In March this year, we were camping in Murwillumbah and thought we were going to be safe from the effects of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. Perched high and dry in an area that we thought would not be affected, we were sadly mistaken! After Debbie unleashed all her fury in the tropical north of Qld, she made her way down the Australian coastline leaving a path of destruction along the way.
Unable to evacuate due to roads being cut off, the flood water rose and broke all precedented levels, exceeded the levels of the previously high 1954 floods. We woke at 6am the next morning to find water fast engulfing our motorhome. We called for help, but due to fast rising and flowing waters the SES rescuers were unable to reach us by boat, so we were eventually winched out by helicopter.
That’s us in the middle of the lake
Whilst this was heartbreaking to us, it was not until we got a birds eye view of the floods that we fully understood the devastation it was causing to many others. In our case, we were fortunate; eventually returning to our motorhome 2 days later, to find the water had only damaged the undercarriage.
However, many other residents up and down the coast were hit much harder, with many losing their homes. The devastation further affected hundreds of businesses in both Qld and NSW, with many still not being able to open their doors.
The Murwillumbah showground where we have stayed on many occasions, was well and truly swamped, as were Greenhills Caravan Park, the Beachside Caravan Park in Bowen and many others along the way. In the weeks following the floods we witnessed many residents, locals and campers all pitch in and support each other, but as travellers, we can still show our support, even this far down the track.
Debbie leaves a path of destruction
Cyclone Debbie was one of the strongest cyclones in the region. It made landfall between Bowen and Airlie Beach, on 28 March 2017, causing damage to the Whitsunday Islands and nearby mainland including Proserpine after smashing Hamilton Island. It downed trees, ripped roofs from houses, stripped buildings and left shorelines swamped after making landfall as a Category 4 storm before making its way down the eastern parts of Queensland and down into Northern NSW. It caused untold damage along the way, and now months later many residents and businesses are still rebuilding their lives.
Chest height in flood waters @ Lismore, NSW
In NSW several towns in the north were affected by the deluge caused by the remnants of Cyclone Debbie — including, Chinderah, Condong, Murwillumbah, Lismore and Kyogle. Further north, in Queensland residents of the affected areas near the Logan and Albert Rivers were urged to seek higher ground with flood levels there reaching almost record levels.
Cyclone Debbie cost the economy over $2 billion of economic growth. Coal, sugar, cattle and other exports have been impacted, as well as localised tourism and many local small businesses. And even though May and June are not part of the peak season – that doesn’t start till July, citizens of Airlie Beach say that it was quieter than usual for that time of the year.
Entire regions were covered in flood waters
“25% of businesses in Whitsunday region are hurting or closed down. Tourism in general is down, but apart from the trees having no leaves, most places in the town are operational, and the place is still a perfect getaway spot during winter as it is warmer than the Southern States.”
“Now it’s literally a day-to-day proposition running the business,” many tour and business operators say. The Airlie Beach Bowls Club was another victim, reporting major damage to the clubhouse and severe damage to the greens putting them out of action for weeks. The club is still rebuilding, and in an effort to attract more visitors it recently opened its doors to campers to use as a short term free stop over and a free roll up for anyone wanting to give it a go. For more information, please see our listing for Airlie Beach Bowls Club.
Airlie Beach Bowls Club – Closed due to the damage caused
Whilst many tried to prepare as best they could for the impending flood waters, no one quite expected the water levels to rise so high. A local store owner at Kindred Collective from Murwillumbah puts her arms up in despair as she watch the flood waters take away her livelihood, knowing there was no immediate action she could take.
Kindred Collective inundated with water
Now nearly 5 months later, one fact we know for sure is: some livelihoods were destroyed, many local businesses were affected and some may never open again. We have heard of some cases, where insurance companies have reneged on promises to pay out insurance claims, stating they only cover from falling water but not rising floods. Therefore, those choosing to rebuild are still struggling.
Riverview Hotel under water
How Can We Help?
As travellers it would be so helpful that as we pass through these small affected communities, we stay in them and support them where possible. Whether it is purchasing a meal, getting something repaired, or going on a local tour, it is so important that we show support where we can. Especially in communities providing Free and Low Cost camping in a bid to attract tourists and campers such as ourselves.
Several more businesses totally underwater
At FRC we have long been supporters of small communities and small business, as we have travelled the country over the last 5 years. This has led to the development of our Premium Club Membership, which we have just launched. A major benefit of the Premium Membership is the Free App. It has an inbuilt digital membership card which allows members to access a host of benefits, including discounts and special offers that are made by small local businesses all around Australia, businesses that are in some way or another affiliated with the Camping & Caravan industry.
As the App has just launched, we are still adding businesses on a daily basis, but at this stage we have over 80 participating businesses, with Murwillumbah being our pilot town and one of the first to have multiple businesses listed. This is timely given that Murwillumbah was one of the hardest hit during the floods, and at this time could do with extra support. We would therefore encourage you to support local businesses there who have joined us as FRC Business Partners, as well as any other businesses in the area, and those in other locations affected around the country, including, but not limited to Lismore, Proserpine, Bowen, Condong, Chinderah, Kyogle, Whitsunday Islands, Hamilton Island, and Airlie Beach.