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