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.