Volunteer Whitsundays core members Chris Pannan, Jo Sweeney, Tracey Lord, Andrew Sloane and Heather Batrick meet Shannon Noll (second from left) on the Airlie Beach foreshore during filming on Sunrise.
Volunteer Whitsundays core members Chris Pannan, Jo Sweeney, Tracey Lord, Andrew Sloane and Heather Batrick meet Shannon Noll (second from left) on the Airlie Beach foreshore during filming on Sunrise. Sharon Smallwood

Spirit of the Whitsundays shines during Debbie

THE community spirit and the selfless camaraderie shown by the people of the Whitsundays as the full extent of Cyclone Debbie's devastation unfolded are testaments to the region's locals, their generosity, compassion and capacity to keep on giving.

Tracey Lord, volunteer with Volunteer Whitsundays, said she witnessed people with nothing left themselves helping others, and people who didn't previously know each other reaching out to offer comfort and support.

"Neighbours kept checking on each other and neighbours who didn't know each other previously were having barbecues and car pooling and helping each other wherever they could.”

People didn't hesitate to share what they had.

"Even though people didn't have anything themselves, they were still giving. People weren't thinking of themselves.”

Volunteer Whitsundays, which via a Facebook page coordinated by founder Jo Sweeney from Hervey Bay, connected a network of helpers for the overwhelming clean-up operation and collected and worked at distributing essential items to anyone who needed. Ms Lord said she saw plenty of people desperate for a mattress at one collection point.

"But then a pregnant mother with two children would come along and they'd all be like, you have it.

"It was beautiful. And people only took what they needed. It was pretty amazing.

"I think if we can go through something like Cyclone Debbie, we can go through anything.”

Members of Volunteer Whitsundays clear toppled trees in Cannonvale on Saturday morning.
Members of Volunteer Whitsundays clear toppled trees in Cannonvale on Saturday morning. Peter Carruthers

Ms Lord's shed on Shute Harbour Rd was used as a base, and the group also coordinated their relief efforts with Rotary and the Give Centre.

"It was everybody pulling together and helping each other. We were looking after everyone as much as we could. We were finding them somewhere to stay, taking them torches, mattresses, and sheets.”

She said people contacted the group online or heard about them via word-of-mouth and then came to the shed for supplies.

"What I saw was amazing - people just helping each other. I've never seen a town come together the way our community did to help each other,” she said.

"The community spirit was definitely alive and well. A lot of people were broken and on their knees, but they still helped everybody else.”

Members of Volunteer Whitsundays and Whitsunday Coast Lifesaving helped tidy up Boathaven Beach.
Members of Volunteer Whitsundays and Whitsunday Coast Lifesaving helped tidy up Boathaven Beach. Contributed

Ms Lord celebrated her birthday on April 8 - the day power was restored in her area. Her food van which she ran as a business had been flooded and her camper van had rolled over during the cyclone and crashed into her storage of belongings in the shed.

"So I sat with the air-conditioning on, on my own, and drunk champagne. I was feeling exhausted and pretty traumatised. I'd had to move out of my own house which had flooded.

"But I just left it and kept going with Volunteer Whitsundays because I knew there wasn't much I could do with that right then anyway.”

A friend of Ms Lord's from Mt Isa sent a massive truck to the embattled region full of gloves, gumboots, shovels, rakes and huge amounts of food.

"We put it all at my shed and opened it up to the public. That stands out to me, because it was stuff we needed straight away. There was water, nappies, toiletries and all the things people couldn't get their hands on.

"We had no shops open and no fuel, and people couldn't get money out because there was no power.”


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