Stoic Northampton locals drive the town’s rebuild
As the dust settles on the devastation of cyclone Seroja, Northampton residents are starting to rebuild.
But amid the rubble, emergency services and volunteers are facing an unexpected new problem: convincing stoic locals to ask for help.
When Seroja hit Northampton on April 11, it battered the historic town. Wind gusts of up to 170km/h ripped roofs from their eaves, shattered windows, and tore up trees and fences.
According to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the storm left 42 Northampton residences “uninhabitable.”
Another 36 properties were “moderately damaged” and an additional 115 were “slightly damaged.”
The cyclone was “brutal,” said DFES district officer Phillip Hay.
“From what we are seeing driving around, over 70 per cent of the properties are no longer habitable,” he said.
“Even those people whose houses were relatively unscathed, they don’t have power, they still don’t have hot water, they need to go to the community centre to have a shower.
“It’s having a huge impact on people’s lives.”
The town had been “fantastic” since the clean-up began, Mr Hay said. Local businesses have been handing out free meals, while neighbours cart debris from one another’s backyards.
Mr Hay, inset below, praised the community’s stoicism — but urged people not to be afraid to ask for help.
“Probably the biggest thing we’re finding is people saying ‘oh, go to the next house, they’re worse off than me’,” Mr Hay said.
“It comes from a good place … but these are often people who could do with assistance.”
At the football club, mum-of-two Amy Teakle — part of a team of locals packing school lunches for kids across the shire — is facing the same problem.
“When we first put it (a post offering lunches and school equipment) on Facebook, nobody really put their hand up for help,” she said.
“It’s such a strong little community. Everyone’s like ‘no, no, so-and-so’s worse off than me, I don’t want to take it from them’.
“People just don’t want to ask for help. But we all need help.”
Ms Teakle and her team have seen better uptake in recent days. They handed out more than 200 lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the donation centre next door, volunteer Wren Fisher echoed the lunch-packing team’s concerns.
“There’s been so much generosity,” she said, pointing to the pallets of cans, bags of flour and sugar, and stacks of UHT milk that line the walls of the sports hall.
“But we’ve had trouble with people coming in and getting anything, because they think there’s someone worse off than them.
“And these are people who have got no roofs, maybe two walls standing, they can’t find their dog, that sort of thing.
“They’re saying ‘no, no, no, we’re right, help the people who need it’.”
To convince hard-hit locals to come into the donation centre, Mrs Fisher and her team tell people to use the money they would have spent on the donated items to support local businesses.
“That’s what our mob do, we give back, so it goes around and around,” she said.
Despite their stoicism, many locals are doing it tough.
“The power could be out for weeks and the kids are battling. They’re terrified of the dark, because the storm happened at night time,” Mrs Fisher said.
“So we’re giving out headlamps to kids, so they can go to sleep with the headlamp and Mum can turn it off once they’re asleep.”
Many residents can no longer stay in their wrecked homes.
Since the storm destroyed his roof, 82 year-old Peter Coleman is sleeping in his shed.
“It was this roar, and you could feel the swirling. Like a typhoon, boom, boom, boom,” Mr Coleman recalled. “There was this bang, and I said ‘oh, there’s the roof going’.”
“It was only half an hour, if that — but it seems like eternity.”
But the difficult conditions will not convince Mr Coleman to leave his home of 15 years.
“They’ve been trying to get me to a centre, trying to get me to a caravan park. I said I’m not going to that, I’m not leaving,” he insisted.
“I’m not going down to Geraldton, I’d rather be here. And you know, it’s not bad, it’s all right.”
Many businesses have also been wrecked. The Railway Tavern has served Northampton for nearly 150 years — but since its roof was destroyed, the pub has stood empty.
Standing behind the bar in his shattered tavern, owner Ian Trevarton reflected on the damage.
“It’s very sad — we’ve done up the pub and it was going to be our thing that we could pass on to the town, but now — look,” he said, pointing up at the blue sky where his ceiling used to be.
The devastation in Northampton and nearby Kalbarri is tragic. Sadly, it is a familiar story across much of the region, with properties damaged across Chapman Valley, Morawa, Perenjori and Mingenew.
People in isolated farming communities should not be afraid to ask for help, Mr Hay said.
“We’ve got so many farming communities out there as well, and we haven’t had the time to get out there to assess them,” he said.
“If you need help or need assistance, please, please contact us.”
Residents are being helped by DFES, the Army Reserve and State Emergency Service volunteers.
With more than half of all buildings damaged and with no power or water, their task is daunting.
But Mrs Fisher is confident her community will push through.
“Pressure makes diamonds. The more pressure there is, the more precious the outcome,” she said.
“If you say ‘can’t,’ then you’re screwed.”
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