A small group of Fitzroy Crossing residents evacuated to Broome for their safety returned to their homes for the first time in two weeks to see what could be salvaged.
CAPTION: Traditional owners from the Fitzroy Valley region visit the Royal Australian Air Force mobile air operations team at Fitzroy Crossing airport. Story by Flight Lieutenant Dean Squire. All photos by Leading Aircraftwoman Kate Czerny.
At its peak, the flood water was a metre above the roofs of single-storey houses.
Lane Marr was distressed to see what little remained of his home.
“There’s nothing left – everything’s gone,” Mr Marr said.
“It’s sad to see it like this. I don’t know how we’ll replace it.”
His story is a common one in the devastated community.
Natalie Davey is a presenter on local community radio station Wangki, which began an emergency broadcast as the natural disaster unfolded.
“We were in crisis and from first community meetings knew that we needed help from Defence because of their training and capability,” Ms Davey said.
“People needed to know that they were safe and that things could be sorted quickly.”
At Fitzroy Crossing airport there is evidence of the initial response by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and Defence to support the community when it was trapped by flood water.
A mobile air operations team camped alongside the airstrip, coordinating a fleet of civilian and Defence aircraft providing supplies and personnel – the muscle to evacuate the vulnerable, repair vital infrastructure and clear debris.
Bunuba Elder Mary Aiken and a small group from the town were invited to see the operation.
CAPTION: Bunuba Elder Mary Aiken performs a Welcome to Country for Defence personnel, and Fire and Emergency Service members.
“The flood this year was really scary,” Ms Aiken said.
“But when we knew Defence was coming, you could see people sort of calm down and see on their faces that they were happy that someone was looking out for them.
“When Defence came into town, children and adults were excited. Without Defence and DFES I think nothing would have been done.”
Army handed responsibility to the Royal Australian Air Force to undertake the clean-up campaign.
Defence liaison officer on the ground Major Stuart Cumming has been there throughout. He knows the town and its people well as the former principal of the local school.
“The single comment I kept hearing was that the ‘cavalry had arrived’ and the sense that things would move forward,” Major Cumming said.
“It was heartening to see the welcome we got from the community. They were just all open arms.”
That welcome was extended to the new Royal Australian Air Force general duties crew members from 77 Squadron, who are now in town to complete tasks started by their Army colleagues.
CAPTION: Members of Air Force’s 77 Squadron work to remove flood-damaged items from affected properties.
The rain playing loudly on the roof of the town hall reminded everyone why they were there as Ms Aiken hosted the new Defence team with a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony.
“Next for the Fitzroy people is to get back their lives,” she said.
“Get back to normal where it was. To come back and live in their community where they belong.”
CAPTION: From left to right, Mary Aiken, Walmajarri Elder Marmigee Hand and Natalie Davey conduct a smoking ceremony to welcome members of 77 Squadron and members of the mobile air operations team to Fitzroy Crossing.
* The above report originally contained zero references to “Royal Australian” – an ‘error’ corrected by CONTACT. See here why we think this matters.