Queen invites cyclone hero to lunch
GYMPIE son Brett Smith shouldn't be at all nervous about dining with the Queen and Prince Phillip on Monday - not after the life-saving leadership and courage he showed in the days before and after Cyclone Yasi.
But nervous he is. And "really embarrassed".
Brett last week received an invitation to a reception with Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at an undisclosed Brisbane venue, to honour the emergency workers, volunteers and those affected by last summer's natural disasters.
The invitation is the latest in a series of honours bestowed on the former Imbil and Gympie State High student since he led the evacuation and immediate recovery of Cardwell in the days before and after category-five Yasi crossed the coast at midnight on February 2-3, this year.
The father of three was the sergeant at Cardwell's two-man police station when Yasi struck, and insists he was "just doing my job".
But he did his job so well that not a single life was lost in Cardwell, despite the obliteration of the town, the emergency evacuation of its 1500 residents, the absence of power for more than two weeks and the absence of a water supply for five days.
"I was just doing my job. It's as simple as that," he said at the kitchen table of his proud Gympie parents, Lloyd and Bobbie Smith, yesterday.
Brett was in Gympie to attend his grandmother's funeral.
Since those "blurred" days and weeks following the cyclone, Brett and his paramedic wife Lisa, who also helped with the evacuation and recovery, have been awarded Queensland Disaster Heroes' medals by Premier Anna Bligh, and met Prince William during his visit to Cardwell in March.
"It was an absolute honour to meet Prince William," said Brett.
"He was very genuine and nothing was too much trouble. You would follow him into battle no problem."
Brett was born in Gympie and grew up at Imbil.
He went off to the Queensland Police Academy in 1990, before being posted to Gladstone, then the Logan District, Gympie, Blackbutt, Murgon and then, in 2005, Cardwell.
Brett Smith married his wife Lisa in 1993, and the couple has three sons, Ashton, Haydn and Lachlin.
"We had lots of warning of what was going to happen," Brett said yesterday of the days before Cyclone Yasi.
The storm crossed the coast at midnight on Wednesday, and on Tuesday Brett was notified of the expected storm surge. It was his job to "advise" the residents of parts of Cardwell and Port Hinchinbrook to evacuate.
The ambos and firies helped. The "ambos" being Brett's wife, and the "firies" two other women.
"We spent five or six hours door-knocking (about 250 houses)," he said.
On Wednesday morning they were told the storm surge would be much worse than thought, and that the entire population of Cardwell had to be evacuated. Brett sent Lisa and the boys to Tully.
"From there we spent the rest of the day driving around with the loud hailer.
"I sent my senior constable and his family south to Ingham. I stayed in Cardwell and drove around trying to convince the people who refused to evacuate to leave."
At 5pm, Brett left for Tully, where he and his family, and other police families, bunkered down in the police station while the cyclone hit.
After an hour's sleep Brett returned to Cardwell, negotiating flood- waters, fallen power lines and debris to get through.
What he found was devastation.
"I had a bit of a cry," he said.
Then it was time to take the lead and begin the clean-up, setting up a command post, co-ordinating people and maintaining a strong and visible police presence.
It was five days before proper help could get through from the south.
But it was the incredible support of the "police family" that really touched Brett and Lisa, and that will never be forgotten.
"(Those people) will be our friends for life," they said.
Brett took up a new posting in Innisfail three weeks ago, but it is only 45 minutes up the road.
I stayed in Cardwell and drove around trying to convince the people who refused to evacuate to leave.