Beyond the Summer of Sorrow- Yasi Reflection Day, Cardwell

Cardwell still looks physically bedraggled, although when the sun shines through the trees, and the sky and ocean are blue you can forget most of the beach is missing and repairs are still in progress and just focus on the people.

But, I don’t see many people I know at this Yasi reflection day – that’s not surprising because each part of the Cassowary Coast tends to operate like its own township with good reason (it stretches from the Hinchenbrook passage to just before Mirriwini) – so it seems mostly Cardwell people are at the day with just a few people from other areas sprinkled through it.

My husband knows more people than me because Cardwell youth mostly attend Tully High (where he teaches) as the high school services several of the smaller townships.

The crowd is relatively small, especially after a rousing, well attended, and positive Australia Day held just a couple of days before in Tully, but the flood of orange – of SES workers coming together is strong. They are all heading off for a photograph with the Tully Times. I take one as well. Like many in the area we were personally given some help from the SES, although in our case we met Weipa volunteers who were in town – there simply weren’t enough of the local SES to go around.

One of the SES workers is not surprised to see me – he knows my family from previously working with my husband at the high school, I’ve been taking loads of photographs for such a long time now that he just had a feeling I might be there – the Tully Times owner even curiously asks me what will happen with all my photographs.

I let him know I will be putting on a people’s exhibition – The Smile Within – to share images of resilient, strong, joyful people photos of 2011 post yasi, and some are already up on ABC Open and flickr.

I ask the SES if they can get message to the guys in Weipa who helped us out at our house – we had a photo taken with them as well. They say they will do that for sure.

Surveying the stalls, there are a few activities for small children – a jumping castle, a table of Cyclone Yasi books, t-shirts, photographs and dvds, the snake man, Les Harris – and the thing that takes the majority of my family’s interest is the Dallachy aero club.

They meet every Sunday to fly model aeroplanes. It looks like a joyful activity. A spokesperson at the stall shares lots of handy information and says we can come and try three times before having to join formally. My husband asks heaps of things about the planes, regulations – where they buy their gear from.

I stop to talk to Andy Page, a member of the local ambulance committee, who is selling photographs of Yasi’s destruction in Cardwell. It’s hard to hear over the background music – I think that’s the theme of the Blue Brothers I can hear right now, and he has hearing aids, but we move a bit away from it, so we can chat.

‘Why do you think people buy photographs of Yasi?’

He says, ‘in March /April people passing through wanted to buy cyclone pictures – for posters and placements they were keen, but now it’s mainly because people want to show their family from outside of the area what they went through – and pictures are a good way to communicate without the need for words.’

He asks- whilst pointing to the stall next door, ‘Have you read that – Cyclone Yasi – Our Stories, not many things make me cry but reading that made me tear up.’

‘I just couldn’t put my own story in that.’ Like many I’ve spoken to who went through the cyclone Andy acknowledges all those who were so much worse off and feels a little embarrassed that he was chosen to be video interviewed by some people from a university.

He declares that today will be his last day of selling photos of Yasi destruction and it’s mainly as a fundraiser for money for a mannequin for the ambulance first aid training–  he personally feels ‘people need to move on, they’ve had enough of dwelling on Yasi – perhaps that’s why not many people have come down today. They’ve just had enough.’

He asks me where I’m from, as we’ve not met before, and I reply – ‘Tully.’  Perhaps knowing that I am a Cassowary Coast local when I ask him how he fared in the cyclone he relaxes a little, he tells me that his property was covered in trees after the cyclone, but thankfully there was no structural damage.

‘Are the trees cleared yet?’

‘No, we’re still going, ’ he replies, without the least trace of angst in his voice but more an ‘it is what it is’ tone.

He explains that his family has had plenty of support – and he feels they were well looked after. He thinks that after people are helped over the initial rough patches they need to be as independent as they can in the recovery process as this shows control over their own destiny.

Scanning through the ABC Open Aftermath site and looking back on stories of other natural disasters, the reality is that the aftermath of many disasters will stretch on for some people for years, whilst a year for some is more than enough time to make an almost full physical recovery. Yet, the Cassowary Coast was extremely lucky not to have a death toll from Cyclone Yasi, and perhaps then this can make the path to recovery smoother.

From a world perspective, such natural disasters continue, many with massive death tolls, and perhaps then it is in turning to the needs of the world that a fuller recovery can be made through service and caring about others. However, as we move forward, each person does so at their own pace and that needs to be respected.

As I blog this a community multifaith prayer service, another Cyclone stories (True Spirit of Cyclone Yasi) book launch and some localised reflection days are about to happen, an exhibition is on and other arts healing projects are planned.

I look forward to sharing photographs of the joy and strength of 2011 with my local community later in the year, and sharing guest blogs and stories about other topics I love like country life, art and photography. 

Thanks to all those who have followed the aftermath blogs and left comments for all contributors.  Your kindness will always be remembered.


First Published ABC Open, 31 Jan 2012. 

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