OUR FAIR SHARE
Mayor and tourism chief go in to bat for cyclone funds
WHEN Andrew Willcox knew Cyclone Debbie was headed for the Whitsundays, his main goal as mayor and chair of the Local Disaster Management Group was to keep everyone safe.
“One of the beautiful things about the Whitsundays is we do have a laidback lifestyle, but in this case it meant we had to say to people, ‘Guys, this is real, please heed our advice (about evacuations)’, ” he said.
When Debbie had done her dash, leaving the region scarred, isolated and without water or power, Cr Willcox was faced with an enormous task.
“Our region starts at Wangaratta Creek in the north to O’Connell in the south and out west to Mt Coolon, and there was not one square inch that wasn’t affected in some way,” he said.
“We had an enormous task ahead of us when the skies cleared. But how do you eat an elephant? You just do it one bite at a time. As you chomp through, you just keep getting to the next big issue, and that’s how we did it.”
Cr Willcox praised the military, the SES and the wider community, who all played a part in the recovery.
“After the cyclone had passed, I went everywhere as soon as I could, reassuring people we were bringing help. It was just amazing how many people would come up and hug me and say ‘thank you for keeping me safe’,” he said.
“I’d go to one person’s place and they’d been wiped out but they’d say, ‘I’m all right.’
“At one lady’s house everything was trashed but she said, ‘That person over there is a lot worse off than me. They lost their roof, but I kept mine. I just lost everything in the house.’ “And I thought ‘wow’. “It was also seeing people who had never more than waved to each other across the street sharing generators and having barbecues.
“If there was anything good about Cyclone Debbie, then that was it.”
After the cyclone had passed, I went everywhere as soon as I could ... — Andrew Willcox
SPEAKING UP: Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox and Tourism Whitsundays CEO Craig Turner have been fighting for the region’s fair share of cyclone recovery funding.
SAFETY FIRST: Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox with Brigadier Christopher Field in the immediate aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Debbie.