Resilience shines through after Cyclone Marcia's fury
"IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times."
To borrow a quote from Charles Dickens and a Tale of Two Cities, Cyclone Marcia brought out the many different facets of our community.
On one hand, it was the worst cyclone in 60 years to hit the region, causing dreadful devastation and upheaval. It was an emotional time for small businesses, farmers, residents and community groups. And it was made worse by the threat of subsequent bushfires.
On the other hand, it brought out of the woodwork attributes like resilience, kindness and sincere generosity from people of all walks of life within our community. People who wanted to help others in any way they could.
One example was 'the bloke in the ute' (I don't know his name), who drove around the morning after the cyclone, randomly stopping by strangers' homes to see if he could help them. He shifted trees, stacked debris and offered a smile for those who were traumatised.
Scenarios following the cyclone:
It's been more than a month since Cyclone Marcia struck.
Like everyone on the Capricorn Coast, I was locked down in my home near Yeppoon as the powerful storm hit.
The day after the cyclone, I spent the day at Livingstone Shire's emergency co-ordination centre in order to get a sense of what help was required from Canberra.
Many people may not be aware that the day before the cyclone arrived, army troops were already travelling from Townsville to Rockhampton to be ready to help the following day.
A fleet of combat engineers was later deployed along with a fleet of 46 vehicles, which included heavy plant equipment such as excavators and a crane.
The Federal Government had also immediately despatched the Royal Australian Air Force above the Capricorn Coast and Rockhampton in hi-tech aerial surveillance aircraft to provide technical assessments of the damage.
Soon after the cyclone, I brought Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss to Yeppoon and Rockhampton to inspect the damage.
I flew to Canberra and addressed our joint party room and, in no uncertain terms, I told a room full of government ministers and MPs that we needed help and we needed it fast.
Within days, I flew the Prime Minister in to witness the devastation in Yeppoon and Rockhampton. Tony Abbott walked down the Ben and Braithwaite Streets residential area of Yeppoon, talking to locals. He attended a barbecue with volunteers and caught up with army troops engaged in repair work.
He was joined by Minister for Justice (natural disaster assistance) Michael Keenan and Minister for Human Services Marise Payne.
Later, I brought Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to the area and toured farms and met with primary producers.
I inspected the area by helicopter with Rockhampton-based Senator Matthew Canavan.
From the air, the Byfield area looked like it had been hit by a bomb.
From a bird's-eye view, vast tracks of pine plantations were flattened, while beautiful rainforest had been damaged beyond belief.
Farms were also in ruins. On the Vass macadamia plantation, 2000 trees were pushed over by the wind. These trees were nearly 50 years old.
The timber industry also faces devastation. TMS, a timber milling company in Byfield, invested $35 million in the region. Before the cyclone, it had a 20-year supply of pine forest. But sadly, 18 years of timber was flattened by the cyclone. This scenario puts the timber industry and many jobs in jeopardy.
On various road trips through Byfield, I continued to hear countless stories of hardship and devastation. In response, I continued to push for Category C financial assistance, which was achieved for eligible primary producers, small businesses and not-for-profit groups.
While driving, I also stopped to hand out cold drinks to road crews clearing debris from Byfield roads. Road worker Dave and his team deserve a vote of thanks.
Visitors should now return:
One of the best ways we can help small businesses to recover, especially in places like Byfield and Yeppoon and the general Rockhampton area, is by spending money there. Businesses now need visitors to return to the area.
In Parliament, I am encouraging people from all over Australia to head to Byfield, book cabin accommodation, buy a meal and spend locally.
With everyone's help, we can get this local economy buzzing again.
I'd like to conclude by thanking everyone - both volunteer and professional - who has helped in any way with the cyclone clean-up and recovery process.