Launching Cyclone Yasi – Our Stories, our Words

It’s a scorching hot day at the foot of Cardwell’s Jetty. A crowd is crammed under a shade tent and a sea of brightly coloured umbrellas. A yellow sponsor pig is giving out balloons and the Cardwell Lions are distributing water and lollies.

The last time I remember being this hot was when Prince William came to town and we were waiting  for him to make a dramatic entrance by helicopter at the Tully showground.

Today we’re gathered to celebrate the launch of Cyclone Yasi, Our Stories the brain child of three very determined women and members of the Cardwell Historical Society, Jo Anne Cracknell, Jane Ferguson, and Christine Hardy.

Hardy shares that they were inspired by some special ladies they met earlier in the year, the Victorian Firefoxes, survivors of bushfires in Country Victoria, Kate Riddell and Jemima Richards.  For her the book is a ‘gift’ to the community, a ‘non-profit venture’ to give locals a chance to exchange their stories with others who went through the cyclone and to provide an understanding of the event to those outside of the worst hit areas. Hardy shares that initially not everyone believed they would be able to put the book together, but they kept pressing ahead anyway, greatly encouraged by the Firefoxes, until they achieved their goal. Hardy can’t stop smiling! She feels the book will be special to future generations.

Hardy is ecstatic that around eighty people have attended the launch and that there has been extensive support from the majority of the community (including some generous sponsors) for their venture in collecting the stories. Sadly Jo Cracknell, one of the determined trio, is absent for the launch as her husband has recently passed away. His memorial service is announced.

The launch includes the obligatory speeches – one from state MP, Andrew Cripps, the reading out of a moving letter from the Firefoxes and apologies from Anna Bligh. Andrew Cripps notes the abundance of local history and literary endeavours in the Cassowary Coast, something which he both acknowledges and celebrates. He speaks of  his sadness that the famous Hubinger hut on the way to Cardwell is permanently gone, along with the CWA building. However the CWA have remained strong and attracted new membership despite the loss of their building, much like the Historical Society.

Anna Bligh has written a beautiful letter for the front of the story collection,

‘The stories of Yasi are deeply personal. They are tales of loss and heartache, of miraculous escapes and hidden blessing, of resilience, solidarity and compassion.’

Opening the book I am impressed by the range of people represented, school children from Kennedy and Cardwell, elderly members of the community, song writers, poets, long term locals and newer people to the area.  There are accounts from Silkwood, Cardwell, Tully, Lower Tully, Kurrimine Beach, and Mission Beach. This is going to be quite a rollercoaster to read but it’s one I think most of us in the Cassowary Coast are now ready to go on. We are ready to hear the courage and detailed experiences of those around us.

I am delighted to run into Sue Tidey – who I met at an ABC Open workshop with Leandro Palacio and have since stayed in touch with through facebook and blogs. She is rapt that her Yasi poem and story have been published. However, mostly she shares her excitement that another person has made it back into their home– ‘homecoming’ is always a cause for celebration in a place where so many homes were decimated and are still being rebuilt. I meet her husband Robert who I’ve previously seen in a photograph where he was tired and wiped out straight after Yasi, today he, like Sue, is full of energy and joy – he and Sue have co-written a story and have many photographs featured in the book. We talk shop about our cameras!

I find out that seven of the Licuala WinQ writing group have contributed to the collection of stories, with a range of poems, interviews and recounts of the events. Four of us are at the launch and we enjoy meeting up with each other.  Some of the Cardwell locals seeing our warm interraction express an interest in joining our group.

We sign each other’s books, with notes like ‘thank you for sharing your story’, and ‘to hope and creativity.’ Today’s post Yasi community event has filled the air with the energy of resilience. I can see an added zing in the steps of many people around me.  This will be much needed in the ongoing recovery process.  May there be many more homecomings before Christmas.

First Published ABC Open, 12 Dec 2011.

 

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