**** TRIGGER WARNING – natural disasters ****
Suicide numbers have risen in Proserpine and the surrounding area following Cyclone Debbie in March this year. The world has been so focussed on Hurricane Irma and events overseas, that we have already forgotten that our own beautiful Whitsunday region was ravaged and is still not recovered. Residents were left with damaged homes & businesses, work places were also affected and so the financial repercussions of the most dangerous storm since Cyclone Yasi (remember banana prices??) were compounded. Some have homes but are not allowed to live in them till repaired, and are paying the eye-watering prices for rentals charged by owners whose vision is solely comprised of dollar signs.
During our brief stay in Proserpine, we saw countless tarps over rooves and buildings, some businesses closed, others with chalkboards out stating that they are still “recovering from Cyclone Debbie”, and are trying to trade with as much normality as possible.
Rod Grittner Nissan serviced the Legend for us while we were there, and Anne was herself a Legend in organising everything at short notice. She and Liz were happy we’d come to be seen in town, as they know there have been more locals take their lives as the effects of Debbie continue to drag on. Their own building was damaged and needs to be rebuilt. They, too, are still waiting.
We took a drive to Airlie Beach and Shute Harbour, and were delighted to see that the Lagoon had opened again in the last couple of days. The journalist we met with, told us that it meant that the businesses nearby were feeling hopeful again – there were actually people walking down the street – possible customers! Some insurance companies appear to be dragging their feet, some residents haven’t even seen assessors yet, others have had their insurance companies claim that they were “underinsured” and therefore offer to pay only a percentage of the costs to repair/rebuild. It was so infuriating for us to hear this. Paul has had a lot of experience with natural disasters, and understands the trauma that comes not only from the event, but the drawn out recovery process. It’s no wonder that the community’s mental health has taken a hit in the last few months.
It was truly inspirational then to meet Joy at Gunna Go Caravan Park, just outside Prossy. Joy and her family had donated a powered site to us for our stay, and it was just lovely being there. Whilst their park sustained damage in the cyclone, Joy is steadfastly moving forward and wanting to put the storm behind them and focus on their business. The kids loved the showers because there were plenty of hooks low enough for them to hang up their toiletry bags, clothes and towels. The undercover area is a wonderful place to sit and relax during the day, and between 4-6pm becomes a licensed bar for guests and locals. Paul even met a man who was working in Queensland, but was from the same suburb and street that Paul used to live in once!
We watched a possum walk a tightrope over our heads on a powerline, and the cane fields aflame at night, the orange glow visible from our camper. Though the Proserpine River area has a large population of crocodiles, we are yet to see one of them!
The damage to primary and tourism industries in the Whitsundays was severe, but they are fighting back. Joy lives up to her wonderful name, and epitomises the fighting spirit in the region. They are sticking together, moving forward, and determined to put Cyclone Debbie firmly in the history books.
To save the region, the lives and livelihoods of Proserpine and the Whitsunday area, VISIT, drive through and buy a coffee or some groceries, or even better, STAY at a local caravan park (don’t haggle on price), and let’s hope the cane harvest is bountiful!