STRONG BOND: More than 20 ladies came together to discuss recovery after natural disasters.
STRONG BOND: More than 20 ladies came together to discuss recovery after natural disasters.

Disasters bringing community together

MULTIPLE natural disasters across the past four years have left small communities grieving. The Caves is one such community who have shown their resilience while still feeling the aftermath of cyclones and fires that instead of ripping their small community apart, have pulled them together.

In the first of 20 planned events, Capricorn Catchments recently partnered with The Caves Rural Fire Brigade to host a Ladies Luncheon at the Cave Recreational Hall that saw more than 20 ladies from The Caves and surrounding areas come together to support each other after the disastrous bushfires that occurred late last year.

The Caves Hall secretary and The Caves Lions president Julie Clews said the bushfire emergency 12 months ago unfolded on the night of their Christmas in the Square event, one of the biggest events on The Caves calendar.

“The dilemma was should the event proceed with fires burning all around us and people worried about their homes, businesses and property,” Ms Clews said.

“We decided to go ahead, and we are all happy we did. We may have had helicopters dropping water bombs nearby and a lot of weary and worried people, but it gave us the chance to all come together have a drink, share food and a talk.

“Likewise, Cyclone Marcia still weighs heavily on many people in our area and it was the amazing assistance from the volunteers from Blaze Aid that stepped in to assist the community.

“These people who we had never met, came in and helped us both physically and with moral support. I remember The Caves Lions banding together to feed everyone.

“The volunteers didn’t just help us with the clean-up, they gave us the moral support to get up and keep going and that’s what you have to do in those times, come together and help and support each other.

“The luncheon was an opportunity to talk about our experiences express our feelings and encourage others to talk. We shared memories, we remembered things we had held back, and we supported each other.

“It is no good suppressing your feelings, it’s much better to come together and support each other through our recovery. I think in many ways, coming together makes us stronger both as individuals and as a community.”

Capricornia Catchments project officer Shelly McArdle said the event brought forward a range of heartfelt stories and allowed the women to finally talk about the events that were still affecting their lives and their hearts.

“Earlier this year Capricornia Catchments was able to secure funding under the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements to carry out a range of workshops focused on bushfire recovery and resilience,” Ms McArdle said.

“The day started with a presentation from Leanne Julian who is a Senior Mental Health Clinician with the CQ Hospital and Health Service that focuses on Disaster Recovery. Leanne spoke about the importance of taking care of our mental health in the face of such disasters and how several negative or traumatic events can accumulate to have a collective detrimental effect on our wellbeing.

“Leise Childs from Livingstone Shire Council spoke on Livingstone Council initiatives and resources around disaster resilience while Melanie Findlay, from Rees R and Sydney Jones, informed attendees on how to protect themselves against cybercrime.

“The most powerful presentations of the day happened to be those presentations that were unplanned that came to pass as the floor was opened for people to speak.”

Capricorn Caves general manager Amanda Hinton, general manager of the Capricorn Caves, spoke about the day the fires broke out and how quickly things became dangerous and about a phone call she received instructing her and her staff to evacuate.

She said she was amazed at how organised the staff were in the way they rallied to ensure that visitors and animals made it to safety.

Then there is the aftermath, especially saddening for the staff was the loss of the vegetation onsite, vegetation that would take a long time to come back to what it was before the fires.

“The luncheon was fantastic because you didn’t know how much grief people are still experiencing 12 months on from the fires and four years on from Cyclone Marcia so it provided a good opportunity for people to get their voice heard, to tell their story and to understand that they are not the only ones in the situation,” Ms Hinton said.

“I suspect there would have been people that came along that didn’t have expectations being surprised by the amount of resolution they have been able to get out of the event.”

Ms McArdle said she was surprised by the number of times Cyclone Marcia (2015) was mentioned.

“It really goes to show the depth of the trauma caused by an event like that and how the effects can linger and be relived for years after,” she said.

“I was deeply moved by some of the personal stories that came out on the day and I am also impressed by the obvious connection that all the attendees seemed to share. Indeed, it’s how these little towns pick themselves up after significant natural disasters that makes all the difference.

“The Cave Rural Fire Brigade are an active lot and Jenny Kingstone has been instrumental in making sure this day was delivered well, leaving nothing to chance.

“These people are the ones that have the local knowledge and they know what is needed in their communities, they know what is going to be most useful when it comes to activities that produce lasting positive outcomes leading to strong, connected towns.”

Other workshops are planned to be rolled out across four local government areas including Isaac, Gladstone, and Rockhampton regional councils and Livingstone Shire Council that aim to support local communities to recover from the challenges of recent fire events in CQ.

The event was jointly funded by the federal and state governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements and supported by Rees R and Sydney Jones and Livingstone Shire Council.

Inquiries smcardle@capcatchments.org.au or follow Capricornia Catchments on Facebook.