Members at the core of Volunteer Whitsunday tell their stories

Volunteer Whitsunday members Tracey Lord, Heather Batrick, Chris Pannan and Andrew Sloane at the Rotary GIVE Centre today.
Volunteer Whitsunday members Tracey Lord, Heather Batrick, Chris Pannan and Andrew Sloane at the Rotary GIVE Centre today. Peter Carruthers

CHRIS Pannan said he didn't have much money but he had the energy needed to effect positive change on the ground in the Whitsundays for victims of Cyclone Debbie.

After he had finished a long day wielding a chainsaw Chris turned around and headed to the Proserpine RSL where he massaged the weary bodies of the ADF and veterans from Team Rubicon.

"When you give you get back in unexpected ways, which is really the bigger gift,” he said.

Chris, who became an integral part of the Volunteer Whitsundays group, said doing so offered a real opportunity for people to come together and thrive as a community.

"When we come together we are so much more powerful,” he said.

Immediately after Debbie hit, Chris went to see a client of his massage business in Jubilee Pocket.

"All the fences were down and all the kids were playing in each other's yards. It was beautiful to see,” he said.

And for Chris, Volunteer Whitsundays also became about "breaking down those barriers”.

"And we now share what we have and by giving we receive so much more in return,” he said.

For Tracey Lord, another core member of the Volunteer Whitsundays group, seeing the destruction and a need to get the beautiful Whitsundays restored to normal drove her to become involved.

"I just wanted to help and put it all back together and make it better,” she said.

"The destruction was unbelievable, way more than I expected, after 28 years of cyclones.”

In the wind and water-scarred aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, Tracey set up a Go Fund Me page, linked to the online Facebook group Volunteer Whitsundays.

So far it has raised more than $14,000.

But Tracey didn't escape unscathed.

She had a Bedford truck flipped by wind gusts reaching 280km/h but saw so many other people in a situation far worse than her own.

Making sure people had food in the direct aftermath was a priority so Tracey, who runs a 'Cosmos' street café selling burgers from a roadside van, teamed up with co-owners of Fish D'Vine, Kevin Collins and Rebecca Clark to feed people.

"Three days on (from the cyclone) people's fridges were melting. Generators and beds were the first things we started asking for (in donations) and gloves and boots to get out there and start helping people,” Tracey said.

A desire to aid those that were desperate for help is what motivated another core member of Volunteer Whitsundays, Heather Batrick.

"There were a lot of people out there screaming for help,” she said.

Heather said amid the chaos it was part of her role in the group to connect people in need with people who had vehicles, chainsaws and the motivation to help.

"Some people, you don't think their problems are that bad and they end up crying on your shoulder and you realise it's not all about the physical things it's about the emotional impact the cyclone has bought,” Heather said.

"And to see their faces at the end of it, when people look at a job in which they think 'where do I even start' and you get in with eight or 10 people and get it done they are so grateful.

"It's what I call the warm fuzzy feeling.

"You walk away at the end of the day really happy that you have helped someone.”

The final core member of the group bought a military-like precision to the Volunteer Whitsundays operation.

Former A Battery paratrooper, Andrew Sloane, had cleared fallen trees between the Whitsunday Shopping Centre and Altmann Av even before the proper formation of the online group.

In the immediate wake of Cyclone Debbie Andrew said there was no one else to respond.

It was when his neighbour's roof came off and he heard yelling coming from within that Andrew answered the call from his kids who urged him to get out there and help.

"It chokes me up a bit. 'Daddy go out there, go and help. What do you do,” he said.

"No one had petrol, no one had simple LED lighting and lots of people had lost their medicine because they couldn't keep their medicine cold,” he said.

"We went every day until two o'clock in the morning. We got email chains and SMS's until two o'clock and then we would punch out at sun up.

"We just kept it flowing. You come up against something that is a problem, find out who can fix that problem and get it fixed.”

Andrew said he had witnessed giving at "the highest level”.

"I walked into Woolworths and told them who I was and what we needed. Boom, give, give. No one knocked me back,” he said.

Topics:  andrew sloane chris pannan heather batrick tc debbie tracey lord volunteer whitsundays

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