flew into action with my 3.4 metre tinny with a little outboard that I hadn’t used in over a year.

“I did a really good service on it straight away to make sure it was going to do the job.
“Because I knew straight away, if they’re telling me that I need to get over there, then shit’s gone bad. There’s no point in me launching my boat and then getting into trouble as well.”
Alec was joined in his mission by Jessie Macintosh.
“Jessie was with me for the whole mission,” he said.
“She did a solid and jumped in. None of the boys were keen. She was with me all day, for every rescue.

“I told her before leaving, this could potentially be a one-way trip. We might not make it up there, you know?
“I told Jessie, ‘Look, this is like going into a war zone. There’s no guarantee we’re coming back.
“She’s quite headstrong and keen to jump in and help. In this situation, it is necessary to have a second set of hands to help.
“It doesn’t bother me quite as much as it would a normal person because I do this for a living. 

“This is a very, very, very risky situation to be in. I tried to explain that to her as best I could before she got in the boat.
“It took me a while to get up the river because it was rushing so hard.

“I’ve been on boats for a while. The water was definitely doing some crazy shit I ain’t never seen before.

“It was fully raging. I was worried. I know that river inside and out and it didn’t look like the river that I’ve known for the last 30 years.
“I didn’t expect to find anyone alive when we got up there. I was like, ‘Oh this is bad. I could see how high it had been.
“I got to my parents’ roof and there was no one there. I was like ‘Oh no, my parents are gone, I lost them’. Then I could hear this faint, faint yelling from another direction.”
Alec found Bill, 72, and Michele, 57, clinging on to a tree, where they had been all night after being swept off their roof.

“They were not in a good way,” Alec said.

“They were cold, they were hypothermic. Especially the old man. He was blue. He was so physically exhausted. He had rashes between his legs where he’d been hanging on to the tree. His whole body was scratched, really, really bad.
“I was stoked when I found them alive. 

“They were there all night waiting to be rescued. After my parents, I then rescued other people in trees, on roofs, just clinging on.
“They were freezing, they had barely any clothing on, so they could swim better.
“They were in severe shock. Shock does weird things to people. There was not much sense coming out of the survivors.”
Sadly, the Dunns’ neighbour, Ray Dark, 85, succumbed to the raging flood waters.
“His property was two houses up from my mum and dad,” Alec said.
“The worst spot ever. There’s not even a tree there, let alone a house. He got washed away. The last message from him was about 10 o’clock that night saying he was getting into his tinny with his dog and going to try to get to land, but no one ever heard from him again.
“There’s no way anyone could have survived that water.”

Alec and Jessie braved the raging flood waters, saving 17 people and six dogs.
Without their courageous efforts, it is evident that there would have been many more fatalities.
“It was bad, real bad,” Alec said. “It would have been body retrieval for days.
“There were people with hypothermia, like my father. Quite skinny like I am, and stressed out. Your body can only last so long and then your organs start shutting down.
“I’d definitely say, if we weren’t out there, no one would have got to him for another day, two days.”
Alec received phenomenal assistance from Darby Strange, who also helped with rescues, and Julie Hewlett, who owns the IGAs in Ayton and Wujal Wujal.
Julie acted as a coordinator during the rescues, assisting with communications and liaising with Alec and Jessie to organise much-needed medication for the elderly population.
Julie had to deal with flooding and looting at her shop, yet her first concern was the safety and well-being of the community and ensuring people had medication.
The recovery mission became a community effort for a town that felt forgotten by authorities and was forced to fend for itself.
The resilient locals did it alone. No one came to their aid, even after repeated calls for assistance.
Alec was their only lifeline at a time when they needed emergency services and the Australian Defence Force to be deployed, and they were forced to face the natural disaster alone.
Yet an entire town of Wujal Wujal only 10 minutes up the road was completely evacuated and airlifted out of their community within 24-48hrs of the flood.
“Degarra got overlooked for a long time,” Alec said.
“I had my tinny, doing what I could do because there was no one else. A couple of other guys put their tinnies in later. I’m pretty bloody confident in a boat, like crazy confident. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.
“Wujal Wujal got airlifted out. It’s the indigenous community, so they get a lot of the spotlight. And a lot of the media attention goes to them because it catches more views.
“Julie managed this whole disaster off her own back.
“What would have really helped is a disaster coordinator up here.
“We were in a disaster zone. They should have flown a disaster coordinator up straight away but they didn’t, Julie did all of that herself.
“There were disaster coordinators in Brisbane calling up with no useful information whatsoever.
“They sort of knew we were in the shit. But at what level, I don’t know. It didn’t seem like the government was informed very well and they overlooked us very quickly.
“One helicopter flight and you could have seen the mass devastation.
“At one point they said ‘whoever you don’t pick up ain’t getting picked up. Cause the helicopters aren’t coming’.
“I’m not the SES, I’m just a fisherman.
“Around 34 cops got flown into Cooktown and about four SES. We didn’t need police officers. We needed the SES.
“There was definitely a lack of communication. There was not much communication, other than between Julie, me and Jess.
“There was no word from the SES the whole time, the police and the army did very little.
“The disaster response was terrible.
“There was no safety, no PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), like boots and gloves. People were just in the mud, with septic tanks everywhere. It was a biohazard.”
Alec, the person the community relied on so heavily, barely slept for two weeks. Yet he had to keep going.
He was living with the survivors for the first four-five days, with residents sleeping on couches and mattresses and dogs everywhere.

He transported residents to inspect the damage to their homes, or what was left of them.
“People were scrounging in the mud,” Alec said. “Life possessions, things they’ve collected over 50-60 years.”
After ensuring everyone’s safety, Alec then had to focus on essentials.
“There’s certain things you need to hoard, and that’s fuel and supplies to keep yourself going,” he said.
“Fuel was a massive thing to keep the generators going – that was predominantly what I was worried about.
“There was still a whole community who had no fuel, no water, no power, no phone reception.”
After a text message from his sister Sophia Dunn in Melbourne whose childhood friend Danae Jones was in direct contact with Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch making him aware of the forgotten residents and their dire situation, Alec was given direction to drive his tinny to Cooktown to alert authorities of his situation. When he arrived, he borrowed a friend’s trawler and filled it with supplies for the community, including 7000 litres of petrol and diesel.
In conjunction with Julie and assistance from Warren Entsch MP through text messages via family members and the Cooktown Hub, he organised pallets of fresh supplies, including milk, bread, fruit and vegetables, with private vessels from Cairns and Port Douglas delivering additional supplies over the following two weeks as the community continued to live in dire straits.
Police and other authorities were further alerted to their state of affairs, still no one came to assist them.
Ergon, however, did a ‘superhuman’ effort restoring power, while another mate, Cohun Noga, assisted with filling up generators.
The cleanup is likely to take many many months.
“Rainforest trees were everywhere. Power poles were scattered everywhere, like toothpicks. Houses were ripped apart, boats and cars were flung around. So to witness and hear all of that, that’s why everyone’s in huge amounts of shock,” Alec said.
This includes his parents, who had lived in their beautiful home for 45 years.
“The houses are still there, but they got completely trashed and waist-deep in mud,” Alec said.
“It took four weeks to get the mud out alone. 
“Mum’s down the road at her friend’s place, and my dad’s living in my little shack.
“They’re still in limbo.”
Alec’s sister Sophia Dunn said she feels “repeatedly disappointed about the lack of support”.
“We’d been calling the SES and Triple Zero all night,” she said.
“They were responding, but they were not able to get out there because they said the weather was too bad.
“Alec didn’t even ask the question, ‘Is it safe?’. He just went for it, and thank God, because if it weren’t for him, I have no doubt we would have many more deaths on our hands, and it would be just so detrimental to the community.
“He’s the most incredible, selfless person. That’s what heroes do. They take action and my brother is an action man. He just sees what needs to be done and does it.
“He did the job of 12 men. He did the job of the SES and the ADF and the people who were too scared to go anywhere.
“I feel like he needs to be celebrated on a national stage. He’s incredible.”
Sophia said she was unaware the river had reached such a dangerous level.
“We had no idea if our parents were alive or what was happening,” she said.
“I thought, ‘maybe they’re still on the roof and we’ll get a helicopter to them’.
“They didn’t have any phone reception, so we didn’t hear or know anything until my brother got to them. We were going out of our minds, so it was an incredible feeling to know they were OK.”
Sophia said residents were desperate for assistance that never arrived.
“The ADF were sent to Bloomfield, but they didn’t go to Degarra with their big machinery,” she said.
“It was very slow going. It took two weeks for the SES to arrive.
“People still have mud through their homes.
“It’s been really challenging for people who lost their homes. A long road, and extremely drawn out.
“People are expected to self-fund a lot of things as well. The disaster relief recovery program isn’t going to help people rebuild their homes or repurchase vehicles. They’ve lost everything.”
Sophia believes there is a lot of red tape, blurred lines and no clarity for residents.
“There are no timelines of how and when people can rebuild,” she said.
“They’ve been given caravans by the State Government, but half of the people in Degarra are not allowed to have the caravan on their block because of potential flood risk. I just find that’s inhumane and disgraceful.
“My job now is to encourage the State Government and the disaster recovery program in Bloomfield to either buy back those low-lying floodplain blocks in Degarra or relocate those homeowners to higher ground.
“I haven’t had much positive response from the Government yet. It’s at a standstill.
“It feels like it’s a very uncomfortable standstill for everyone involved because while every politician goes back to their beautiful home, these poor people are without direction.
“I would make the confident call that it would happen again. And would you invest all the money you have left to rebuild and then lose absolutely everything again? I don’t think so.
“Right now they don’t have anything. They’ve just been given a caravan for 12 months with no direction.
“They don’t know if they can build again. It’s really disgusting.
“They’ve been given a caravan, but they’ve come from a beautiful three-acre property that was like the Garden of Eden with cultivated fruit trees and spectacular river frontage and now that’s completely obliterated, like a war zone.
“They’ve lost absolutely everything except for the clothes on their backs they were rescued in.
“The damage, the loss they’ve experienced. It’s a huge loss. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

Ricky And Jarrod Mellor
Brave Brothers

Ricky and Jarrod Mellor rescued close to 100 people over a massive two-day operation, putting their own lives at risk as they navigated murky waters surrounding Holloways Beach.

The local fishermen rescued residents clinging to their roofs, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Their beloved companions were also saved – dogs, cats and birds – in a 7m fishing boat.
For these brave brothers, their story began on Sunday, December 17 when Jarrod received a call from his partner’s younger brother in Holloways Beach advising him that flood waters had reached his house.
“The next message was that the water was getting higher and they had to move to the outside of the house,” Ricky said. 

“Then eventually they made their way on to the roof and they called us saying that they couldn’t get through to the SES and they weren’t available to help them. 

“So we got the phone call and I was out at the Barron River just having a look around. When I got the call, I came straight home to get all the wet weather gear and safety equipment that I could, then made my way to Jarrod’s house to get the boat and make our way to a suitable spot where we could get the boat in the water.”
After a few false starts due to rising rapids, the SES led Ricky, 32, and Jarrod, 34, to the Barron River Bridge where other fishermen were launching their boats, including Brendon Soderberg and Liam Conomo.
The brothers then asked the SES and Swiftwater teams for direction. After ensuring their grandmother and other family members were safe, the mammoth rescue mission began.
“When we rocked up, there was one SES boat and another fishing boat that Brendan led and they made the path for us to get through,” Ricky said.
“When we went in, the SES had just come out and they said, ‘There’s people on the roof, over here and over here’.
“So we pulled up and the boat pretty much went alongside the house gutter. And then they asked us how many people we could do. We said 10 at a time.
“The SES just started loading people, dogs, cats, birds, and all their luggage into the boat. We even took a few chickens.

“We didn’t actually know what we were doing until we rocked up and we put the boat on the roof.

“We didn’t realise how many people were stuck there and what we were actually gonna do until we started doing it.

“It was just a reaction. We didn’t think, ‘Oh, let’s go in there and let’s be SES volunteers’. We just said, ‘Let’s get the boat and let’s go try and get Jarrod’s brother-in-law’.

“Once that started, we said to ourselves, we can’t leave. There’s too many people stuck on the roof and we can take 10 people at a time.

“The SES were there, they were organising and coordinating everything. And we just took their lead and said, where do you want us and what do you want us to take? And we just kept on going back and forward.

“Once we got there, we said, yeah, we definitely can’t leave now. We’re not gonna leave until everybody on these rooftops are safe.”
Ricky said the conditions they faced were very difficult for the residents.
“We were walking through waist-high floodwater and there were little kids, teenagers and small ladies that couldn’t walk against the current because it was like rapids going down roads and we were walking in the middle of the night,” he said.
“There was debris and potholes that were chest-high. So it would be dangerous if you fell into one of them. If you lost your footing, you’d be gone down the stream.
“It was dangerous. The worst part was trying to get across the Barron River Bridge, with all the debris. We weren’t going fast on the boat. It was just going slow through the fields, through the paddocks. Under the power lines and across the houses. It was a slow trip.
“It took about an hour each time to get from the bridge to Holloways, which is only about three kilometres in a straight line.
“We did think about crocs, but there was too much water for them to just be sitting around. It was rapids most of the way through. So if they were there, they were probably gonna get flushed out.
“We came across heaps of wildlife, cows, that were floating away. So if the crocodiles were there, they were gonna go for the cows first.
“We even had snakes on the boat. We had to chuck them off the boat. They were wrapped up in the trees that we had to come through, so we had to flick them off.
“It was definitely calculated risks that we were taking. We’re just lucky enough that we are fishermen and we have waterproof torches, headlamps, wet weather gear, shoes and life jackets.
“We were just lucky that because the cyclone was coming I had already stripped everything out of the boat so I didn’t have any weight in the boat. We could just load it up with people.
“The people on the roofs were exhausted, drained and just thankful. They weren’t jumping for joy or anything like that.
“They were just saying thank you for coming. And we appreciate what you boys are doing. They were asking us if we were emergency services or something. We just told them, no, we’re just two blokes on a boat. So they were a bit hesitant to get off a safe roof and into somebody else’s boat.
“But they knew that we’d done a few trips already. So they had to trust us. During the night, they didn’t know who we were and they were just exhausted. And when we took them to the pickup spot for SES, they were just saying, thank you, thank you.
“The SES were very helpful, there was one young fellow called Max who gave us petrol on the first night and he helped us out all night, giving us directions.
“We did five trips the first night. I actually went for a walk down past the football fields to one of my family member’s houses who was stuck with all of his family and his kids.
“So we grabbed them and there were about 12 of them. That was the last trip. And that’s why we had to pull it because it was getting too rough and too heavy and we kept going until about 1am.
“On our last trip back, the wind had picked up so bad that it was blowing sideways. We couldn’t see anything. The debris and everything was coming. And it was becoming too dangerous.
“After that we told the SES guys that we couldn’t do any more cause it was just getting too rough and they pulled the pin as well. They said they’d been through all the streets to ensure everyone in immediate danger had been saved.”
The brothers returned to the same spot at the Barron River Bridge the following day, where they did another four-five trips.
Ricky and Jarrod don’t see themselves as heroes.

“We’re just two brothers with a boat. And we were in the right place at the right time. Luckily I had the right guy beside me to do the job. I wouldn’t have done it with anybody else. Luckily enough my brother and I are skilled and we’ve been on boats our whole lives and we fish together. I trust his driving and he trusts me,” Ricky said.
Ricky said his sister Alicia Mellor and Jarrod’s wife Madelaine Stover provided great support by giving them names and addresses of people who required assistance.
They then posted on social media to let residents know their loved ones were safe once they had been rescued.
It was a huge team effort, with Jacque Matelot and Melanie Fogarty helping them launch their boat and also providing them and the SES with names, many of which came as calls for help via social media.
“We want to thank the amazing Cairns locals – Jordan Oliver, Mala Clothing, James Nugent and Lion Linen who donated shirts, hats and fishing clothing to give back to all the volunteers who got out on their own boats in the floods risking their own personal safety to help people in need,” Ricky said.
Ricky and Jarrod, who also coordinate the FNQ Hooked on Fishing & Outdoors Facebook page, said the Cairns community was extremely generous.
“The Cairns community supplied almost everything that you could ask for, for the people that flooded,” Ricky said.
“And the cleanup crews and all the volunteers that have come through afterwards and just all the donations online. It’s amazing to see people all around Australia just taking money out of their own pockets to help everybody else.”

Lion’s Den Hero

Bret Little, aka Magoo, saved 16 people from the roof of the Lion’s Den Hotel, south of Cooktown, during the flooding.

The helicopter pilot rescued the residents as the hotel was submerged by fast-flowing floodwater.
Magoo was heading to pick up a policeman from Cooktown amid reports of a possible drowning when he flew over the pub as it was being submerged.

The helicopter, a Robinson 22, is a single-engine chopper with just two seats, so Magoo was forced to rescue one person at a time.
It took 16 trips and two-and-a-half hours of flying back and forth to higher ground to ensure they were all safe.
The iconic hotel had always been known to withstand the worst floods the region had ever seen.
Rossville musician Gavin Dear, who was nearby in his tinny, also rescued residents as they were forced into trees by the rising floodwaters.
Gavin became famous for a now-viral film clip for his interaction with ‘Jonesy’, who was seen at the fence of his property, standing shirtless in murky, waist-deep water.
Queensland Premier Steven Miles paid tribute to the brave men on social media platform X, describing them as ‘legends’ and saying we ‘owe them a beer’.

Volunteers Support Community in Mammoth Effort

The State Emergency Service completed thousands of jobs over the course of Cyclone Jasper and its subsequent floods, assisting people from Cooktown to Cardwell and the Tablelands and utilising 82,000 sandbags.

More than 200 SES volunteers were deployed to Far North Queensland from across the state, supporting local volunteers with flood rescues, sandbagging, tarping roofs, chain sawing trees and assisting post-cyclone with the cleanup by performing washouts of flood-affected homes.
Far Northern SES Regional Director Wayne Coutts said many local volunteers were personally affected by flooding.
“We had volunteers whose own homes were flooded, yet they went to help people in other communities,” he said.
“There was a huge number of people who took time off work to help.
“Our volunteers were fantastic. We thank them for everything they did.”
Mr Coutts said 160 evacuations were performed by the SES in Holloways Beach and Machans Beach alone.
In those areas, there were at least another 100 evacuations performed by the Navy, Surf Life Saving and other agencies, as well as members of the public in their boats.
“We were doing our best to prioritise elderly people and people who didn’t have family to assist them,” he said.
“We also assisted Ergon Energy and Council workers with flood boats so they could make powerlines safe and so they could access water systems to provide water.”
Mr Coutts said he appreciated the immense support from authorities as well as the community during the flooding.
“Whether it was the SES, fire and rescue, rural fire, police, community groups or members of the public out in their boats, the support was absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“Everyone came together and did an amazing job.
“In times of natural disasters, it’s always good to see people stepping up and helping their neighbours.
“I haven’t seen any disaster where the community doesn’t step up and help themselves, sometimes neighbours don’t talk to each other for years on end, but when a disaster comes around, people really step
in and help out.”
Mr Coutts said the intensity and severity of the flooding came as a shock to many people.
“We’re all used to rain, but this system was so intense, so heavy, and went on for so long,” he said.
“There were floods predicted, but nothing to the record level that it was or as widespread as it was.
“When we train, we don’t work to a mediocre disaster, we work to worst case scenario.
“Before the cyclone, we would not have predicted that level of flooding, that Cooktown would be cut off, that Wujal Wujal would be wiped out.
“So as things escalated, roads were closed, air assets were not able to fly, that certainly made it difficult, that’s when people started to rally and relied on their next-door neighbour to help them get to
a higher level.”
Mr Coutts said some rural areas such as Degarra were difficult to access because of the road network.
“The road was very, very difficult,” he said.
“The rain started, then it continued and continued and continued.
“Because of the road network, the roads getting washed away and the landslides, it was difficult to get appropriate access to those remote areas to help with recovery. 

“Helicopters weren’t practical to use due to the cloud cover. “The SES were just like everybody else in Wujal Wujal – unfortunately our building got flooded. The SES, just like the rest of the community, were evacuated by Defence, when that became available.

“There was quite a bit of angst. I’ve been through Larry and Yasi and other floods around the state.

“Everybody was trying to help and do the best they possibly could – overall I am very happy with the SES volunteers for the amazing job they did and the way the community came together to assist each other.”

SES volunteer Lucy Graham was on the ground almost every day of the flooding disaster, and described it as one of the most extreme events she has been involved in.

“I’ve been to flooding disasters in Brisbane, New South Wales and Victoria, but this was one of the most intense,” she said.

“There was risk involved, but because of the training I’ve received, I felt confident in my ability to handle it.”
Lucy, who has been an SES volunteer for nine years, was personally assisting in the CBD, Holloways Beach, Machans Beach, Mossman and the Tablelands.

She was involved with flood rescues, tarping, sandbagging and chain sawing, as well as storm preparation and community education.

“As a volunteer, sometimes you’re witnessing the hardest moments of people’s lives,” she said.

“We’re there to help alleviate the situation for them, so a lot of what we do is helping to make their day better.”


Mud Army
Mud Army Rolls up Sleeves for a Good Cause

The Cairns Mud Army was on the ground from day one, helping residents clean up their properties after the flood that decimated their homes.

The army comprised more than 500 volunteers willing to roll their sleeves up and brave the conditions, which were physically, mentally and emotionally demanding.
The effort was led by Cat Tannock with assistance from key coordinators Rachael Bant, Laura Grigg, Mel Franstedt and Renee Amadio.
The Mud Army volunteered hours of their own time cleaning homes, moving rubbish, even providing comfort to those who lost everything.
“It was muddy, it was messy, it was confronting,” Cat said.
“People don’t get the scale of damage. It was like something you’d see in the movies – the amount of mud was unbelievable.”
The Mud Army even rescued four people – the one that stands out for Cat was an elderly gentleman in Machans Beach.
“He’d been sitting on his floor for four days,” she said. “He was on a mattress sitting on the floor with cracked ribs.
“That’s the sort of stuff we were doing and that’s OK, but we shouldn’t be doing that. Where was the coordination from the police – I thought they had to go through every single house?”
With panic setting in for many residents, Cat, who coordinates a page called ‘Cairns Life Is Alright’, which initially began as a COVID page, was keeping a very close eye on the weather prior to Cyclone Jasper.
She believes there was a lack of accurate communication and inadequate warnings from the Cairns Disaster Centre.
“There was a woman from Holloways Beach on her roof holding on to her two-year-old,” she said.
“She was rescued by the State Emergency Service, (SES), and as she was leaving her house, that’s when the first warning came out.
After she’d already been rescued. And her house was completely under.
“There was one lady who lost her whole house after previously being told not to evacuate and it wasn’t going to get that bad.
“There were people being sent to the cyclone shelter in Redlynch – and it was locked. So the firies had to break in for them. There was just no preparation.
“So I’m very critical of local government, disaster management and the Bureau of Meteorology for dropping the ball.
“A lot of elderly people were forgotten about, those services were suspended, so they were just left there.
“There were people who were completely abandoned. There was one guy in Ayton on the Bloomfield Track who was literally starving. We made sure we got food up there.
“I think there were very, very big flaws in communication.
“We had no official words from any organisation at all “I believe there should absolutely be a review into the Council’s response. “With Townsville, for example, it was declared a disaster. They already had military in place.
“With the Mud Army, we thought it would be a day or two and we kept waiting for help and it never arrived.”
The Mud Army assisted people throughout Cairns, the Northern Beaches, Lake Placid, the Tablelands and Speewah. It initially began with around 30 people, it expanded to a whopping 500 volunteers, which included cleanups, as well as the provision of food, water and supplies.
“A lot of people were organically helping anyway,” Cat said.
“Our aim was to coordinate the effort so we weren’t doing more harm than good – for example, organising a bus so there was only one bus going in, not 50 cars.
“We had a coordinated effort, street by street, we got people to register with us if they needed help, then we would send a crew to them.
“I still can’t believe what the volunteers did. It was horrible, it was foul, but they just got in there and did it.
“People were in shock. They were losing their whole house and all its contents.
“There was a lot of psychological stuff we had to do. Quite a few people openly wept in our arms, and we’re not trained for that.
“It’s certainly going to stay with me my whole life.”
After working continuously for around six days, the Mud Army eventually disbanded, mainly due to health and safety concerns for volunteers.
“After six, seven days in that heat, we felt we weren’t equipped to continue,” Cat said.
“People were starting to get infections and respiratory issues.
“We felt we were putting our volunteers in danger by not having the proper equipment.
“And they weren’t covered by any sort of volunteer scheme if they got hurt.
“Volunteers had to have the proper PPE (personal protective equipment). None of this came from Council or anywhere. It was the community that donated.
“We couldn’t sustain it. We weren’t a charity.
“There was a big frustration that people didn’t know how to help and where to help. There was no communication.
“So it didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for our volunteers.”
Cat said in the event of future natural disasters, evacuation warnings need to be more timely and more accurate.
“Messaging absolutely needs to be better,” she said.
“People also need to know which flood zone they’re in.
“I think the SES and the Australian Defence Force were amazing, but they weren’t called in time.”
Despite the frustration she felt, Cat is immensely grateful for every single person’s assistance, no matter how big or how small.
“There was a massive wave of volunteer support and assistance from our wonderful community,” she said.
“There were so many amazing people on the ground – volunteer organisations, emergency services and official services.
“This is how it should be. This is what it means to be Australian – just get in, do what needs to be done and hope, that if you get into trouble, someone turns up to give you a helping hand.
“For us, the immense effort started with nothing, grew into something magical and it’s incalculable. The growth was organic, a team effort, and it’s ongoing. It’s been a wonder to watch.
“There are so many quiet achievers who just got in, got their hands dirty and helped.
“Every one of you who was involved with the Mud Army, the flood appeal, the rescues, the hubs, the laundry, the cleanup, the donations, the food, the transport – you should all be immensely proud of yourselves and your community.
“You should know that you made a difference and that effort will never be forgotten.
“The response is bigger than one person or organisation. It’s community. And my heart still swells when I think of what we have achieved.”


Drew Brauer
Kick On With Drew and the Crew

Cairns musician and founder of mental health charity Kick On Drew Brauer decided to put a crew together to assist flood-affected residents once he saw the disaster unfolding. Drew and his mates found a back thoroughfare via Yorkeys Knob and began approaching locals to locate the worst-hit streets.

“We just started walking into houses and asking what people needed help with,” he said. “We found that our strength was lifting all the heavy stuff, moving all of the furniture and ripping up carpets.
“We just kept walking down the street from one house to the next. The first day we had four people, our crew reached 15 people at one stage, then 30 at its peak.”
The crew expanded to include musicians, affiliates of Kick On and even kind-hearted strangers.
“Everyone we helped was so grateful,” Drew said.
“It was really heartbreaking, but it was one of the most amazing things that I’ve been involved with.
“You’d have these moments of overwhelming emotion where people are crying and you come across something that can’t be replaced in their house that you are throwing out to the curb.
“It was pretty brutal, but we were happy to be helping people. There were lots of tears, lots of laughter, lots of music. It was just an emotional rollercoaster.
“The community support was unreal, just amazing. We did what we could for a couple of weeks, but there are still people out there volunteering.”
Drew and his mates then organised a GoFundMe campaign and a fundraiser at X Golf, with a whopping $27,000 raised going towards the Holloways Hub, the Cairns Flood Food Drive, cleaning supplies and the Christmas event at James Cook University.
“I really appreciate the support KickOn received from the North Queensland community,” Drew said.
“We even had school kids and young people connected to the charity, they just wanted to help.”

Salvos Provide a Hand up, Not Just a Handout

Major Ben Johnson from the Salvation Army believes in a hand up, not just a handout.

In the middle of Cyclone Jasper, the Salvation Army provided much-needed physical support, while simultaneously providing emotional support to flood-affected residents.
The Salvation Army Emergency Services team began providing food for people at the Edmonton evacuation centre from December 12, as well as conducting welfare checks on people in the community, as requested by Cairns Regional Council.
Teams provided food, hot and cold drinks at the evacuation centre, as well as emotional support.
“In the initial instance, it was important for people to have a full tummy, but also that reassurance, helping people feel safe and cared for in that moment,” Ben said.
“People need physical support but they also need emotional support.”
Staff and volunteers provided towels, bedding, stretchers and clothing for the Edmonton evacuation centre from December 17. They also conducted door knocking and welfare checks.
“We were also instrumental in transporting community members from the affected flood areas to the evacuation centre and then on to temporary accommodation provided by the Department of Housing,” Ben said.
Despite their own homes being affected, the local Salvation Army team had about a dozen staff and 50 volunteers involved in the recovery process.
“In times of crisis, there were so many people that were very willing and eager to put their hand up and pitch in,” Ben said.
“It takes a level of adaptability and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs to be done.
“They’re an incredibly resilient bunch.
“The North Queensland community is quite matter-of-fact about the scenarios that they face.
“They just look for a solution and work alongside each other. It’s so encouraging and inspiring to see the community come together.
“If someone has a skill or a resource to share, they will.
“I’ve been around flood and fire events up and down the eastern seaboard throughout my 25 years with the Salvation Army.
“I feel like the further north you get, the more adaptable people are.
“You have to hand it to people in the communities along the Northern Beaches, the way they’ve banded together, especially when other agencies couldn’t get in there.
“The residents themselves were the ones creating solutions.
“So we tried to support the residents as much as possible.
“This marks the way we operate – the compassion and empathy our organisation brings. We also had a great response from other churches and people who wanted to do their bit.”
The Salvation Army has also assisted residents to settle into temporary accommodation until they are able to move back into their homes. This includes assisting with furniture, white goods and kitchenware.
They worked closely with Centacare, Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul and Cape York Partnerships.
“It’s important in times of crisis that all the agencies and service providers work together,” Ben said.
“I think when it comes to inter agency relationships, the response to the COVID pandemic really galvanised the agencies and their willingness to work together. The trust was already there.”
Ben said residents visiting the evacuation centres were very traumatised.
“Yes definitely very emotional, very raw,” he said.
“They were very grateful for simple pleasures like a warm blanket.
“Some people had literally just escaped with what they had on their back. And they were clinging to their pets as well.
“A lot of them didn’t have a chance to even grab a lead for their dog. So they had socks tied together to make a lead for them because they didn’t want to leave them behind.
“So we went to Coles and bought heaps of dog leads and dog food. Their pets were really important to them, so providing for their pet was a really powerful thing.
“It gave a bit of control back to a chaotic situation.”
Ben said the Salvation Army was inundated by donations for the community, which they are incredibly grateful for, while Earlville Shopping Town provided space for them to store the donations.
The Salvation Army Emergency Services team provided more than $2 million in direct community assistance to around 18,000 people affected by the floods.

Yellow Jackets
Helping Hands

Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or ‘Yellow Jackets’, as they are fondly referred, were more than happy to provide hours of manpower while on duty in Cairns, assisting both the Mud Army and the Holloways Hub.

The missionaries, who are well known for wearing bright yellow vests with a picture of helping hands, believe in kindness and helping others as much as possible.
Elder Kelly Kim and Sister Allyson Kim are in Cairns for one and a half years. The Utah couple, along with up to 40 members of their congregation, assisted with cleaning, moving furniture, washing walls, mopping and yard work for two three weeks during the height of the disaster.
In most cases, they spent about four hours at each house, depending on the demand.
“The residents were very grateful for our assistance,” Elder Kim said. “It lifted their burden and it lifted their spirits. It gave them the boost they needed to keep going.
“Everyone went in with smiles on their faces and the joy of service.”
Church missionaries believe in the motto ‘Charity Never Faileth’.
“We are all God’s children and we all need help,” Elder Kim said. “That is the philosophy we live up to.”
The Kims would like to pay tribute to the crew from the Holloways Beach Hub.
“They were wonderful,” Elder Kim said. “They worked tirelessly and they gave a lot of their time.”
Elder Kim and Sister Kim are joined by another senior couple, the Carrs also from Utah, and received significant assistance from Darrell Bell and Ben Mitchell, local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cairns, who helped organise the cleanup efforts.

Duo Delivers Joy at Christmas

A Cairns duo joined forces to bring joy to thousands of children at Christmas time.

With many families losing all their possessions in the flood, including Christmas presents, Taylor Baty from The Coco Balloon and Teigan Dennis from Balloons Etc couldn’t bear to see children deprived of presents from Santa at this magical time of year.
The duo united to ensure that the magic of the season reached the hearts of thousands of children.
With the flood occurring just prior to Christmas, these kind hearted business owners decided to organise a gift drive for children across Far North Queensland.
“Christmas was the last thing on the flood victims’ minds after being so stressed from the flood,” Taylor said.
“A lot of families already had presents and they lost everything.
“Imagine what it was like to lose all the presents – it’s one of those things like how do you worry about a present when you’ve just lost literally everything else?
“One of the biggest triggers for me leading up to this was seeing a post on one of the community pages saying: ‘Hey guys, what are you telling your kids? Are you telling them that Christmas is delayed? Are you telling them that Santa couldn’t come this year?’
“It was just an overwhelming heartbreak – as a kid, how do you fathom that?
“How do you process the fact that, oh, not only have I lost my house, Santa’s decided not to visit me this year and my mum and dad are emotional wrecks… it’s too much for a kid to deal with. So that was a pretty quick and easy decision for us. It was a no-brainer.”
Taylor and Teigan swiftly organised a gift drive for flood affected children, rallying support through social media, radio coverage and community efforts.
It eventually grew to tens of thousands of followers via the Cairns Community Flood Appeal page.
Gifts were separated by age and gender, with every call for help being filled instantly.
“You just had to put it out there to the community in one post, and then, I swear, within an hour people were flooding in with exactly what we needed,” Teigan said.
“People would come in and be like, ‘Oh, I’ve just got a couple of things’. Then they proceeded to unload an entire car full of stuff.
“Every person that dropped something in I engaged with. I made sure that I thanked them. Everybody had a story.
“Everybody knew somebody who was affected because Cairns is so small. That was my drive to help.
“The number of times I was in tears that whole week. It was an emotional rollercoaster.”
More than 50 volunteers assisted with the gift drive, donating many hours of their time receiving, sorting and wrapping presents. The gift drive would not have been possible without their valuable generosity.
Truckloads and even boatloads of presents were distributed on Christmas Day and on the days leading up to it, to Cairns, the Northern Beaches, Innisfail, the Tablelands and Cooktown.
Gifts reached community hubs and community events in the lead-up to the Christmas Day lunch at Newman Catholic College.
On their last day of deliveries to Newman College, they had a two-tonne truck full to the brim, two full vans, a ute and a seven-seater SUV bursting at the seams.
Baz Wright, owner of A & B Carriers, and Amart Furniture store manager Lauren Dillon kindly lent their truck and their time, while Piccone’s Edmonton donated space to store presents.
In amongst sorting, wrapping and delivering thousands of gifts, Taylor and Teigan also organised more than 100 hampers worth about $200 each, filled with board games, homewares, food and gift vouchers generously donated by the community.
A triathlon and run team, who choose to remain anonymous, even donated brand new kids’ bikes after being forced to postpone their own Christmas celebrations.
“When they arrived it was so much more than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams,” Teigan said. “They had three car loads full to the brim of presents.”
Amidst the chaos and emotion, there were moments of profound connection. Teigan, witnessing the devastation first hand at Holloways Beach, was moved to tears when she realised that the presents being distributed were the very ones collected through their efforts. It was a poignant reminder of the impact their actions were having on the lives of others.
“I was out at Holloways Beach cause my cousin’s house flooded,” she said.
“She lost everything. It just looked like a war zone out there. Rubbish was piled high. You just can’t comprehend it until you see it. As we were leaving, we could hear Christmas carols blasting.
“I said to my husband, ‘It’s so nice that someone’s feeling the spirit. How could you be feeling it right now?’ But it worked Little did I know, it was the Holloways Beach Hub out in their utes.
“The utes were loaded with our presents that we’d been collecting for a whole week. This is Christmas Eve. And this lady who ends up being Stevie (Stephanie Russell-Farnham) in a bright fluoro vest, she comes running up to me and she’s like, ‘Do you have kids? Do you need a meal tonight?’ And then I realised that she’s got the presents that we’ve been collecting all week.
“She’s saying, ‘If you know anyone who needs a Santa present, send them out here’. She gave me a hug and I was just crying, seeing it from the other side.
“Being put in that situation just changed everything.
“It gave me a whole other perspective. It was nice to see the result of what we had been doing for an entire week. I thought people would just be dropping off a few presents, but it was a full-time job for that entire week.
“I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was. It was overwhelming. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Through tireless dedication and the support of countless volunteers, Taylor and Teigan ensured that no child went without a gift on Christmas Day. Their selflessness and determination embodied the true spirit of the season, reminding us all of the power of community and the importance of coming together in times of need.
“You just pull it all together because as long as you’ve just got your loved ones around you on Christmas Day, that’s all that matters,” Teigan said.
In the face of adversity, the people of Cairns showed resilience, compassion and a steadfast commitment to spreading joy during the darkest of times.

Holloways Hub Volunteer Donation Crew
Making Magic Happen

Dan Cairns is a true hero of Far North Queensland.

Not only did he sandbag houses, he performed several rescues, then went on to establish the Holloways Beach Hub.
For Dan, it started when his neighbours began requesting sandbags.
“So I started doing that, then I watched the floodwater start coming up into Holloways Beach,” he said.
“It got to the point where water had come into my street.
“I had 60 sandbags on the back of my ute, so I decided to sandbag my own house, thinking it was never going to go in there, but I did it just in case.
“I went back out and then within 40 minutes, it rose a metre. I came back and the water was roaring through my house, through my front door, out through the back door, across the pool, flooding the back street.
“I already had my personal belongings lifted, so what else can you do? You go back out and help. So I kept going until we ran out of sandbags. There were so many calls on Facebook and social media, also calls from people directly, because they heard I was out there doing it.
“Once we ran out of sandbags, I jumped on the kayak and just started checking on the elderly people that I’d helped.”
Dan and another friend spent all day until about 11pm in their kayaks rescuing people.
With water roaring through the streets, they rescued at least 19 residents, as well as numerous dogs and even a kangaroo.
He said everyone was extremely grateful.
“With all the locals who were giving a hand on their boats, if they didn’t do what they did, there would definitely be more deaths, guaranteed,” he said.
Dan, his pregnant partner and their two children have been able to reside in their home throughout the ordeal, despite having to replace all their furniture and their roof leaking in five different rooms.
He became well known for his ‘Bear Grills’ personal blog videos, which aimed to give people the real story about what was happening during the floods.
Dan then established the Holloways Hub, initially with one of his lawn-mowing customers, Rennae Brant Goodwin, it then expanded to include the core group also consisting of Renee Amadio, who organised a police escort to gain first access into Holloways Beach, Pat Willcocks and Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Russell Farnham.
Once the hub was established, the volunteers received an influx of donations – everything from hot meals to medical supplies and cleaning equipment.
The volunteers were overwhelmed by the community’s generosity of spirit to assist flood-affected residents who had lost everything.
Stevie said the suburb resembled a war zone.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” she said.
“Until you actually saw it, you just couldn’t visualise the devastation. Everything was absolutely decimated. You’d drive through and everything was piled up. It was metres high, you couldn’t see the front of people’s houses at some points because there were so many damaged goods out the front.”
Stevie began her role as a coordinator initially by sweeping mud out from people’s houses, then her main concern was to ensure people were eating properly.
She said they began by door knocking as many houses as they could, asking people what they needed.
“We were walking the streets, because we realised people needed to be fed,” she said.
“We came across people who hadn’t eaten in several days. There were elderly people saying they’d just had a couple of biscuits.
“If we didn’t feed them, people would starve.
“We started distributing over a thousand cooked meals a day. The meals would come in, then within a few hours, they’d be gone.
“We had a sense of urgency. If we didn’t do it, people would go without. And it was life or death for many people.”
Stevie said people were in fight or flight mode, with the initial crisis that led to the recovery stage.
“Two and a half weeks in, we had someone walk into the hub at 7pm right before we closed,” she said.
“She hadn’t left the house in two and a half weeks. She hadn’t eaten in four days. She was suicidal. And she hadn’t had her meds because she’d run out.
“That was an extreme, but that kept happening. Not everyone moved from crisis to recovery at the same stage.
“We were still in crisis mode ourselves, trying to deal with people in the community who were still at that stage.
“We were doing mental health checks and growing increasingly concerned about the mental health crisis we witnessed and the urgent need for support.”
The Hub also helped coordinate the Mud Army as well as helping to connect people with electricity providers and tradesmen.
“No one was picking up the slack,” Rennae B said. “People were going without, and this was basic survival for people.
“We’re talking food, we’re talking water, we’re talking cooling in the middle of a heat wave.
“So many people had medical episodes because they were overheated, they’d run out of meds. There was mud everywhere, people were sleeping on mouldy mattresses.
“People were coming in with glass stuck in their feet, because they’d been walking around barefoot in flood water as they had no shoes.
“We’re not medical professionals, but we were cleaning people. We were washing people’s feet and patching people up.
“People were walking into the hub half-dressed because their clothes were damaged, or wet.
“They were falling into our arms, they were just so appreciative and exhausted.”
The five coordinators adopted the slogan ‘Making the Magic Happen!’ And that’s exactly what they did. They were supported by an incredible group of volunteers who helped out at the Hub who were fondly called the Hub’s Fluoro Angels.
“I guarantee you, it’s always the community that gets together,” Renee A said.
“You trust that there is an entity that’s going to come and save you, right?
“There was no leadership – we became the leadership that people looked to.”
Stevie begged for assistance from Cairns Regional Council, as well as the State and Federal Governments.
She pleaded for help with providing desperately needed food for these residents and advised them of the appalling conditions they were living in.
“I was deeply alarmed about the conditions of these streets and these homes,” Stevie said.
“So many residents were living in utter squalor. And I was worried about the risk of infection and disease as mosquitoes were out of control due to the amount of water that flooded the area.
“I was especially concerned about the number of people going hungry every day, because they were unable to access, afford or make a meal in their homes.
“I also requested welfare checks and the provision of grief counsellors for trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and those at risk of suicide.
“This natural disaster rocked the community to its core. It shook the most steadfast amongst us and resulted in significant PTSD for residents and volunteers alike.”
It is lucky for the Holloways Beach community that the Hub volunteers were so resilient and committed.
“Because when people were experiencing their worst moment, we showed up, and we didn’t just show up, we promised we would stay, and we have stayed,” Stevie said.
“The reason our hub was so successful was that we had five individuals who trusted each other. And a core team of angels and a wider community who supported us.
“If we said we were going to do something, we made sure it got done.
“We were on the ground, people saw us. We were face to face, all the time. We weren’t just sitting around coordinating at the hub. We were on our hands and knees scrubbing houses.”
This amazing crew definitely gave it their all – Pat, an ex fireman, rescued around 20 people on his inflatable raft in Machans Beach, Dan and Pat slept at the hub to prevent looting, Renee A and Rennae B organised multiple trips of supplies up north to the towns of Wujal Wujal, Degarra, Bloomfield, Rossville and Cooktown, while Stevie was helping to coordinate volunteers and admin from her hospital bed after being involved in a car accident in the middle of it all.
As well as making sure residents were well fed and providing medical and psychological assistance, the Holloways Hub crew ensured local children had presents to wake up to on Christmas morning.
“We made Christmas happen for all those kids who lost absolutely everything,” Pat said.
“I believe with the efforts of everyone supporting us, we all collectively helped save Christmas for hundreds of young children.
“When parents lost everything, one of their biggest nightmares would be waking up Christmas morning and having no Santa presents.
“How do you explain that to a little kid when they’ve already lost everything?
“So we were all running around delivering presents. Our last delivery was at 2am on Christmas morning. We did our best to hit every street in Holloways.”
The Holloways Hub distributed more than 20,000 meals during the flooding disaster, and they’re still operating, however they have plans to wind the hub down at the end of the month.
“Due to the evolving needs of our flood-affected residents, as well as the needs of our coordinators and volunteers, we don’t have the capacity to remain open indefinitely,” Stevie said.
“However, we will ensure that we refer residents with ongoing requirements such as food to local charities, and we will continue distributing white goods we have purchased to those in need.”
Hub coordinators are extremely appreciative of everyone who supported them.
“We would like to say a really big thank you to everyone who assisted us and those who donated – meals, time, resources and contributed financially,” Dan said.
“The hub wouldn’t exist without you. It’s been a collective community effort.
“We’ve realised that in any situation when the going gets tough … if we all work together, we can rise above and create a little magic!”
* Holloways Hub’s donations were made possible by a variety of organisations and individuals, including the Rotary Club of Cairns, Cairns Flood Food Drive, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Spicy Bite, Domino’s, the Elixir Music House, Bombay Kitchen, Root Vegetarian, The Toasted Goat and Trinity Baptist Church. The $20,000 raised from their recent ‘Little Day Out’ event will go towards new white goods for flood affected residents and other essentials for the community.

Machans Beach Hub
Coordinators Display Resilience Despite Heartbreak

Machans Beach resident Judy Kitching lost all of her belongings in the flood, yet her previous State Emergency Service experience and her can-do attitude led to her becoming the coordinator of the Machans Beach Hub.

Amidst the rising flood waters, Judy was evacuated, then rescued from her home of 26 years by a local resident in his boat, who took her to Machans Beach State School, then she walked to the Machans Beach Community Hall.
“It was a case of ‘grab a bag and get out’,” she said.
“A fellow went past in his boat and helped me get to the hall.”
The hall is where she stayed for the next one and a half weeks, sleeping in a chair at the front door, so she could help people who needed assistance, but also to keep an eye out for potential looters.
“The first night there were kids, babies and dogs sleeping there,” Judy said.
“We didn’t have any food, so my daughter-in law bought food from the local shop which she then cooked at the hall. Luckily we had a gas stove.
“People then started donating food, bedding, all sorts of things.
“I didn’t go back to my place for at least a week, which was scary.
“I lost everything in my house, as well as two cars, but it’s been a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’. The community has been fabulous. I’ve been given a fridge, a washing machine and furniture.
“I realised I had to stay strong for other people. Mary Saveka helped me a lot – she was my right-hand woman, an absolute soldier.
“The hall became somewhere people came to vent, when they left they were laughing and joking.”
Judy, who has lived in Machans Beach for about 35 years, described the suburb as a ‘disaster zone’.
“Oh my God it was just heartbreaking to see people’s lives gone before them,” she said.
The Machans Beach Hub was coordinated from the home of Pauline and Peter Johnson for the first eight days of the flooding disaster.
Pauline realised the need for the hub after going for a walk around the suburb and witnessing the devastation in the community first-hand.
“We came back to the house for something to eat, we had 10 sausages in the fridge and I said ‘Peter, all those poor people won’t have anywhere to cook anything’,” she said.
“Our barbecue had been taken to the hall to feed people who were living there.
“So we borrowed a barbecue from a neighbour and just started cooking what we had in the fridge.
“Another neighbour had to clear out all the food from the school. She had bread rolls and hundreds of sausages and patties. She said ‘You want to cook these up as well?’. I said ‘Why not?’
“We just started offering food to anyone and everyone, whether they were cleaning or volunteering.
“Thousands of sausages went out and people started donating bread, meat, cleaning supplies, fuel, generators and all sorts of things.
“Peter continued to cook sausages on the barbecue for nearly thatentire eight days.
“And we encouraged everyone, kids, community members, volunteers, the Mud Army.”
Pauline said they were then inundated with donations from supermarkets, butchers and bakeries, as well as a trailer load of water.
“So the entire front of our house and our carport was full of groceries, food, drinks and people,” she said.
“There were three rows of food that people could walk around like in a supermarket, grab a biscuit, vegetables, hair products, coffee, anything they could possibly need.
“People could just bring empty bags and select whatever they wanted.
“As soon as the sun was up, there were people looking for food, so we would fire up or give out cereals or whatever we needed to do.”
Pauline said they then received medical assistance from a local doctor as well as the Stratford Medical Centre and the Stratford Village Pharmacy.
“We started to see people with cuts and people who needed tetanus shots,” she said.
“A local doctor came to our house and was removing glass and writing tetanus prescriptions.
“Then the chemist at Stratford brought medical supplies like Betadine, bandages, sunscreen, mosquito repellant.
“We then had someone set up at our house seeing people for illness, mental health, all sorts of things.
“Then we had the NBN set up on the front lawn. So that was really good, because people knew they could come to the hub, have a rest, have something cooked, a cold drink and also get reception.
“We were even helping people with applications for grants.
“So we were coordinating anything and everything that we possibly needed to.
“Peter and I didn’t do it on our own – there were hundreds of people that just came in and said, ‘What can I do?’
“It’s been an amazing effort from the whole community. It was fantastic. We couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of people who turned up every day to help.”
Pauline, who used to operate the Machans Beach Post Office, said it was heartbreaking witnessing the devastation the floods had caused the community.
“That’s what drove us to continue to keep going,” she said.
“There’s no way it’s finished. It’s still going strong for the people who lost absolutely their whole lives.”
Volunteer Michelle Milne agreed that community support had been amazing.
“Some of the people that were flood-affected have been working in the hall. It really helps them, to feel like they are giving back to the community,” she said.
“Opening the hall as the recovery hub has shown community members the value of our hall and what a wonderful community we live in.
“Apart from providing supplies for people, it’s a place for people to sit and talk over a cuppa.”
Michelle said it was particularly devastating for people who were currently residing in emergency housing and would not be able to return to their house for quite a few months.
“People just thought that they’d get it sorted really quickly, but that’s obviously not the case, because they have to wait for the assessor and everything,” she said.
Michelle said the hub had distributed 1049 meals to the community for the month of February alone.
* The distribution of meals as well as the donation of household items has been made possible with assistance from a variety of individuals and businesses, including In 2 Splash, the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, the Cairns RSL, the Pacific Hotel, the Pullman Cairns International Hotel, the Little Blu Cafe, the Cairns Flood Food Drive, Brumby’s, the Calvary Christian Church, the Church of Christ, Cairns Regional Council, Stratford Village Pharmacy, Pine O Cleen, the Red Cross and Anglicare.

Cairns Flood Food Drive
A Labour of Love

In the aftermath of the floods, Crystal Love knew residents would be focusing on cleaning their houses, and delicious, nutritious meals would be the last thing on their minds.
Crystal established the Cairns Flood Food Drive on the second day of the floods once the road to Caravonica had reopened.
“I just knew that hot, pre-cooked meals would be something that people aren’t focusing on right now,” Crystal said.
“I thought people would appreciate it and it might just boost morale a bit.
“People would be more worried about their houses, the flooding and the cleanup. No one was really focusing on hot meals at all.
“I went to Domino’s in Earlville and asked if I could get a donation. I started off with 10 pizzas and took them around to the houses in Caravonica.
“Then I got in contact with Spicy Bite as well as other businesses and restaurants and started handing out donations to Caravonica and the Northern Beaches with a few other people.
“GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin) were fantastic and Domino’s was as well. They donated so many pizzas and they were really, really supportive.
“I felt a bit hopeless, and I was distressed by the whole situation. And I knew that food would be a big morale thing and it really has been.
“When I went into Caravonica I had people crying, people were very
much astounded by the fact that we were going around giving food out for free.
“People were really taken aback. It was a huge, positive response from the community.” The Food Drive has been assisting residents from Caravonica, the Northern Beaches, Kuranda, Mareeba, Wujal Wujal and Mossman.
Crystal said between 3000 and 4000 meals have been distributed via the Cairns Flood Food Drive.
While the Food Drive began with donations from restaurants and other businesses, volunteers also started cooking up a storm in recent weeks.
The food drive now has about 10 15 volunteers cooking meals on a regular basis.
“It’s really renewed my faith in the community to see people wanting to help and stepping up and helping and getting stuff done,” Crystal said. “I’m just so appreciative.
“This wouldn’t be an ongoing thing if it wasn’t for the support that I’ve received from all the volunteers.
“The response from the community was pretty incredible. It’s pretty powerful to see people coming together like that, when you need them they are there.”
The Food Drive volunteers believe in the philosophy ‘Kindness is Contagious’.
“That’s very much what I believe,” Crystal said.
“It’s very much what we saw throughout this whole process – people helping each other and inspiring other people to help.
“It’s important to note that even though the emergency response is over, the support to the community is going to be ongoing for a long time.”
GOPIO president Subash Chetry said his organisation’s assistance with the food drive began with a personal experience.
“Some clients of mine from ABC Care were stuck in Holloways Beach,” he said. “Luckily we found out that they had been rescued by a boat.
“We found out that four people had survived on a single packet ofchips for dinner. We thought 
‘Why don’t we take some hot food for them?’”
GOPIO’s involvement in the Food Drive was initiated by Spicy Bite and NDIS provider ABC Care.
Spicy Bite founder Daulat Panwar provided 200 containers of food that day.
“He has been very helpful,” Subash said. “We took it to Holloways Beach and within minutes it was gone.
“We thought that was it, now the rescues were done, then we as a team realised people had no electricity, no gas, no way to cook.”
GOPIO members liaised with Dan Cairns from the Holloways Beach Hub when they realised the need was ongoing, and their regular cooking and delivery of meals continued.
A GoFundMe page was created under GOPIO Cairns Inc. to collect funds for food and essentials, with $16,000 being raised.
GOPIO received generous donations from the Cairns Lions Club and Seville Mercy Centre, with both groups kindly contributing $5000 each.
With assistance from other restaurants including Tandoori Nights, Bombay Kitchen and Thattukada, GOPIO has now distributed more than 4000 meals to Caravonica, Holloways Beach, Machans Beach, Port Douglas, Mossman, the Daintree and even Cooktown with assistance from Hinterland Aviation.
Other companies who assisted include Sizzling Wheels, Brothers Leagues Club, Cairns RSL and Brumby’s.
GOPIO had about 20 volunteers and worked in conjunction with the Holloways Beach Hub, the Machans Beach Hub and the Cairns Flood Food Drive.
They will continue working with the Food Drive as long as they have funds available.
Subash said the tradition of sharing food is instilled in Indian culture.
“We recovered quickly because of the help of the community,” he said. “It was definitely a community effort.”
The Food Drive is looking forward to continuing its service to the community and is welcoming donations from the community – financial donations are welcome, as well as pre-cooked meals, pantry items, meat and even a freezer.
* Crystal would like to thank the following businesses and organisations: – Domino’s, GOPIO, Root Vegetarian, Blu Marlin Bistro, the Rotary Club of Cairns, Pullman Cairns International, the Shangri-La Hotel, the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino; and all the other businesses who donated.
If you are able to assist, please visit the Facebook page – Cairns Flood Food Drive, or email cairnsfloodfooddrive@gmail.com

Warren Entsch MP

Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said there are several unsung heroes who went above and beyond to make extraordinary contributions during the floods, an unprecedented natural disaster.

“This shows you the depth of character we have in Far North Queensland,” he said.
“These people fly under the radar – many of them we’d never heard of before. Now, many people owe their lives to them.
“The support the community received was outstanding.
“People really came together for something no one expected and they should be acknowledged.”
Mr Entsch would firstly like to acknowledge a few of the brave rescuers – Bret Little (AKA Magoo), who saved the lives of more than a dozen people from the roof of the Lion’s Den Hotel, Alec Dunn, who rescued 17 people from croc-infested waters in Degarra, Dan Cairns, who rescued 19 people in Holloways Beach on his kayak and then went on to establish the Holloways Hub; and Ricky and Jarrod Mellor, who saved close to 100 people over two days, also in Holloways Beach.
“Magoo needs to be nominated for a bravery medal. What he did is nothing short of extraordinary.
“He saved people’s lives because of his courage. With people’s lives at risk, these are the times when you look outside the square and do whatever you can to save people,” Mr Entsch said.
“Alec Dunn – many people owe their lives to him. What he did was extraordinarily difficult and dangerous, yet he did it.
“Dan Cairns – what he did was also quite extraordinary – he went above and beyond to rescue people, then he stayed on to work at the hub.”
Mr Entsch said he received assistance from Major General Jake Elwood, while Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr and Wujal Wujal Mayor Bradley Creek did an excellent job during the recovery process.
Mr Entsch also paid tribute to the Holloways Hub Volunteer Donation Crew, the Machans Beach Hub; and Lake Placid General Store owners Joe Torrent and Samantha Williams. He also thanked Daintree Air Services pilot Greg Letondeur, who flew essential items to flood victims in Cooktown and Tanika Parker, who helped coordinate the collection of the items, as well as Lawrence Mason and Jeremy Blockey, who assisted by keeping him informed about the situation in Cape Tribulation.
“We can move forward knowing there are some amazing people in our community who are flying under the radar, but when times are tough they will come out and shine,” he said.
Warren Entsch said an investigation needs to be launched into the floods and how the rescue and recovery process was handled by authorities.
“A full review must be launched, and that starts with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM),” he said.
“They have a centralised workforce in Brisbane and Melbourne, I’m highly critical of this.
“I raise serious concerns about this because the local knowledge is not here.
“You can’t afford to discard local knowledge. We really need to reinstate local staff.
“Nobody predicted that massive rain bomb that was sitting right on the cyclone’s tail.
“Look at the media the day after the cyclone – nobody had any idea – ‘We survived, we missed it all, happy days’.
“The BOM deactivated the cyclone warning – it’s crossed the coast, it’s no longer a cyclone.
“And that decouples it from the warning event. So anything after that is a rain event.
“They got it appallingly wrong.
“If we’d had a proper warning people on the beaches could have at least moved their cattle and their cars.
“Let’s get the BOM people up here. We need local staff in these areas where there is a high risk.
“The SES and other emergency services had been on alert for a week or two and then, because of the newspaper headlines and the BOM, they’re like right, it’s all over, let’s go home.
“So we weren’t prepared. We need to do a comprehensive assessment into what’s happened over this period of time so we can see what we can do better.”
Mr Entsch is also concerned about being provided inaccurate information by emergency services and many parts of his electorate being initially neglected during the flooding.
While in Cooktown to assess damage, accompanied by Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr and Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten, he was advised by emergency services the situation in Degarra, on the Bloomfield River, was under control.
However, he then received contradictory advice – he received urgent phone calls and emails from Cairns residents Danae Jones and Ellen Oomen, who have friends in the region, who advised him the situation was far from being OK and needed urgent attention.
Danae’s friend Alec Dunn rescued 17 people from the roofs of their houses, while Ellen’s friend Courtney Rollins assisted both Mr Entsch and Alec with the provision of information and the coordination of rescues.
Cr Kerr invited Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water Glenn Butcher to visit Degarra with him, and both were shocked with the devastation they witnessed first-hand.
They relayed their findings to Mr Entsch, who realised many flood-stricken areas had been forgotten by authorities.
He and Cr Kerr joined forces to bring the situation to the attention of both State and Federal Governments.
They wrote urgent emails to Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt and Minister for Fire and Disaster Recovery Nikki Boyd advising the situation was particularly critical in Cape Tribulation, Cow Bay, Wujal Wujal, Degarra, Ayton and the Daintree, where accessibility challenges had hindered the delivery of essential services and supplies.
HMAS Cairns had already been on the ground on the night of the event, under the direction of Commanding Officer Alfonso Santos.
“HMAS Cairns did a great job and they were consistent, however we needed more support in remote areas,” Mr Entsch said.
He urged the ministers to seek the deployment of Australian Defence Force resources, including heavy lifting aircraft and adequate marine landing craft, as a matter of priority.
Mr Entsch said Chinooks had evacuated people from Wujal Wujal, but had since returned to Townsville.
He called for their urgent redeployment to carry fuel and other supplies to remote areas.
“Fuel was the big problem, particularly north of the river, because they were relying on generators,” Mr Entsch said.
“Fuel was being dropped off, primarily by Nautilus Aviation, but they were limited in the capacity they could carry.
“Locals were also carrying fuel by boat, but this wasn’t sustainable due to the volume that was required. Cape Tribulation needed a lot more fuel.
“That, combined with the fact that we were trying to find heavy earthmoving equipment that could be ferried into Cape Tribulation, to start the clearing of Noah’s Range – we found there was no capacity for barges in Cairns able to carry the equipment. The Navy’s landing craft we had in Cairns had been relocated to Townsville.
“So it was on that basis that I said to the Mayor – let’s be very specific in what we want.
“We needed the Chinooks, and we needed barges to bring in earthmoving equipment.
“We received the support we requested within days.”
Ellen Oomen is one of the local residents who advised Mr Entsch of the dire situation in Degarra.
Ellen was concerned about her best friend Courtney in Ayton as she hadn’t been able to contact her for a few days.
“I was extremely worried because I had no idea what was going on up there,” she said.
“I was also concerned because authorities were telling people everything was OK when it clearly wasn’t.
“I felt really helpless, that’s why I contacted Warren.”
Ellen and her partner Robbie Trinder coordinated six boats full of supplies to the region two days before Christmas, including food, bedding, toiletries and medical supplies.
Courtney was unable to reach her house for about five days due to flooding, yet she assisted Alec with the rescues.
Ellen described the devastating situation that affected many residents in the region.
“They can’t leave their property because their car’s gone, they’ve nowhere to sleep because their house is covered in mud, they’re getting eaten alive by midges and mosquitoes, they can’t cross the river because there’s crocodiles,” she said.
“They were literally stranded in over your knee deep mud in their house. And these people are still stuck in the same clothes two weeks later, just trying to clean out one room in their house so they can sleep.”

Former Cairns Mayor Terry James

Former Cairns Mayor and Local Disaster Management Group (LDMG) Chair Terry James said an independent consultant is currently conducting a post-event review of Council’s response to the December flooding event associated with ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper.

Cairns Regional Council has engaged a specialist team to undertake the debrief, which will use an After-Action Review methodology.
Relevant Council stakeholders engaged in disaster operations have been invited to participate in the review.
The debrief will focus on determining the level of effectiveness of operational, tactical and strategic activities and initiatives, including governance, an approach that is used as standard practice for emergency services agencies and the Australian Defence Force to understand and improve capability and responses.
It is anticipated that a final report will be available by late June.
Cairns Regional Council has also made a formal request to the Inspector-General of Emergency Management (IGEM) for a review into the flooding event.
Council further reiterated its commitment to fully engage in such an exercise, with the goal of applying learnings to the development of further mitigation, preparedness, management and recovery strategies.
Mr James said the commitment of the members of the LDMG was exceptional.
“These are ordinary community members, who were pulled away from their homes and families under quickly evolving and fraught circumstances,” he said.
“They bunkered down for days and nights on end to get the job done under enormous pressure.”
Mr James said the members showed unwavering commitment in the service of their community.
“As is often the case in major events such as these, the silver lining of hope comes from witnessing the extraordinary, and often times heroic, efforts of everyday people whose first priority was the safety of their neighbours, or often even complete strangers,” he said.
“We saw this in individuals who took risks to help people evacuate, in the volunteers cleaning literal mud and sewerage from people’s homes, and the generosity of community members and local businesses who have donated This is heartening and gives me great pride.”