Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

February 16th 2011
Yasi clean-up: "It gives you a bit of a feeling"

Yasi Clean-up volunteers at Horseshoe Details were released yesterday that throughout Townsville and Magnetic Island 400 residents volunteered to assist last weekend with operation Restore Townsville clean-up to help elderly and disabled residents in the community. On Magnetic however there were 48 volunteers alongside the SES and Council staff. That’s about 2.5% of the Island’s population. If the same proportion of Townsville residents were to have registered there would have been over 4500. Just why the numbers were so high on Magnetic speaks volumes of the community’s strength and connectedness. Last Sunday Magnetic Times went out to see this community at its best: in action.

To qualify the figures we mention above it must be acknowledged that many locals on both Magnetic Island and in Townsville simply got up and helped out their friends and neighbours well before an official clean-up was organised. So we will never know just how impressive the community response has been but if the stories we heard and the work we witnessed on Magnetic are anything to go by, we should certainly be proud. In turn we should also feel honoured, that we have also been on the receiving end of simply great acts of kindness by some very special visitors.

Ewe Cheng and Trish at MI Clean-up HQ

Following a sign on of 29 volunteers on Saturday, on Sunday a further 19 signed up at the Nelly Bay Harbour terminal where Ewe Cheng Khoo and Trish Hamilton were registering the volunteers. Townsville City Council’s staff including Volunteers' Co-ordinator Brad Smith and Work Health and Safety Officer, Bill Mildren were on hand to equip the recruits with gloves and garters and other goodies as well as a safety induction. Islander and TCC staff member Peter Jackson was also working on the ground and in co-ordination of what appeared to be a very well organised and equipped operation.

TCC's Brad Smith and Bill Mildren instruct volunteers

Over 80 jobs had been logged for the clean-up crews with Picnic Bay and Arcadia completed on the Saturday. According to Bill Mildren, most of the volunteers on the Saturday worked the full day and, with safety paramount, there were no recorded injuries.

MI Community Developement Association president, Lorna Hempstead AM, said, “As usual the laid-back Island community frightened us silly by not registering in advance but of course on the day they have come up trumps.

“Everybody has been absolutely willing to work their socks off.”

Vegetation devestation meets the volunteers

The work was mostly sawing and dragging. Council was able to train up some volunteers with chain saw skills and these crucial workers were teamed up with draggers and, when we saw them in action in Nelly Bay and Horseshoe, the impact was very impressive.

At a house in Tunbridge Street Nelly Bay a motley sweating procession of locals streamed along the driveway each carrying branches or bits of sawn logs like a small army of worker ants carrying off some vital booty. On the street another pile grew adding to the effect that is common a week or so after a cyclone: the trenches formed down the streets by dragged-out vegetation piled up ready for collection by the council trucks.

In the back garden a scene of vegetation devastation was being attacked by blokes with chainsaws and the many busy draggers.

The speed with which the gardens were being cleared and a semblance of order being restored was remarkable.

It was hot sweaty work but they kept at it

I caught up with the second team at a house in Horseshoe Bay where a similar process was underway.

Eric Vanderduys was still on the job

I had however been hearing, almost everywhere I went that day, that I should catch up to Island zoologist, Eric Vanderduys who had, it was said, been busy voluntarily chainsawing fallen trees and branches for people all over the island since the day after Yasi’s visit. With his visor down and busy with yet another fallen tree, I found Eric busy with his new-found occupation and the worker draggers busy carrying off his freshly sawn. Visor up for a quick snap then Eric was back and improvising his chainsaw capriccio.

We heard that on one evening Eric had returned home exhausted after a day with his saw to find that the neighbours had been in and done his wash up and tidied the kitchen.

Lorna was also keen to acknowledge that Island business owners who would normally work in the tree removal and mulching services had given their time freely too.

The hard yakka was repeated by another crew at Horseshoe

“Whatever people say about (community spirit in) the old days the Island is a community where people do care about their friends and neighbours and members of the community they may never have known or met. It’s what a “community” can do which is more than a group of houses which share the same post code. Long may this spirit live on,” says Lorna whose organisation will be funding a thank you barbeque (details at the end of this story)

But among the busy draggers at Horseshoe Bay were some very special visitors. The first was Grant Gorrish, an American who’d been living in Sydney when he heard Premier Anna Bligh on TV calling for Queenslanders to help eachother. “I was skeptical then we saw 66,000 register to help clean up after the floods. How can this be I thought, then there was the Cyclone so I hopped on a flight to come an help.”

Brad Smith and Grant Gorrish

Grant is clearly as inspired by Australians as he is inspiring Australians.

“What people in Australia should realise is that there would be hundreds of cities in the US where you’d never find so many volunteers. Grant had a deeply held view that Australia’s fabric is far stronger than that in his own country. “Australia has built it up for decades.” he said, and, astonishingly, even drew mention of the nearly forgotten Australian breakthrough in worker’s rights, the 1907 Harvester Judgement which led to the establishment of the basic wage. “Obama wouldn’t dare call for the same 100 years later”

“In the Brisbane floods there were nine looters!” he said. I wondered if they’f forgotten a couple of zeros. In the US that would have been 900 with the utes backing up to the smashed shop windows and off with the flat screens. Australia is a more advanced country.” he said.

But Grant was more than anything imploring that we report the contribution of the State Emergency Service, a volunteer organisation. “I’m in great company. These people do this all the time,” he said.

Ronnie Wilkinson with Bill Lade

And while the Magnetic Island SES is just a small band working under the tireless efforts of Mr Murray Withers, the locals were joined by some special visitors from the SES in Mackay. They Included Ronnie Wilkinson, Bill Lade and Douglas Pedersen. The team are part of three crews from the Mackay region and had been on the Island for their second day. They came to Magnetic because, as Bill, who lost a third of his own roof in a blow last year, said, “This cyclone could have hit down our way but these people need a hand.”

Bill Lade: "It gives you a bit of a feeling"

At 73 Bill, a cane farmer, laments that more young people are not volunteering with the SES but is keen to recommend the experience.”We helped two 80 year old ladies yesterday. When you see these people they are so grateful, it gives you a bit of a feeling.”

His friend Ronnie said, “When you’re older you appreciate things more and you want to give something back.” She loves the SES for, “The camaraderie, the mateship. You feel good being part of a team doing something for others.”

In an email to Magnetic Times Magnetic Island Councillor Trevor Roberts wrote:

"I am absolutely amazed by what I have seen with Operation Restore Townsville over the weekend. The generosity and hard work from an army of volunteers who set out to help the aged, disabled and unwell clean up their property's following Cyclone Yasi was just amazing. I cannot the thank the volunteers on Magnetic Island enough. Lorna Hempstead did what Lorna does and jumped in early in the week to work with our council staff in Brad Smith and Peter Jackson to organise this operation that turned into a great success.

The chainsaws where buzzing and the volunteers banded together to haul out tonnes of greenwaste that many of island residents just couldn't handle. I spent Saturday on the island working with our crews and the spirit of these crews was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. It's hard to imagine how you can enjoy being covered in sweat and saw dust while being bitten as green ants but I wouldn't trade the new friends I made last Saturday on Maggi for anything.

When we wrapped up on Saturday afternoon we were concerned that we may not get all the jobs done on Sunday. I worked in other parts of my area on the mainland on Sunday and when I put in a call to Lorna she was very pleased with the response from volunteers and at the end of the day all seventy plus jobs on the island were completed as best we could.

To Lorna Hempstead and the island volunteers thank you you have heart of gold. To our council boys Brad Smith and Peter Jackson well done and thank you. A thank you also to Brads family who helped make lunches. I must make one final thank you and that is to our staff on the island in both construction and maintenance and parks who are working very hard to resote the Island to it's normal self. Well done team and I will catch up with you all soon."

Thanks again

This Sunday a special thank you barbeque is being organised by MI Community Development Association for the volunteers who helped out during last weekend. Details are as follows:

Maggie's Community BBQ & Thank You Afternoon
This Sunday 20th Feb

All Seasons - Terrace Restaurant and Bar
61 Mandalay Ave Nelly Bay

3pm: Happy Hour bar prices or free tea and coffee
4pm: Formal “Thank you”
5pm - 7pm: BBQ Buffet $15 per head

Let’s come together and celebrate that we survived and thank the
Emergency Services, Council, Ergon staff, SES, the many community volunteers and our own friends and neighbours who have pitched in to help with personal and community clean ups.

Print out and bring along your "favourite" YASI picture for possible inclusion in Magnetic Museum archive. (Please put your contact details on the back)

Story and photos: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Yasi clean-up:
February 16th 2011
I dips my lid to the editors of Magnetic Times who have given us the very best records of the cyclone and its aftermath that anyone anywhere could have wished.
Thank you
Chris C
February 16th 2011
I agree with Alan - Another goodun - Thanks George & Pen
February 16th 2011
The Community volunteers were just amazing. They worked so hard and achieved so much. They looked absolutely exhausted when I last saw them and they had half a day to go. Everyone was so so helpful and dedicated. Friends beat a path to my front door on Friday after the cyclone so I could just get out. They came back and worked even more the next day and then the SES got the tree off my roof and stopped another one from falling. The community volunteers included people from hundred of kilometres away who worked their socks off for people who couldn't do it themselves. No words can fully express the good that they have accomplished. THANK YOU!!!!
February 16th 2011
Thanks Magnetic Times for the YASI articles, I am reading from Melbourne as we holiday annually on Magnetic and loving your coverage. The community is fantastic there. Can anyone give information about Arthur Bay - is the road/bridge ok?
February 16th 2011
Hi George
To all those who helped in the massive clean up effort, often in difficult, power-less conditions, I say, 'well=done!'
Down at 'our' block in Picnic Bay, the School and Museum stand unscathed, but with many branches and two large bloodwoods down, Rick Braley, myself, Zanita and Gary Davies,and Kay Finn have united to do the best we can with our own clean-up, until the council send in their machinery and man power.
This was a great exercise in preparedness, and I think the Island community did extremely well.
Barb Gibbs
February 18th 2011
Thanks guys and gals, it made me feel quite inadequate that I needed help and most were elderly persons braving extremely hot conditions to help those of us who are unable to lift heavy objects due to bulging discs etcetera.
These teams made very short work of big jobs and deserve great credit.
wendy Tubman
February 18th 2011
Yes, as always, the island did very well - formally and informally - in pitching in. And we can pat ourselves on the back. But why is it that our younger members don't take as active a role? As Ronnie Wilkinson says in the story, "When you’re older you appreciate things more and you want to give something back", but, for many of us, community contribution is something we have grown up with. As youngsters we joined our parents in all sorts of volunteer community activity, and continued to do so though all stages of our usually very busy lives. I know that many (most?) island community organisations are finding it very hard to attract younger members. With apologies to the younger ones who ARE involved, questions to the younger ones: Why is it that you are not keen to become involved in community activities? Are we oldies doing something that discourages you? Or are we not sufficiently encouraging? Or are we not explaining how much fun and how satisfying it can be? We really need to get some new folk to take on various volunteer roles before those currently in the positions die off!
February 19th 2011
Bill Lade and his team were worth their weight in gold. Saturday we were very appreciative of Bill and Co's help. Thank you guys. BUT we were not so appreciate of the week before - community spirit? - I think not, all we had were a group of ferals who moved in opposite, stood around drinking, sniggering as they watched me drag green waste for hours and hours for days, not only that they let their dogs poop on other people's property and found that even funnier! Thankfully on the other side of us we had excellent neighbours who threw a life line (from their generator) to keep our small fridge going so we could keep our breakfast foods edible. I think it is true to say one has to be "in the know" on Maggie to receive "community spirit" - THANK YOU again to Bill & Co strangers who helped - your assistance was most appreciated.

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