Saturday, April 15, 2006



The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting : "Ergon Energy crews are attempting to reconnect about 200 homes and businesses today and over the weekend, despite having promised to have power restored by Easter.

"The supplier today said it had cost $30 million to reconnect power wiped from 135,000 of its customers during the devastating category-five cyclone on March 20.

"Most homes and businesses without electricity are in remote parts of the Atherton Tablelands, west of Innisfail.


Portable homes will be pieced together and trucked or trained into the Innisfail region for up to 50 families still without a place to live.

Recovery task force leader General Peter Cosgrove referred to the figure as "a handful of families" on ABC Radio.

The temporary homes will not have the amenities of a permanent dwelling, such as basic kitchens.

The rush is now on to complete rebuilding work within nine months, before the start of the next 'wet' season, when rains are at their heaviest and the area becomes prone once more to cyclones.

More than 10,000 tarps still cover damaged roofs. Broken windows in hundreds of homes are boarded up with plastic sheeting, sheets of plywood and corrugated iron.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006



The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting : "Farmers and workers devastated by Cyclone Larry will receive a further $19 million under a new jobs and training package unveiled today.

"Cyclone Larry devastated about 12,500 hectares of prime agricultural land when it swept through far north Queensland two weeks ago, wiping out cane, banana and other tropical fruit and nut crops. It also left thousands of farm workers unemployed.

"Mr Beattie said the $18.56 million in new aid, which comes on top of more than $100 million in federal and state assistance already pledged, would help keep workers in the area until affected farms recovered."


According to Beattie, the money will be used to help farmers hold onto the skilled labour that they are likely to see move on from the affected areas now the jobs are gone. Money will also go towards providing training for those not highly skilled, and also re-training. Which means some people who have lost their jobs may have to agree to training for new lines of work in order to get money from the new line of funds.

The Herald is touring a figure of "1000 displaced workers" who are expected to find new jobs helping to rebuild the damaged infrastructure.

Monday, April 03, 2006


'Moet' Miranda Devine, the right wing columnist who referred to the suffering people of Innisfail as 'whingers' on the Sunday following the cyclone, and stirred up a hornet's nest of outrage, has apologised....well, she's sort of apologised in her latest column in the Sydney Sun Herald.

She quoted extensively from a few of the dozens of letters sent by angry and distressed people to the Townsville Bulletin, and included one or two of the hundreds of responses that landed in her e-mail inbox with a heavy thud.

She also quoted one of the funniest lines of all from the Townsvile Bulletin editorial the day after her original column appeared : "(Hardship in Sydney is) when the local bottle-o runs out of Moet or when the maid calls in sick and madam has to do the washing herself".

That's only true for a tiny slice of Sydneysiders, but it still cracks me up every time I read it.

'Moet' Miranda also managed to slip in a roundabout slur by claiming "Even as Sydney native General Peter Cosgrove heads the reconstruction of the cyclone-ravaged area, the story mined a rich streak of anti-Sydney sentiment in the tropics, judging by the emails."

As far as I could tell, the only anti-Sydney sentiment 'mined' was in response to Miranda's sickening slash at the cyclone survivors. Few of the responses were directed at Sydneysiders in general, they were almost all directed directly at 'Moet' Miranda herself. But she's not going to tell you that.

And apparently because 'Sydney native' General Peter Cosgrove was on his way to help out, everyone up North was immediately supposed to forget Miranda's outrageous slander.

She didn't just cop funny and slightly abusive e-mails, she also got the facts on the ground from volunteer fighters like Warren, who wrote : "What you were not privy to was the absolute selflessness of the residents of East Palmerston when our volunteers delivered tarps, ration packs, fresh fruit and water. Many refused aid because in this part of the country you don't accept charity.

"[They] would often scratch together the ingredients to supply home-made lamingtons . . . [or] appear from the darkness with all the beer they had and, somehow, a bag of ice."

And this from Shane, "I, like many other locals, have simply knuckled down, cleaned up, gotten back to work and used the experience as a character builder . . . Generally the spirit of co-operation and generosity has been exceptional."

"Glad to hear it" Miranda writes at the end of her column.

But the point will not be lost on the people of North Queensland, and the residents of Innisfail in particular.

People were scratching together lamingtons and sharing food and helping each other string up tarps and checking on elderly neighbours and delivering water and minding each other's kids and holding spots in the days long queues while the needy took a break from standing in the rain, and they did these things all the week long before Miranda wrote her despicable column.

The trouble is Miranda didn't bother to find out that all these good and kind and wonderful things were happening in the cyclone zone. She just glanced at the television, saw and heard what she wanted to see and hear and then slandered thousands of shocked and traumatised people with the misinformed catch-all of 'whingers'.

But the people of North Queensland will have to take what they can get from Miranda. They shouldn't expect a much needed Correction to any of the lies she spouted in her original column and they certainly should not be expecting any kind of proper apology.

It doesn't work like that in Sydney.

Go here and here to read our original coverage and some of the best 'Dear Ms Moet' letters.

Go here to read 'Moet' Miranda's latest column.

Go here to read the original 'whingers' spew.


This message was posted on the Bulletin's 'Comments' board, claiming to be from Miranda Devine herself :

"Your poor excuse for a journalist, John Andersen, has invented facts and verballed me in his column, `Low blow from Sydney'. I do not live in Cremorne. Nor do I have a maid. I did not use the word `hillbilly' to refer to North Queenslanders. And Laotians in Sydney are not consigned to `trimming the hedges and washing the socks of the rich'.

"He has concocted a bizarre fantasy that Sydney is peopled exclusively by wealthy people and their immigrant servants, and that I sit around drinking Moet for a living. This fiction appears to have been accepted as truth by some of your more gullible readers. I don't think inventing facts is any more acceptable for journalists in Townsville than it is in Sydney so I expect a correction."

To see what the facts that Miranda needs to correct herself from her original 'whingers' column, which senselessly kicked off this whole drama, go here.

If you're still bored, go and check out the latest stories at Your New Reality and Planet Of Strange Things. New stuff on the Australia Vs Indonesia Cartoon Wars on both sites.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


The man in charge of the Cyclone Larry recovery effort, General Peter Cosgrove, has a 'disaster diary' up on the Courier Mail detailing his first week on the ground.

Here's an excerpt :

"March 24 : I was trying to get my mind around the scope of the task while absorbing all the sites of destruction and the obvious desperate state of some people.

"I was very impressed by the stoicism and courage of the people I saw. A lot of people obviously had nothing but they were still smiling.

"They were drenched and standing in borrowed clothes and they were fossicking around amongst the wreckage and as you approached them they were telling you about their neighbour – 'I lost a bit but that poor fellow over there lost a lot'."



Mourilyan Mill, the oldest sugar mill in North Queensland, has announced it will not be opening for business this year, signalling further job losses in the region where more than 5000 people are already out of work due to the devastation wrought by Cyclone Larry.

The Belgian owners of the mill have decided the facilities are too damaged to start up again crushing sugar cane, and they are claiming a shortage of labour means they cannot repair the "unbelievable" damage in time.

This will mean a loss of around 150 full time jobs and some 60 seasonal positions.

Many hundreds of workers who lost their jobs when cane, banana, avovado and tropical fruit farms were destroyed in the cyclone were hoping to find replacement work at the mill.

It may be of small relief to those who now have no jobs and have lost their homes that they will be eligible for grants of up to $2000 from the recently, awkwardly, renamed 'Prime Minister and Premier Cyclone Larry Relief Appeal'.

Prime Minister John Howard and State Premier Peter Beattie obviously don't want the locals to forget just where this money is coming from, despite it being drawn from taxpayers. They've hardly reached into their own pocket to build the fund. Perhaps it should be called 'The People Of Australia's Cyclone Larry Relief Appeal'?

Those who no longer have homes in which they can live will be allowed to apply first for the $2000 grants, while those who are termed as 'needy', but have homes in which they can live, will have to wait seven to ten days before they can apply for the emergency cash grants.

$10 million has been set aside for this first run of grants.

At least 4000 homes in the cyclone affected areas have been determined as "unsafe", and will not have electricity reconnected.

Some 450 people have been placed in emergency accomodation by the Department of Housing.

The Johnstone Shire Mayor Neil Clarke told the Courier Mail that she is hoping Bundaberg Sugar will repair the Mourilyan Mill and have it ready to hire new workers at the start of the next season.

Only 40 per cent of the original sugar cane crop is now expected to be harvested.

(Info for this story was drawn from ABC News reports, the Courier Mail, and the Sydney Morning Herald)


From : "Almost 7000 north Queensland homes and businesses battered by Cyclone Larry are still without power. Electricity supplier Ergon Energy said 831 customers were today reconnected on the Atherton Tablelands and coastal area between Tully and Babinda, leaving 6,749 without power.

"Power was cut to almost 140,000 Ergon customers after the category-five cyclone slammed into the Innisfail area early on March 20."

Saturday, April 01, 2006


The true and total devastation and the rapid pace of recovery becomes crystal clear in this detail report from the (Queensland) State Disaster Management Group :

"Approximately 12500 sq kms were affected by Tropical Cyclone Larry from, Mareeba in the North to Tully in the south and west to beyond Mt Garnet.

"Significant damage occurred to houses, businesses, infrastructure, crops and state forests.
TC Larry travelled almost 450 kms inland to around Croydon before being downgraded to a rain depression. It took 13 hours to travel inland.

The pace of the recovery and rebuilding effort is also stunning, for all the right reasons :

"More than 1600 houses have been tarped.

There are approximately 617 State Emergency Service volunteers, Rural Fire Brigade volunteers, Queensland Ambulance Service, Queensland Fire and Rescue Service and
Department of Emergency Services personnel currently working in North Queensland on cyclone relief projects. "

All the roads are now open again, but smaller roads inland and on the coast are not in tiptop condition and have eroded.

Passenger train services to Cairns are now running again., same goes for the freight services.

A total of 156 schools in the region were affected by Cyclone Larry, and all have reopened.

Electricity is going back on faster every day, but a few hundred still remain on generators. Hundreds more homes judged too severely damaged will not be reconnected.

The water supply is coming back, but pipe integrity, pressure and hygiene problems still remained (as of mid-last week) at Innsifail, El Arish, Kurramine, Silkwood, Bingil and Mourilyn.

Expect that there have been significant changes to those figures above since this report was issued.

The power is now back on for all of the Innisfail CBD.

Most mobile phone services are back on and satellite phones are getting out to rural residents.

Here's some impressive figures from the initial response (all quotes are from the State Department Management Group report) :

Emergency response primary resources

Atherton Shire
· 200 personnel
· 30 trucks
· 18 bobcats, loaders and backhoes
· 50 chainsaws
· 10 generators

Mareeba Shire
· 30 personnel including 16 QAS paramedics
· 5 trucks
· 5 backhoes

Herberton Shire
· 120 staff
· 63 vehicles
· 21 backhoes, loaders, excavators.
· 5 generators
· 15 chainsaws

Eacham Shire
· 130 personnel
· Majority of council equipment being used

The Australian Defence Force deployed more than 400 personnel and thousnads of tonnes of equipment. And they did it in a few days.

Water is now available in most townships, but some are on limited supplies between certain hours.

The majority of damaged premises have been assisted

In the district, 94 farms have no power supply, with 33 working on generators.

Despite the damage, it's amazing what was pulled together and and deployed and achieved in less than two weeks.

Now here's the true scope of the Cyclone Larry destruction :

· 50% damage to homes
· 35% damage to private industry
· 25% government buildings

· 99% homes have lost roofs or suffered structural damage

· 15% homes damaged

· roof damage to 40% of homes

· 30% homes damaged
· damage to 15% industry

· 30% homes damaged
· No damage to industry

· 30% homes damaged
· 20% damage to industry
· 45% damage to caravan park

· 20% homes damaged
· 20% damage to industry

· 30% damage to homes
· 50% damage to industry

· 70% damage to homes

When you look at those figures above, as bad as the damage to homes is, you have to remember that some places like Mission Beach rely to the greatest extent on the tourist trade to stay alive.
Now, the next time you walk around your neighbourhood, imagine one out of every three homes without a roof, imagine one out of every five local shops and business being damaged and in need of repair and rebuilding, and imagine more than half the local hotels or motels or accomodation being shut down down for weeks, or months, to come.

That's how devastating this cyclone was to small towns in Far North Queensland. We still don't have full reports for all of the rural areas.

The people of Far North Queensland don't need any blankets or cans of food or raincoats (there were a few donated). They need cash to rebuild their homes, their lives and their businesses. There is money coming from the State and Federal governments, but not all of it is coming in one big lump. It will be drip-fed out and it will take time to reach those who need it the most. You can get money to those who need it quicker by donating cash via these services :

The Cyclone Larry Appeal on 1800 150 411

And they still need registered tradespeople who want to get up there and do some good and vital work for people who really need it. If that's you, call this number now : 1800 631 328.



Photograph by Kevin Cheatham, taken in Gallo Park on the Atherton Tablelands.

It's almost two weeks since Cyclone Larry roared through hundreds of square kilometres of far North Queensland, and while the farmers are still trying to work out whether or not it's worth starting over, towns like Innisfail are quickly returning to normal, at least on the surface.

Innisfail is regarded as the worst affected township. The public schools have now opened back up, the high school is being rebuilt, most of the shops along the main street are open for business again and the emergency repair part of the recovery is just about over. Even the local theatre is staging a new play.

The AM program reports
that some farmers who lost their entire crops, sheds, equipment are not prepared to begin the long road back to what they had before the cyclone struck. The damage is too severe, the shock of the loss too great.

AM : "Across cyclone-hit north Queensland, the rural sector is reeling. Ninety-five per cent of Australia's banana crop is destroyed. Cane growers have suffered significant losses. So much so that one north Queensland mill, damaged in the cyclone, won't be needed this crushing season.
Smaller properties too are in trouble."

Local business Charlie Ward told AM, "We have a small nursery business up in Upper Dowradgi (phonetic) in the rural area, about five acres of land and we sell foliage to the florists, to the Sydney and Melbourne markets, and sell plants. And our nursery's totally destroyed, there's nothing left. We probably won't get an income for about 12 months."

Macadamia grower Garrick Smith told AM the crop he lost took ten long years to grow.

"It breaks your heart," he said. "Trees have actually blown apart, they've split apart and they've been ripped straight out of the ground. And it's quite devastating. I'd be prepared to try again, but I would have to have a lot of financial help. At my age, I just don't have the capital to go back into it by myself.

Dairy farming family the Maier's are prepared to rebuild, but only so they can sell their farm and get out.

"Everything is mess," Elizabeth Maier told AM, "We had heaps of trees falling, falling trees. We had blocked laneways. We have no fences anymore. Not one paddock was okay because all the trees fall on the fences, everything is broken. My husband really stressed, and he said, 'We fix up the place and we sell it, that's it.' Because he don't want to go through that again."

Go here for the full AM story.


From ABC News : "Queensland Health has begun a mass vaccination program for residents living in cyclone-ravaged areas of far north Queensland.

More than 40,000 people from South Johnstone to the Atherton Tablelands will be vaccinated.

Medical superintendent Jill Newland says the Health Department is concerned that the wet, cramped conditions could cause an outbreak of the common flu.


The Queensland Health Department has announced that mental health temas are now operating in North Queensland communities that were devastated by the cyclone.

Health spokesman Kevin Freele said counselling would now play an essential role in helping the traumatised residents cope with the loss of their homes and jobs and small business.

The possibility of suicide rates increasing in the affected areas are being taken seriously, as the full impact of the cyclone begins to take its toll on residents.

Local MP Bob Katter warned last week, "I have a responsibility now to bring public attention to bear on what is now a very serious situation. There is a powder keg up there and it just needs somebody to strike a match."

More than 4000 locals now face unemployment for the nine or more months it will take for the banana industry to recover.

"The social breakdown is occurring now but it will move from being social breakdown to anti-social very swiftly unless people move to pick all those people," Mr Katter said.

"They are angry and they are going to vent is somewhere on some people. That is going to occur."


Westpac Bank froze the credit card accounts of more than 1000 North Queensland customers during Cyclone Larry. They did it, they claim, for "protection".

But ABC News is reporting that local Westpac staff in Townsville were unaware of the "protection" program, presumably to stop fraud while electricity and phone lines were down.

Customers are angry : "There should be some warning and at least the banks in the districts that they've so gaily abandoned should be warned," one said.


The Ninemsn News website is running an interesting Cyclone Larry diary from an Innisfail resident who details the experience of surviving the Category Four cyclone and the problems she now faces rebuilding her home and her life.

Here's one excerpt :

"I never really understood the stories I read about there being shortages of food. Our local Coles has been open since the day after the cyclone and it was only short of cold foods like dairy. And if you went to the main street in those first few days after the cyclone, there was free food and water. I think Qantas flew in about 6000 plane meals. There was even a jumping castle. It was like a street party!"

Go here to read the full diary.

Friday, March 31, 2006


Screen grab from Channel 7 News of Category 4 Cyclone Glenda hitting Dampier.

For the second time in less than two weeks, a massive Category Four cyclone has hit the Australian coast. This time it's Cyclone Glenda and as we're posting it's slamming into small communities on northern coast of West Australia.

The town of Onslow is expected to be worst hit, but the full effect of a predicted massive tidal surge won't be known until dawn.

Go to the Cyclone Glenda : The Aftermath blog for more photos and reports, plus the latest news.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


According to reports on the Australian ABC Radio, sharks have been spotted in heavily flooded rivers, moving into farmland districts of Far North Queensland.

The Leichhardt River burst its bank after massive rainfalls caused by Cyclone Larry. Several large farm stations are now cut off.

Kylie Camp, of Floraville Station near Burketown in the Gulf of Carpentaria, said she had seen sharks swimming in the flooded river that runs through her property. The sharks had presumably swam up the river from the coast.

"I've never seen so many snakes in my life and also some sharks as well," she told ABC Radio.

"We do see sharks sometimes below the waterfalls that are normally here. They're probably just trying to move out of the fast moving current into somewhere quieter."

The Leichhardt River was recorded as flooding almost ten metres high in Floraville.


At $250 million, Cyclone Larry has clocked up the largest losses from a natural disaster in Queensland since Cyclone Althea smashed Townsville and Cairns in 1971.

But the insurance bill is expected to rise even higher as more claims are recieved in the weeks ahead.

The $250 million doesn't include more than $300 million in losses from crop damage which could not be insured before the disaster


Excellent story here from the Townsville Bulletin about how neighbours are pitching in together to begin rebuilding their neighbourhoods, and their lives :

"It was a case of neighbours helping neighbours at Innisfail East yesterday.

"The Rules of Clancy St were happy to give some of the wood from what was once their car shed to neighbours across the road, the Brosnans, who need it to repair their roof structure.

"Ann Rule said the Brosnans could take whatever they wanted from their property.

"The Rule's house lost its entire roof and the Queenslander home has been condemned to demolition.

"Mrs Rule's son, Brendan, helped Keith Brosnan dismantle the shed yesterday to retrieve some of the wood."


In the space of just one week, the small North Queensland town of Innisfail has been visited by Prime Minister John Howard, the State Premier Peter Beattie, the Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, three other QLD Government ministers, Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley...and a stream of other 'officials', along with dozens of media crews, including a team from the Channel Nine Today show who thought a live broadcast from the cyclone-smashed town might be a good idea.

Former Defence Force chief General Peter Cosgrove liked Innisfail so much when he visited, he decided to stay. Well, that's not quite true, he's heading up the recovery team and thought it would be best if he was close by at all times. The locals don't seem to mind that he's stayed, but they're getting weary of all the others popping in, with media in tow, to "share the pain".

Turning up without media crews might have made some of these visits seem a bit more genuine, or if the officials had stayed around a bit longer. Howard, Beazley and the GG could only spare a few hours, and they ditched their Canberra fine-threaded suits for a more 'rural look'.

Beattie still comes back most days, and Cosgrove, of course, is now a temporary resident.


Fears that the damage to the Great Barrier Reef might be devastating to the Queensland tourist industry have eased some initial assessments have been made.

Federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, has announced the Reef appears virtually undamaged, with only "a band of about 20 to 30km wide" affected, or about one percent in total.

Campbell touted the Great Barrier Reef as one of the healthiest reefs in the the world today, and repeated claims aired by some scientists that the arrival of Cyclone Larry cooled ocean temperatures around the Reef and in the process reduced the likelihood of coral bleaching, thought to have been one of the greatest threats to the viability of this major tourist drawcard.


From the Courier Mail : "While the Innisfail and Tableland region continued the clean-up today, rain from the remnants of Cyclone Larry caused widespread flooding in the Gulf country, with residents bracing themselves for crop and stock losses.

"Burke Shire Mayor Annie Clarke, who lives on a property south of Burketown, said she had heard reports of hundreds of cattle swimming for their lives.

"'They can't keep swimming forever, obviously,' she said. 'One fellow flew over his property and said he didn't see a beast and they had had 24 inches in a big catchment area."

"Several towns, including Burketown, Doomadgee and Gregory, have been isolated by floodwaters and more than 2000kg of food will be airlifted tomorrow.

"General Cosgrove was concerned devastated agricultural industries could be forced to shut down if they do not receive more support from financial institutions."



Independent MP, Bob Katter, said the Cyclone Larry victims are like "a powderkeg" and warned it wouldn't take much for them to detonate.

"There are thousands of people walking the streets who have no homes, they have no jobs and they are very, very angry indeed," Katter was quoted as saying in the Courier Mail yesterday.

At the same time, the head of the recovery taskforce, General Peter Cosgrove, has appealed to those who lost their homes and jobs not to abandon the region by starting their lives over elsewhere.

"There is no technical health reason why they should leave. It's now a question of meeting their aspirations," General Cosgrove said.

There are now serious fears, as cited by Katter, that the thousands of locals now without homes and jobs and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could "turn anti-social unless more help was delivered". Fears were aired late last week of victims being prone to suicide once the full scope of their monumental losses were absorbed.

More than 4000 people lost jobs through the destruction of the banana industry alone. Official figures of job losses from related businesses and destroyed farming industries have not been released.


On a few days after Prime Minister John Howard announced the $100 million Cyclone Larry relief package, word gets out the cash payouts are to be raised substantially.

There was plenty of criticism that the figures cited for relief would not be enough, and the local federal member for the affected region, Bob Katter, raised it in Canberra during question time on Monday afternoon.

"I don't want to be made a hostage to this figure but I would expect the figure as far as the federal government is concerned to be well in excess of $100 million," Prime Minister Howard said in response to Katter's questions and concerns.

"It may even go much higher than that depending on the duration of the reconstruction period."

More on the proposed changes in the Sydney Morning Herald




Ten percent of the 12,000 houses and buildings assessed by electricity suppliers in Far North Queensland have now got their power back on.

But another 4000 homes and buildings in and around Innsifail were too damaged to be reconnected to the mains electricity supply.

When Cyclone Larry hit, more than 140,000 people lost their electricity acroos Innisfail, coastal areas east of Innisfail, the southern Tablelands, Tully and Babinda. Now less than 14,000 people are estimated to be still without power one week on.



General Peter Cosgrove, co-ordinator for the disaster relief, told Channel 9 he's pretty happy about the first round of Federal and State government aid packages....but more will be needed. Much, much more.

There's plenty of volunteers and equipment, but Cosgrove's talking about "good old fashioned cash".

Cosgrove reckons the total bill from cyclone-related damage will head over $1 billion within a couple of years.

Of the disaster management plans that were already in place and fired up in the days before Cyclone Larry hit, he said they worked, but they now needed updating.

"The plans work extremely well but it is very hard to anticipate the exact nature and impact of a major disaster such as this. This is literally a once in 100 years event, the cyclone was almost off the scale and in that regard the plans actually worked so well as to prevent any major loss of life, it's a miracle."

(Cosgrove's quotes were rush-transcribed off a Channel 9 interview, so they might be a bit out)


Her Majesty Queen Liz passed this message onto the Governor General : "I was greatly concerned to learn about the terrible damage caused by last week's cyclone in north Queensland. I should be grateful if you could convey my sympathy to all those whose lives have been affected by this disaster, together with my admiration for the emergency services and all those many others who have been working so hard to alleviate the suffering."

If you really want to alleviate some suffering up there, Lizzie, cash in some of those Crown Jewels and send the money to Cosgrove.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


We don't want to give that dim bulb Miranda Devine any more publicity for her vile-spew at the cyclone-shattered people of Innisfail (in the Sydney Sun Herald last weekend), but the reaction from people in North Queensland has been strong and bloody passionate, and they deserve to have their voices heard here.

It's a damn shame the Sun Herald won't give the people of Innisfail the same right of reply.

From John Andersen editor of the Townsville Bulletin :

"Miranda is really peeved that people complained about their predicament. She says that 'five minutes after the cyclone hit, locals were whingeing that 'they' hadn't arrived' to fix their broken homes.

"I think this a sad generalisation. I've seen people complain on the telly, which is where Miranda is getting most of her info, but I didn't come across any A-grade whingers during the five days I spent covering the cyclone and its aftermath.

But, if they wanted to complain, so what? They'd just been through hell. They were despairing. They were in varying degrees of shock, but not one of them played the blame game. They were just glad to be alive. Maybe if Miranda had gone to Innisfail and spoken to some of the people who had been 'Larried' she might have taken a different view.

But, gee, why would you leave Cremorne (Miranda's hometown) where you can sip on Moet and watch it on the telly?"

Next up, some reaction from Cardwell Shire Mayor Joe Galeano :

"If anything ever happened to the agriculture industry, there would be a lot of hardship in (Sydney) as well. A seven-hour cyclone changed people's lives forever. But people still need some support. The farmers are producing for the masses in Sydney.

He said anyone who thought North Queenslanders were whingeing about the damage from the cyclone should take a visit to the disaster zone.

"These people who make these accusations should visit Johnstone Shire, our neighbouring shire, and our beachfront at Mission Beach. If they visit that, they can see the destruction and the suffering. It's surreal. The only reason we didn't have any loss of life was because of the preparation. If people down south realised how important this was, they wouldn't say those kind of things."

Go here to read the rest of what Mayor Galeano told the Townsville Bulletin.

And here's just a few of the barrage of letters recieved by the Townsville Bulletin reacting to Devine's column :

Michael Hawkins : "...this despicable load of lies and insults concocked by a lonely insignificant low life, attention-seeking journalist from Sydney. Just forget that she ever existed. These wonderful people of the north are truly an inspiration to us all, so just keep giving us the good stories about them and forget about this poor lonely sole of sorrow from Sydney. Her thoughts amount to nothing up here in the North."

Leesa Farley : "I would call her a stuck-up snob. Not all Far North Queensland people are `whinging', just a few. Doesn't that happen in every society? Or should we call all Sydney people stuck-up snobs just because she is one? I'd like to see her go through Larry and find some food and shelter where there is none."

Jim Goodin : "Sydney columnist Miranda Devine does not speak for all southerners. I for one have been amazed at the stoicism and resilience of the people of North Queensland in the wake of Cyclone Larry. You are very much in my thoughts and prayers. Forget the Mirandas of the world, her words will be blow away by the gentlest of breezes."

Kellie Prince : "I'm disgusted at what Miranda has written. How dare she sit in her little office and comment. Miranda get off your lazy arse and go and help Innisfail and see how you can handle everything. Sydney are a bunch of snobby bastards. Get out of your little city and see how the real country has to live."

David Rennie : "(Miranda) probably wrote this article over a nicely chilled glass or two of Moet with her nose pointed upwards. Who cares about the little people? The people who battle on day after day to provide produce around the country so ignorant people such as Miranda can enjoy the fruits of this productive and generous region of Far North Queensland. Miranda is one person who next time she bites into a piece of fruit or sips a latte should think twice before writing such garbage about fellow Australians. Times like this a majority of decent Australians rally together to help others when they are down, whether they can afford it or not - they dig deep. The Sydney Sun-Herald should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this kind of negative fiction to be written and printed by their columnist."

Go here to read the original Miranda Devine column 'This Is No New Orleans, So Enough With The Whingeing' and this is her e-mail address if you'd like to tell her what you think :
Miranda Devine : warm, safe and dry.

If you do send Madranter Devine an e-mail message, try and keep your reactions as civil as you can. No doubt she will take the abusive e-mails and use them to say how right she was or some such nonsense. You don't have to sink to her level to make your point. And feel free to post your reactions in the 'Comments' section below.

Monday, March 27, 2006


By Darryl Mason

The cyclone hammered people of Innisfail have been mightily slagged by Sydney columnist Miranda Devine, safely tucked up in her warm PJs as she delivers her scathing, bitter verdict on mothers with children in tow who spent two days or more standing in the rain in the Innsifail town square last week.All they wanted was dry clothes, food, water, nappies and some emergency cash.

But they're just a pack of bloody whingers, reckons Mirada Devine.

"We in Sydney are very sorry for the people in northern Queensland who have lost their homes to Cyclone Larry." Miranda wrote yesterday in the Sydney Sun Herald. "But, much as we will miss their avocados and bananas on our supermarket shelves, we can live without their whingeing."

I don't know who told Miranda she could speak for the people of Sydney, but she's dead wrong. People in Sydney who actually bothered to watch the news, and take it all in, saw only a handful of people complain about their extreme misfortune. Maybe Miranda was watching her own special channel where her view of the world is carefully filtered for anything that might infect her pre-formed opinions?

"This is hardly Hurricane Katrina," she writes. Yeah, it was Cyclone Larry, and it was actually more powerful than Katrina, despite the fact no-one was killed.

"Five minutes after the cyclone hit, locals were whingeing that 'they' haven't come and fixed it for them. Do they not have their own arms and legs?"

Miranda is being sarcastic here, of course, unless she really has no idea at all. And from reading the rest of her column, perhaps she really doesn't.

Five minutes after the cyclone hit, nearly all the people of Innisfail were still holed up, trying to protect themselves and their families from the 280kmh winds that roared through the town and tore apart and damaged more than a thousand buildings.

Miranda quotes the widely seen footage of local Shiralee Hazel, who aired her frustrations at a TV camera, as being indicative of the rest of the townsfolk.

"Effing do something now," Shiralee said. "That is my message for them. Get off their fat arses and do something."

Fair call? Sure. It's hard to imagine any of us could stand in queues for two days, in the rain, holding traumatised, hungry, wet, bored children and not demand everything move faster. You'd have to be mad, or heavily medicated, not to get worked up if you found yourself in Shiralee's sodden shoes.

Premier Beattie understood this, so did Opposition Leader Beazley, so did Prime Minister Howard. But not Miranda. In her fantasy world, all the common folk should just shut up and stand dutifully, silently, in line.

And where exactly were all these other people Miranda claims were 'whingeing'? Virtually non-existent perhaps?

There were a few who were pissed off enough to vent their frustrations publicly, but they were hardly in the majority.

Miranda had the opportunity, to an audience of many hundreds of thousands of readers, to point out how the North Queenslanders looked after themselves and each other at a time when it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end. For the many who are now trying to live amidst the destruction and deprivation forced upon them by the most powerful cyclone to hit Australia in a hundred years, their world has literally come to an end, but they're getting on with it. Not that Miranda can tell the difference.

"Australians, especially outside the big cities, used to pride themselves on their self-reliance and resilience, forged in a hard, unforgiving land. Now, according to images beamed back to Sydney, they have become helpless victims. A category five cyclone comes to town and it's all the fault of Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and Prime Minister John Howard."

She is simply baiting her readership here, and pandering to those who think anyone who needs to rely on their government for help at any point in their life must be lower than pond scum. Miranda will go weeks without writing something outrageous, obviously drawn deep from her own well of misinformation and prejudice, then suddenly there it is on her column page, dripping with bile.

Sometimes it seems like she only writes columns like this to get the expected reaction of furious outrage from readers, and the hundreds of letters that will prove to her bosses that yes, she is relevant and controversial, and that's why they should keep paying her six figures a year to bust her arse turning out a few thousand words a week.

"No doubt there are plenty of admirable people quietly getting on with rebuilding their communities," Miranda goes on, "but we didn't hear from them."

An absolute lie, flat out. On Channel Nine, Seven, Ten, Two and SBS, there was dozens of stories aired showing people rebuilding, clearing debris, cooking up food for the hungry, checking in on elderly neighbours, donating clothes and food and nappies and furniture and blankets, and we heard from them all right. We heard them say stuff like, "Well, this is what you do, isn't it? When people need help, when your neighbours need help, you help them."

Next she completely distorts the truth about all those locals who not only helped the SES and soldiers get the tarps onto the rooftops, but she claims people only complained the SES didn't hang around to get them fixed into place.

No, they didn't do that for every house. How could they? Last week there were only 80 or 90 SES workers on duty at any one time, and they had a priority list of 1000 or so homes to tarp, while the rains kept on falling.

"God forbid that people might have to do some work themselves," Miranda writes.

Yeah, all those mums comforting freaked out infants should have been up on the ladders fixing the tarps into place. Miranda fails to mention that in many cases SES workers told locals to not risk injury by climbing around damaged roofs in the rain, and that it was better to wait for more help to arrive.

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a classic Miranda Devine Distortion Central splurge?

She also found it quite distasteful that local residents dared give Howard a serve when he breezed into town. And here I was thinking that slagging off a pollie was about as Australian as you can get. Not in Miranda's world. Jeering or daring to boo your Prime Minister is just plain rude and nasty and not on anymore.

Even Howard laughed off the abuse. Miranda, however, appears offended to her very core.

She then complains about the already infamous headline of the Gold Coast Bulletin, 'You're Too Damn Late!' in reference to the politicians who flooded in to see the damage for themselves and make with the photo ops, while "thousands of tonnes of aid sits stranded beside a highway they failed to fix".

Somehow Miranda finds this information innacurate, but again, she doesn't know what she's talking about. The Bruce Highway's long delayed improvements, a failure of successive State and Federal Governments, allowed the road to flood too deep for more than a dozen big trucks chock full of supplies to get through.

Had the Bruce Highway been fixed years before, raised above the flood plains, and earth-banked on both sides, as the locals and the local papers have been demanding for years, then obviously the aid would have gotten through much faster. Even Premier Beattie admitted the Bruce Highway neglect was wrong, and has promised the highway will be fixed within two years.

Miranda also writes, "The fact is that authorities gave plenty of notice of the cyclone and evacuated 1000 people from vulnerable coastal areas on Sunday, the day before Larry hit, presumably saving lives."

Yes, exactly. But the locals who decided to stay needed somewhere to evacuate to, didn't they? And they needed vehicles to get out of town. And if they were taking their young children, they needed supplies and clothes and toys and food. This stuff just doesn't fall from the sky when you get a few days notice of a cyclone coming. Yes, they should have had cyclone supplies, but what about when you work a full week picking bananas and you don't have enough money left over to build up that cyclone emergency stockpile? What then?

Miranda Devine has adopted the US Extreme Right's viewpoint of the Hurricane Katrina victims here. Hey, you were told to get out, if you decided to stay, you deserve what you got.

And then Miranda finishes her heartless rant with this : "The endless whingeing is a reflection on an affluent consumer culture in which people have come to expect that everything they want can be delivered in 30 seconds piping hot and preferably free if they only scream loud enough. "

"No inconvenience is tolerable, not even for an instant, and the consumer is always right."

So cyclone survivors are impatient consumers, are they? Instead of being Australians in need of help? Most of whom didn't complain at all, but understood exactly why those who did complain had to get out their anger and frustration. And if she thinks communities of banana pickers and farm workers are members of "an affluent consumer culture" then she's really got her head in the clouds. What many of these people earned for a forty or fifty hour week, Miranda picks up for typing a few dozen words.

Miranda's attitude to those far less than fortunate than herself (she could well afford to charter a helicopter to evacuate herself and her family from a danger zone, if necessary) is part of what has been called 'The New Meanness of Australia'.

It is an attitude where people in unfortunate circumstances are no longer tolerated, where Aussies who need help are not worthy of it simply because they had to ask for help in the first place. The Australia she describes is one where you are supposed to never expect your governments to be there to help you, even if you have spent your whole life working bloody hard and paying your taxes.

And it is a 'Mean Australia' few outside of Sydney's kill-or-be-killed super-speed corporate-minded culture would understand, or would even want to comprehend. This mindset is as foreign to most Australians as the cyclone that tore away the livelihoods of thousands of North Queenslanders.

Miranda Devine seems to live in some alternate reality world where people who have been deprived of their homes, dry clothes, food, water and their dignity are supposed to stand quietly in lines for two or three days and when asked for the tenth time by yet another media crew, "How do you feel?" should only reply :


Sounds like a cyclone swept through Miranda's head and her heart, carrying away her sense of compassion and her comprehension of the word 'empathy'.

And I doubt many Australians were surprised or offended, as Miranda appears to be, when a handful of hard done by mums, standing for more than eight hours a day, had a "whinge" about the queues and the rain and the time it was taking to get food, supplies and emergency cash sorted out.

Even John Howard understood why he copped some abuse when he entered the town. Some of it was angry, some of it was joking, but all of it was pretty much an Australian reaction. Howard obviously knows the people of Australia, and the people of North Queensland, a lot better than Miranda Devine does.

Australians watched the people of the town of Innisfail coping extremely well, under the circumstances, and felt proud that they complained as little as they did.

We were deeply moved by their shocking stories of survival and loss.

We were heartbroken by the terrible plight faced by so many mums and their terrified kids.

And we laughed, too, at the good-hearted farmers and local blokes who could still crack a joke when their lives were at their lowest.

How much more Australian than that can you possibly bloody get?

Sunday, March 26, 2006



A story in yesterday's Melbourne Age has revealed that supplies of Australia's most popular fruit will run out within days.

Coles and Woolworths' said they won't have a banana left in stock by the end of the week, if not sooner.

This means most Australians will have to live without bananas for nine months, at least. WA has a solid supply, but only enough for West Australians, and the Co-Op that controls the supply has already made it clear they won't be sending any bananas to the Eastern States.

The destruction of North Queensland's banana farms has revealed some astonishing facts about this fruit, least of all that it is not actually a fruit but a herb.

Up until last Monday, Australians consumed 15 million bananas a week, supplied by more than 1850 banana growers.

And there's power in those bananas. Apparently the growers and suppliers weild "a huge influence in a string of marginal Coalition-held seats along the Queensland and NSW coasts, a constituency the Howard Government is keen to protect", or so claims the Melbourne Age.

That's right, Australia has a powerful Banana Lobby. Stop snickering, it's true.

There is now a battle brewing between that Banana Lobby and Australia's most powerful supermarket chains to have the strict quarantine laws eased that keep out foreign banana imports. This battle began within hours of Cyclone Larry touching down last Monday morning.

From the Age : "On Wednesday morning, the Philippines — which produces 12 per cent of world banana exports — also approached the Government, offering help to make sure Australians did not go without their bananas. Both requests were rejected.

"Banana imports are banned because of the risk of exotic pests. Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said there was 'absolutely no prospect' of the ban being lifted. He said banana lovers should show sympathy for growers ruined by cyclone Larry."

McGauran said most Australians will have to keep the now suffering banana growers in mind when they complain about the lack of bananas through to the end of the year.

As part of their seven year long fight to get their bananas onto Australian supermarket shelves, the Philippines agriculture attache Maria Albarece has been talking up his country's product as "the most delicious bananas in the world".

Now that's just cruel.

From the Age : "Centre for International Economics economist Brent Borrell, an expert on the world banana market, said it was widely believed Australia was using the quarantine argument as a non-tariff trade barrier.

"'It is true that there is a lot of sniggering in Geneva (WTO headquarters) whenever Australia speaks up in favour of free trade yet maintains these effective trade barriers to products such as apples and bananas,' he said.

"He said Australia had among the most expensive bananas in the world, and countries such as the Philippines and Ecuador could put the fruit on Australian tables for half price."

So there you have it. Australians were already paying double, DOUBLE, the world going price for bananas and we were being laughed at as free trade hypocrites.

Nine months is a long, long, long time to go without bananas.

But you can always jump a plane to New Zealand, or take a weekend break in the Philippines, where you can enjoy 'the most delicious bananas in the world', for a lot less than what they once cost, and will cost, her in Australia.

Drooling...bananas, mmmm, yellow goodness, ohhrrr...

Stop it, must think of the suffering farmers

But apples and mangoes just don't cut it as a replacement.

The Banana Battle of 2006 has just begun.

Go here for an earlier story on the Australian Banana Crisis.

And go here for a slightly less serious take on the Banana Crisis.


From ABC News : "More than 200 people have attended a thanksgiving service in the Innisfail Council Chambers, almost a week after cyclone Larry struck far north Queensland.

"Innisfail residents and recovery volunteers tramped across carpets still wet from last Monday to attend the ecumenical service.

"The Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and the head of the reconstruction task force General Peter Cosgrove were also present.

"In a voice trembling with emotion, Johnstone Shire Mayor Neil Clarke told the service that the hundreds of volunteers who had come to assist had become friends of the community.

"'Through the generosity of others and the resilience of all who live and love our community, this disaster hasn't changed our lives forever,' he said.

Mr Clarke told the gathering it is hard to believe that just a week ago, Innisfail was celebrating its local festival, The Feast of the Senses.

"'Just 24 hours later we stood in disbelief,' he said. 'Our beautiful shire was no more. I have never experienced such a horrific event and I pray none of us will ever do it again. Our planning and your preparation, and by the good grace of God, we all survived.'"




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Photo by Jamie Hanson/The Sunday Mail. Go here for his photo essay of the Cyclone Larry aftermath.

From ABC News : "The head of the cyclone reconstruction team in far north Queensland, General Peter Cosgrove, says he is concerned about the risk of asbestos in affected areas.

The Workplace Health and Safety Department has issued warnings about handling asbestos, which is a material that is found in almost all Innisfail homes.

It is asking residents to wear gloves and face masks when cleaning up the material, which can cause lung cancer.

According to a story in the Townsville Bulletin yesterday, 984 Innisfail homes were waiting for a tarpulin to go over their damaged roofs to keep out the ongoing rain. All these houses were listed as 'high priority' by the State Emergency Service, and only those homes with at least part of the roof still intact were on the allocation list. To get allocated a tarp, you had to line up in the town centre to register.

If your house had completely lost its roof, you were not allocated a tarp. Although hundreds of Australian soldiers are now on the ground, as of yesterday, there was a crew of only 80 SES workers struggling to keep up with the massive workload. Tarps are in short supply, as are other essential pieces of wreckage-clearing equipment, like the chainsaws needed to clear trees from roads and yards.

Homes with no roofs are expected to be demolished in the coming months.

The number of homes already scheduled for demolition by insurance companies has reached into the hundreds, but fears of asbestos poisoning may delay many of these demolitions until late into the year. Nearly all Innisfail homes are believed to have some level of asbestos inside their roofs. Little has been said, as yet, about how much asbestos has been distributed through the local area when roofs were torn from homes and thrown dozens of metres.

Meanwhile, close to one thousand Innisfail residents are now homeless and are facing enormous challenges finding somewhere to live outside of the shelters and emergency accomodation.


Townsville Bulletin reporter Vicki Campion spent last week inside Innisfail, and surrounding communities, and has written a heartbreaking portrait of the people she met and the horrific scenes she witnessed. Go here for the full report, it was well worth reading in full.

Below are just a few of her observations :

"No one was spared in the North Queensland communities. If the family home made it through, the family car did not. Dogs went missing, at least one elderly man died of a heart attack and pregnant mothers had premature births.

"Those left with nobody sat in the ruins of their home, the relentless rain dripping in like some sort of Chinese water torture.

"Monday morning was eerie, the rainforest a decapitated skeleton of what was once known as the Great Green Way. It was a wind-whipped landscape. Trees were left leafless and uprooted.
Billboards were smashed. Panels of wooden fencing ripped apart. Banana trees snapped mid-trunk, their suckers flattened by the wind. Hectares of sugarcane left to rot in the mud.

"The first family we met was hysterical, the elderly woman of the house wearing her blue gumboots on the wrong feet, as she walked the circumference of what remained of her home, again and again. All she had left was her dead husband's orchids. The walls of her Queenslander could not be found, the iron of her roof morphed into a twisted grin on her front lawn. She hugged me. And cried.

"Further along in Mourilyan, the newly renovated century-old hotel is shattered. The roof has been partially flung off and the balcony collapsed. Men, hotel guests, were drinking a beer on that veranda. Here, they smiled and said they were lucky, they knew they would get through it.

INSIDE INNISFAIL : "Survivors stunned after spending the morning huddled with their family, under the bathroom sink, gripping the toilet, hours of hearing smashes as light fittings burst, as glass windows exploded, as the floorboards cracked from underneath their feet and their children screamed in fear.

"The town was void of life on Monday, save scrounging reporters and teenage boys with an appetite for destruction. But even they were scared, they just wouldn't admit it.

"Nearly 24 hours later the alarms of the TAFE college and Coles supermarket are still ringing, the gutters are piled with twisted rooftops, broken pipes and tree debris. The windows are still taped up and people are beginning to leave their houses.

"The only phones that work are pay phones and there is a half hour queue for those. Tensions are mounting and women scream at each other. 'I have no f...... house, no f...... power, no f...... any f...... thing. I have nothing.'

"Hungry children mill with their parents on Edith St at Hope's Kitchen, an accidental charity which began when a cafe owner cooked up the contents of his fridges for SES volunteers.Then his neighbour borrowed a drill and in return gave him three crates of bread. Hope's Kitchen was all that fed those children and their mothers. The volunteers have an astronomical mess of their own to clean up.

"'But what can we do with these kids? They have not eaten in days - turn them away?'

"Babies are wrapped in plastic to keep what little clothes they have left dry, four-year-old girls play on planter boxed trees that have fallen over. Firefighters are running into collapsed buildings and searching for bodies."


Vicki Campion paints a very different scene of what happened last Wednesday when Prime Minister John Howard and State Premier Peter Beattie entered the town. She writes of how they came in dry clothes, surrounded by media, hauling their own generators, good and water supplies. Many locals called out angrily to the politicians and media, many more simply turned their backs on the Prime Minister and Premier Beattie when they visited the queues of people who had lined up for days in the rain for the most meagre kind of help and aid. A press conference saw promises of aid on the way, but the politicians' advisors were already aware that hundreds of tons of aid, food and equipment were stuck in the back of trucks trapped on the far side of the flooded Bruce Highway. This information was kept from the media and the locals until the Photo Opportunity Tour was well and truly over.


More from Vicki : "Evacuation centres were an ugly shell housing the most desperate. One classroom had three families - a total of six children and four adults sharing four thin single mattresses and a two-day-old loaf of bread. I play with a five-year-old there named Fritz with a spider man action doll. He said got it for Christmas. This year, he told me, all he wanted was a bed with sheets, shoes and something yummy.

"'And for mummy to stop crying,' he said. 'I'm going to be good for Santa.'


It wasn't just the commercial networks that censored and downplayed the true scope of the suffering of the people of Innisfail, SBS and ABC also played their part in keeping the full story from the eyes and ears of all Australians as well. It is not simply that they censored the honest reactions of Australians booing the Prime Minister when he breezed into town, it is that they failed to report the full story.

Was it decided that it was all too much for Australians to see? Too heavy? Too monumental?

Well that is not for the media to decide, they were there to tell the full story, to report what they saw and heard, without filtering and shaving off the bitter, sharp edges.

Vicki Campion's staggering portrait of a town plunged into the pits of heartbreak and despair was one of only a handful of stories that treated the people of Innisfail with the honesty and dignity they deserved.

Prime Minister John Howard, and State Premier Peter Beattie, must have been very pleased with how the Australian media who travelled with them to Innisfail toed the line and reported pretty much only what the spin masters wanted Australians to see and to know.

The full story creeps out, only now, as the recovery and rebuilding begins.



From the Courier Mail : "THE defence force support for victims of Cyclone Larry is in full swing, with a military presence over air, land and sea throughout most of the shattered area.

"Innisfail is rapidly resembling a garrison city as hundreds of troops take to the streets. They are backed by an impressive array of equipment, including a fleet of massive diesel V8 Mack trucks which haul 20-tonne trailers and still "out-bush-bash" any four-wheel-drive on the market.

"Infantrymen are cleaning streets, assault pioneers can turn a muddy quagmire into a usable road, and supply personnel are setting up mini-warehouses.

"Using a mix of aircraft and vehicles, troops from the Townsville-based 3rd Brigade and the Cairns-based 51st Far North Queensland Regiment have been providing relief supplies – including tarpaulins, water, generators and food – to affected communities.

"Defence force teams also have been involved in repairing vital infrastructure, including communications restored to local radio station 4KZ, bridge repair and clearing a local school of debris. The navy also has been helping on land and at sea, with heavy landing craft used to move equipment at times when roads have been cut.

"Navy craft also will be used to move supplies and equipment between Townsville and Innisfail to minimise traffic impact on the Bruce Highway, which has been subject to flooding."


But the deployment of so many Australian soldiers into the disaster zone and moving fast into a rebuilding phase has caused friction with Innisfail Mayor Neil Clarke. And he would like to see an end to the flood of volunteers pouring into his town.

Accomodation and infrastructure not damaged by the cyclone are already stretched by the influx of volunteers and workers, and he would prefer his community use local businesses and tradespeople to do the rebuilding, not outsiders.



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An uncredited photograph of cyclone damage outside of Innisfail -

GENERAL Peter Cosgrove, now leader of the Cyclone Larry Taskforce, has revealed the damage to infrastructure, crops and local businesses is so severe the $100 Federal and State government aid package will need to be doubled, at the minimum, and sooner rather than later.

The damage bill has already reached more than $1 billion for the North Queensland communities and towns that were hit the hardest by Cyclone Larry last Monday moring.

But it is not just the towns through which Cyclone Larry carved a brutal path of destruction that are going to suffer from a massive lack of cash in the months ahead.

Dozens of towns and villages rely on business and income generated by the tropical fruit farms, sugar cane and banana farms wiped out of existence. Thousands of local workers and backpackers will no longer be a part of the regional economies, and now they are gone every business from corner shops and pubs to motels, clothing stores and even local bus companies will suffer.

"The economy here has been totally smashed flat," General Cosgrove told the Nine Network.

"I have to say in my early and possibly less well-informed view (the aid packages) need to be at least doubled, maybe more."



General Peter Cosgrove, now living in Innisfail to oversee the recovery and rebuilding operations, said yesterday the restoration of electricty to dozens of homes and business was a good start towards the "momentum of morale" needed to drive the rebuilding of the battered North Queensland community.

Next on Cosgrove's agenda is firing up the economies of the regions worst hit towns, where thousands of jobs have been lost, along with homes and belongings.

"We've got to get people in a position where some of the businesses, and some of the industries, can get back to work to generate income and to create a sort of momentum of morale," Cosgrove told a pool of reporters in Innisfail.

"When you see Australians, who are wonderfully stoic, having their existence reduced to standing in a shell of a house and wearing clothes that have been donated to them, I find that personally very upsetting. I don't like to see my fellow Aussies going through this."


A very good piece from the Courier Mail following the life of an Innisfail family through the days after the cyclone hit, detailing how they opened their smashed motel to rescue workers and the homeless, feeding and caring for anyone who came to find shelter.

A few extracts from the story, which you can read in full here :

The night before Cyclone Larry hit - "The couple tape the windows on the hotel as rain falls. Dinner is served to the guests and the couple, along with the kids, monitor every movement of the cyclone via radio and television. They still think the cyclone may veer off. 'We were a little scared,' says Lindsay. 'But I was pretty confident of our physical safety because of the strength of the hotel. It's like a fortress.'

"11pm: Lindsay and Christine share a beer on the top veranda overlooking the South Johnstone. The rain is falling and they talk of nothing else but the cyclone – where it is, where it might land, what it might do. 'We were very concerned by that time,' Christine said.

The next day : "Midday. The couple begin making what remains of their rooms inhabitable as emergency workers pour into town looking for accommodation. They don't bother mentioning room rates, offering workers free rooms to sleep in for a few hours. Lindsay fires up the gas barbecue and fries steaks, sausages and potatoes to feed anyone hungry."

Last Friday : "9am:. Lindsay is up at 6am. He greets a guest with just a hint of a self-satisfied smile and asks: 'Do you want bacon and eggs for breakfast?' Having lived hand-to-mouth for four days it doesn't seem possible. But Lindsay ladles out platters of bacon, eggs and cooked tomatoes off his grill, pushing another slice of toast on to a diner before dishing out white bowls full of fruit salad. Someone has found today's newspapers in a nearby newsagent. A smiling diner looks up and smiles expansively, 'It's all just so . . . civilised,' he says."

Friday, March 24, 2006


Ken and Laura Willey were Innisfail locals, they worked together on the banana farms as pickers, not making much money, but enough to have rent a house and to have brought some secondhand furniture to make their lives more comfortable. They didn't have a lot before Cyclone Larry, but now they've got nothing.

They were just some of the hundreds of people who spent three or four days queueing up in the town square at Innisfail, waiting for some fast cash so they could get out of the devastated area and find some more work, and a new place to live.

They had been living in their old Commodore since their house and all their clothes, possesions and personal effects were destroyed on Monday morning. They had never been able to afford insurance, so they were left with the clothes they had been wearing for three days.

"We just want $300 that will allow us to last a few more days and let us get out of town," Mrs Willey was reported as saying, on

"There's nothing here for us any more."

"As soon as we get enough money for petrol and food we're going up to Cairns," Mr Willey said . "We'll get labouring work somewhere."

The Wileys are two of the hard-working Australians you never here about in a media obsessed with share market success stories, $10million celebrities' apartments, booze-fucked sports stars and super-boomer affluence.

The Wileys, like a few million other Australians, live from week to week, from one thin pay packet to the next, they don't own their own homes, they can't afford health or home insurance, they have few if any savings and one disaster like Cyclone Larry can render them poverty stricken and homeless, all within a few hours, completely wiped out., with no fallback, except for the old Commodore.

The Wileys regarded themselves as lucky that they had an old car to sleep in. There were hundreds in Innisfail who didn't even have that.



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Happier days : Queensland MP Ron Boswell and the pick of the crop. Note : eating bananas will not make you morbidly obese, we think perhaps beer or pizza might be responsible.

80 percent of Australia's banana crops were wiped out during Cyclone Larry on Monday morning, and now the banana growers of Western Australia are facing acute pressure to send some of their produce east.

But it's not going to happen.

The Western Australian banana growers of Carnarvon have been fielding calls from the eastern states for five days now, but the Sweeter Banana Co-operative, which looks after eight of the ten bananas grown in the town, have announced there simply isn't enough of Australia's most popular fruit to go round.

40,000 cartons bananas are chomped down in WA each week, while pre-Cyclone Larry, the rest of Australia managed to get through some 400,000 cartons, that's about 12-15 million bananas a week.

Australians in the East are growing desperate for the golden fruit, as prices skyrocket to $7 and even $9 a kilo (up from about $1.50 in some shops before the cyclone hit), but that's just too bad.

As far as WA is concerned, the Easterners can go and get stuffed.

"....there is no bloody way any bananas are going over East," a spokesman for the Sweeter Banana Co-Op said. "We haven't got enough."

Meanwhile, Australia's largest supermarket chain has announced it may offer financial help to North Queensland's banana farmers to help them get back to producing Australia's most popular fruit as quickly as possible.

Woolworth's claims it is the banana industry's biggest customer and can shift, on average, more than 110,000 crates a week through its 700+ stores.

While the offer of financial aid appears completely charitable, this is after all big business, and right now there's no bigger fruit business than flogging bananas, if only Woolworth's could get their hands on them. Conditions of the financial aid will probably include exclusive deals for Woolworth's to get exclusive access to the very first crop of new Queensland bananas at the end of the year.

There has been no official announcement of a push by Woolworth's and Coles supermarkets to get the quarantine restrictions raised that stops Filipino bananas from reaching the Australian marketplace, but you can assume such talk is also now going on behind the scenes.

Massive banana shortages are expected to kick in hard in about two to three weeks time.

Bananas are also grown in Southern Queensland and on the New South Wales South Coast. But there was no major excess of bananas produced from these regions before the cyclone, so there still won't be enough to go round.

As strange as it sounds, with bananas possibly hitting ten dollars a kilo, Australia may soon see a banana related crime wave, with banana smuggling, banana truck hijacks and banana-related price gouging running rampant. Once anything gets this expensive, the criminals just can't resist.

As for the Filipino bananas getting into Australia to fill the massive void in the market?

Forget it.

No way.

It's not going to happen, or so say the MPs supported by the powerful Banana Lobby.

Only hours after the cyclone struck on Monday, and the full extent of the banana farm losses were becoming clear, Queensland MP Bob Katter was on television swearing up and down that no bloody Filipino banana would get into Australia, no matter how many little kiddies desperately scream, "Me want my 'nana mash now, mummy!"

While there are serious concerns about bugs and bacteria that can infect imported bananas getting loose in Australia, if imports were to be allowed there are big fears that once one very cheap Filipino banana get into Australia, then the flood of discounted product won't cease, even after North Queensland banana growers start turning out the caseloads of fruit again.

So that's it. Either you buy Australia's most expensive fruit and slowly enjoy that nutty, sweet goodness, or you find some other fruit to tuck into and dream of the day, sometime early next year, when you'll be able to buy bananas for less than a fiver and let them go brown in the fruit bowl, just like you used to do, back in the good old days of last week.


From : "Last night, frustration was building in Innisfail where more than 100 people bunkered down at the Innisfail TAFE where the Red Cross was providing emergency food, care and shelter.

Single mother Sam Rook, 23, of Mourilyan, was nursing her sick two-year-old son, Darcy. 'We've been living in my Mazda until last night when I had to come here because my house in ruined and my parents' is too wet. They only just got tarpaulins today and are refusing to leave.'

"There was anger when queues of people up to 200m long waited to claim emergency relief funding from the Queensland Government. For many it was the third day they had spent in the slow-moving lines. When they got there they were expected to fill in a nine-page application describing their circumstances, assets and income, and how the relief money would be spent.

"Queensland's Department of Communities officers were unable to cope with the number of claimants, most of whom were receiving only $150 so they could buy essentials such as medicines, groceries and baby food.

"Carol Clarke said she had waited two full days to get to the front of the queue. She came back again yesterday, but collapsed inside the Innisfail Courthouse building and was taken to hospital."


Cyclone Larry presented Prime Minister John Howard with another opportunity to show just how compassionate and caring he really is, even if the Innisfail locals didn't want unsolicited hugs, perhaps they Food? Water? New shoes maybe?

Regardless, Howard was on a hugging streak. The poor child pictured above was innocently walking past, looking for a pair of shoes, when the Prime Minister spotted a gaggle of photographers and snatched the poor lad to his humidity-sodden chest.

The child was less than impressed, probably because he saw the extreme grimace on the face of his Prime Minister. Is close contact with the real people of Australia really so unplesant?

When Howard first walked through the storm-savaged town, he was greeted by a cyclone of boos and shouts of "Bloody Howard! What are you doing here?"

Of course, that cursed damn lefty-bias ridden ABC cut these scenes of genuine Australian honesty from all their news reports. The boos and yells turned to mild cheering when he announced big fat cash handouts....not right now, of course, later on, when all the details were sorted out, of course. This will allow him to announce the same $100 million aid package twice, maybe even three times.

The Cyclone Tour Of Opportunity moved onto Babinda where he stumbled into a building, its floor an inch deep with rainwater, then grabbed a broom from a local and made a surreal attempt to sweep up the water. Nice photo op, of course, hey look, the Prime Minister knows how to hold a broom. Howard tried to laugh it up when he realised he was surrounded by desperate locals who were getting edgy now the food and water supplies were almost gone. Howard laughed, cracked some pitiful joke, and nobody else laughed.

Howard left soon afterwards, and the people of Innisfail went back to lining up in the town square for two more days to get a few hundred dollars in cash.

Howard then stopped off in another town for a chat with a heart-broken banana farmer, who wasn't in the mood for a laugh either.

Now he's back in the warm, safe studios of Sydney media, Howard's been talking about how hard it's really going to be to get the North Queenslanders back on their feet, and although he understands their frustration (how exactly?), he told them they shouldn't expect miracles.

On the anger of Innisfail's locals, Howard managed to warp reality, "...I didn't find that was the case with the....great majority of people I spoke to, including in that long queue that has featured in the news reports this morning, that long queue at Innisfail, the majority of them were stoically understanding that everything was being done."

Yeah, whatever you reckon.

The Australian Army is on the ground and working their guts out, but they're struggling. They're short of manpower, they're short of equipment. After all, most of the Australian Army's heavy vehicles and the kind of equipment that would be perfect for this kind of operation is still in Iraq, along with at least eight of the Airforce's helicopters, two and a half years after Howard said he didn't expect the Iraq deployment to last more than six months.

On Monday, as soon as John Howard realised the extent of the destruction and the desperate situation of thousands of Australians, he quickly left Sydney and flew to the warmth and comfort of the VIP boxes at the Commonwealth Games.

But then it was straight onto Innisfail....the next day. First he had to do another round of media interviews to talk up his trip and the government's generosity. The people of Innisfail had to know, you see, directly from the PM what was going to be done to ease their pain and suffering. Pity most of them didn't hear those broadcasts. There was no electricity to plug their radios in.

Did Howard really need to blow a few hundred grand of taxpayers money invading Innisfail? Couldn't he have simply announced the relief packages from Sydney? Or spent the day with the Red Cross or Smith Family in Sydney helping to pack up supplies being rushed to the desperate people of North Queensland and to do some on the ground recruiting for much needed volunteers and donations? Sure he could have.

But there were desperate, freaked out Australians in suddenly-the-most-famous-town in the country, and they needed him, dammit, they needed to know that their Prime Minister was going to be there for them, with the media, for two or three hours, for a gratuitous photo opportunity. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley was there as well, of course. He wasn't going to miss out on the biggest human interest news story of the year so far.

At least State Premier Peter Beattie hung around to cop the wraith of the locals while Howard and Beazley jetted back to Sydney. Beattie even returned the next day to cop another serving.