The future of Cardwell post-Yasi
When Cyclone Yasi approached the North Queensland Coastal town of Cardwell on February 3 2011, locals familiar with the town’s history of near-misses from threatening weather patterns knew what was headed their way would be simply too big to dodge.
For Lindsay Hallam, president of the Cardwell Chamber of Commerce and owner of local business Hinchinbrook Real Estate, the natural disaster struck the little town as the ultimate blow in a long line of challenges to have undermined its economic prosperity.
A twenty-five year process in which Cardwell’s logging industry ceased, its railway camp dissolved, the Main Roads depot closed down and its state forestry office was downsized has taken its toll, over 400 jobs were lost to the area. Coupled with the failure of private developers to complete a major port and marina development at the start of this century, and anyone would understand an attitude of despondency among Cardwell’s residents.
But quite the opposite, Cardwell has proved itself a resilient town, always eyeing positive momentum, even as the global financial crisis struck in 2008, followed in 2011, by Yasi itself.
“Yasi was pretty frightening stuff,” Lindsay says.
“To the government’s credit, we received consistent warnings that it was going to be bigger than ever, but there was uncertainty as to where it would hit. I’d never seen anything like this in my lifetime.”
The Cardwell local of 32 years says that since Yasi struck, the town’s approximately 1200-strong population has diminished by about 300, and while construction has gone well on a resurrected foreshore and repaired Bruce Highway, this influx of workers and the accompanying economic benefits will all be gone by Christmas.
To a visitor to Cardwell, Lindsay says the town’s struggle may seem a mystery at first.
“You’d wonder why more people don’t live here. It is spectacular,” he says.
“But we just haven’t got the industry, and we’re in no-man’s land, with opportunities drawn to Townsville and Cairns, we’ve been here long enough to understand that we are remote from some things, and you do miss out.”
Having battled circumstances outside of their control so often, Lindsay says it was only natural that the Cardwell community galvanised itself to take significant independent action in the immediate wake of Cyclone Yasi.
“We formed our Chamber of Commerce around 1998, we had to, after all the jobs we’d lost,” he says.
“So after Yasi, we knew we had just one crack to make authorities aware of our needs.”
In Yasi’s wake, the Cardwell Chamber of Commerce, at their expense, commissioned Griffith University to assist in plotting/planning Cardwell’s way forward.
Griffith University were later commissioned by the RAI to examine the experiences and lessons arising from Cyclone Yasi, visited the town, and played a role in the development of the Cardwell and Districts Strategic Action Plan.
To Lindsay, it was apparent that a cohesive voice advocating for Cardwell’s interests would need to have full community support. After two public meetings, it was decided that Cardwell’s recovery management would require a whole new organisation, with membership open to all, an elected committee, and different tasks delegated to different community groups.
Now, Lindsay says, the community is better organised, however its recovery requires a full time manager to assist in coordinating/driving the momentum.
“The enormity of the task of recovery is a hell of a lot bigger than the government throwing money, but we’re at the absolute end of our own resources” Lindsay says.
“We’ve looked at grants, but we haven’t found a scheme yet that really fits. We hope to be successful with a Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) grant … this is a medium to long-term thing.
“Some things may take 20 odd years to complete. If you don’t have a plan, you achieve nothing. We have identified 34 future options/aspirations for our community. We now have a board of seven, and no one misses a meeting, there’s a real commitment here,” Lindsay says.
He notes that already, Cardwell’s advocacy group have had discussions with local government and Queensland Forestry about higher ground at the back of the township.
“It’s forestry land under lease, but we have received acknowledgement that the best use of this high ground would be for the future development of our town,” Lindsay says. The potential of the impact of climate change makes the acquisition of this high ground essential for our future needs.
Come Christmas time this year, almost all the workforce that have been in Cardwell for the past two years, rebuilding the foreshore and more recently the highway, will withdraw, with their work done.
Lindsay knows all too well that the ‘reconstruction mirage’ of economic activity will leave the community in a fairly desperate situation.
“We were lucky that an upgrade of the major power line between Ingham and Tully has boosted the town’s population, but at the end of the day, none of that lasts,” he says. “The bubble is about to burst.”
“We have grave concerns for the future of our town unless there is a coordinated action by the three levels of government to address Cardwell’s issues. These concerns are highlighted in our Cardwell and District Strategic Action Plan, that we have compiled with the assistance of Griffith University’s Professor Darryl Low Choy,” Lindsay says.
“Our immediate agenda involves waiting for the full natural disaster recovery report from the Regional Australia Institute, from which point we will have the valuable weight of an independent body of work behind us.
“We will call public meetings, hold future forums and hope that we’ll see responsibility taken at all levels of government – working together,” Lindsay says.
“We’re a resilient community, and we will always get off our backsides, but fair’s fair.”
For this passionate champion of Cardwell, and the many residents who share his concerns, Lindsay says at the end of the day their very surrounds will provide the keys to building a “new normal”, better than before.
“The new foreshore looks great, and in the medium term, it means more people will stop here,” Lindsay says.
“We need to convert that from people passing through; to people coming for a weekend and then into people coming for a holiday.
“The essential ingredient for recovery is the reestablishment of our marina and marine infrastructure at Port Hinchinbrook as a lifeline for the town. This is where the job creation will come. Fortunately over 70 per cent of our region is national park, state forest, or world heritage listed – we are blessed with our natural attractions,” he says.
“We just need the catalyst, investment in infrastructure, to provide the dynamics to recover.”