Impacts of Cyclone Ita still being discovered 2 weeks on
The far north Queensland community of Cooktown and surrounds was hit hard by the category 5 cyclone.
Whilst no lives were lost and most houses remained intact, locals say the full impact of the damage is still being discovered.
Cooktown deputy Mayor Penny Johnson, whose own home was flooded beyond repair, says the impact on small farms and local businesses is significant and long term.
“There are some needs that are probably not able to be assessed for several months, maybe even 12 months, two years down the track,” she says.
And the worst damage is not always the most visible.
“A friend of mine- her father has a seed production business and it was all stored in the shed. The shed was destroyed but what people aren’t seeing is that there was 12 months of income sitting in that shed.”
Division in the community
Penny believes government relief funding for the area has been formulated on the run and some areas are being favoured over others.
“Websites are being promoted talking about specific local government areas receiving very specific support,that seems to be alienating other areas and people are feeling excluded from that sort of support,” she says.
The disaster recovery allowance, a fortnightly payment similar to Newstart or Youth allowance, has been made available to residents of nearby community of Hope Vale, but not to Cooktown.
Recovery assistance information can be found here.
“Not taking away from what’s needed in Hope Vale but going yes we have similar needs and it shouldn’t just be based on a shire boundary, that should be based over the impact area,” Penny says.
Whilst Cooktown resident are eligible for other forms of assistance, such as the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, Penny believes the forms of relief available have not been made clear.
“It is creating confusion and in some areas a very strong divide from one area to another.”
Hope Vale farm wiped out
Hope Vale is a remote Indigenous community with a population of around a thousand.
The impact of the cyclone was mostly felt at the banana farm, which lost 100 percent of its crop- about a million dollars worth of damage.
The plantation was opened in February after over 4 years of planning and development by the local council and state government and is the sole form of non-government employment in the community.
For 46 yr old farm worker Barry Kerr, the job at the farm is his first, spending his life so far on the’ work for the dole’ scheme.
He says working at the farm he makes double than what he would usually get, and has been able to afford treats for his four kids.
“Every Friday night they get pizza, ever since I started working here,” Barry says. “It’s going to be hard taking that away from them.”
Along with the 30 other local workers, Barry hasn’t been told he will definitely lose his job, but he isn’t optimistic.
“I’m just worried it’s going to happen, it’s going to go to that situation, where I will end up with no job,” he says.
The farm’s general manager Ken Reid is trying to stop jobs from being lost, and has just spent a week in Cairns in meetings with government and business drumming up support.
“If we can’t get the funds required and we do need to put people off in the short term all those jobs hopefully will come back,” he says.
Impact on small farms
Cassie Sorensen, a teacher and small farmer at Cooktown, has lost up to 35 thousand dollars in passionfruit sales.
She’s also lost her teak wood plantation- worth hundreds of thousands which she planned to sell to retire.
The Queensland department of agriculture told SBS that to be eligible for some forms of assistance; primary producers must earn most of their income from the land.
Cassie says she is not eligible for any form of relief.
“There’s no relief but also you’re a primary producer so you expect the fact that you’re a farmer and it’s the weather,” she says. “It is difficult though.”
“If primary producer relief is offered to other places it would be nice if it was offered here as well.”
Government relief or not- for many throughout the area a full recovery is a long way away but they’re set on rebuilding.