Feb 2, 2011

Palm Island ex-mayor: ‘QLD has abandoned us’

Palm Island residents are fearing for the worst from cyclone Yasi. Crikey spoke to former Palm Island mayor Robert Blackley who said: "People are woefully unprepared. The state of Queensland has abandoned us."

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

Palm Island residents are fearing for the worst as they brace for Cyclone Yasi to hit at approximately 10pm tonight. Crikey spoke to former Palm Island mayor Robert Blackley moments ago. "People are woefully unprepared. The state of Queensland has abandoned us," said Blackley, who is currently holed up in his home on the island (approximately 3.5 metres above sea level.) "Officially there are four evacuation centres but only one is above the storm surge level, the other three are within three metres of sea level," said Blackley. The water is expected to surge six metres. "I've screwed 18mm ply into every single window and I've sandbagged the doors and got my animals inside and everything. I'm not stupid enough to go outside and see what other people are doing," said Blackley. While army and emergency service personnel are door knocking and preparing residents on the mainland, the residents of Palm Island have been left to fend for themselves. "Twenty minutes ago two blokes were walking down the street drunk and kids are playing in the backyard, with 90 km wind. And yesterday, when I looked around, boats -- not on trailers -- were sitting in people's front yards, car bodies. Essentially, deadly missiles all over the community and should have been picked up, mostly by the local council." Blackley told Crikey that an emergency boat organized by the local council left the island yesterday, "there was an emergency boat put on yesterday, but no one really got on it because you had to buy a ticket. Tickets are between $12-27...My children and mother, nieces, nephews, all got on it." Blackley runs several community organisations on the island, including a men's group and as former mayor, anticipates that he'll be heavily involved in the dealing with the aftermath. But right now, the plan is to "sit tight, if the storm surge comes and ends up in the house. [We'll be] sitting tight under the stairwell. Emergency backpacks are close by. If the storm surge ends up in the house, we'll be upstairs into the bathroom, in the bath, under the mattress, no doubt covered with water [because the roof will probably be gone]." This afternoon Premier Anna Bligh told reporters in Brisbane,"... Residents in low lying areas had been moved to higher ground." She told reporters, ".. It will be one of the islands that experiences some very early symptoms of the cyclone, because it is just that bit off shore. I am very confident the council has done a good job in alerting people." But Blackley told Crikey, "... It's going to be massive, 250-300km winds. A six metre storm surge and 90% of the community's houses -- a large percentage structurally unsound -- will be inundated by storm surge and blown away by the wind... If it hits, there will be loss of life on Palm Island, simply because people are unaware of the magnitude of the situation." "I'm concerned for the lives of the good people of Palm, and the bad people on Palm. Concerned for lots of life and property, worried about my partner, worried about my family. Don't think my nanna's health is going to stand up to this." Residents and tourists at popular holiday Queensland islands -- like Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Lindeman Island -- have been evacuated. Update: Last night Marni Cordell at New Matilda spoke with current Palm Island mayor Alfred Lacey. Lacey disagreed with Blackley's assertions that Palm Island was unprepared and abandoned, and said Blackley was "scoring political points." "We'd been planning this for Cyclone Anthony, and our cyclone preparations are certainly bedded down," said Lacey. Lacey told New Matilda that most residents had gone to higher ground and that "all are in homes that are cyclone-rated," although he didn't give an exact number of how much of Palm Island housing is cyclone-proof.

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27 thoughts on “Palm Island ex-mayor: ‘QLD has abandoned us’

  1. paddy

    Thanks for reporting this Amber. We can only hope the residents of Palm Is can survive this monster. It certainly doesn’t sound too promising. 🙁

  2. Chris Johnson

    I noticed Anna Bligh brushed off this arvo’s press conference question regarding Palm Islanders being evacuated. Which assures me Palm Island and its Police Station are now battened down with the full protection of Qld State Emergency Service resources who no doubt in recent days fully briefed the Island Council of the dangers of staying put in the path of unprecedented cyclonic forces. I wonder how many were offered transport and alternative accommodation on the mainland and whether they now feel the appartheid elements so clearly on show in 2004 have dissipated.

  3. Aquillion

    My heart and thoughts are with the Peoples of Palm Island as they face yet another challenge of survival.
    – It is totally disgusting and unacceptable that other towns, places in low lying areas and other Islands have been evacuated whilst Palm Islander First Peoples of Australia who are amongst some of the most vulnerable, are left to fend for themselves in the face of a category 5 cyclone, on an Island that is so inadequately prepared for such a significant catastrophic Cyclonic event. It is disgusting that Palm Islander Peoples wishing to leave were expected to pay for tickets in order to leave on a boat to get their families to safety. I am so disgusted and angry at this ongoing lack of respect and discrimination…

  4. botswana bob

    Sad to say this is unsurprising. One only needs to look at the Queensland government’s shameful antics in the Cameron Doomadgee affair to see that they don’t give a toss about the indigenous population. Absolutely nothing related to the word “justice” has happened here and so its unsurprising that Queensland’s pollies and bureaucrats seemingly don’t give an (expletive deleted) about the cyclone’s impact on Palm Island residents.

  5. Barry 09

    Once they clear Palm Island , Clive Palmer will buy it and call it palmer Island. True story, i work for the IPA.

  6. glennw

    I agree with @AQUILLION and @BOTSWANA BOB – this is a shameful display of racism.

  7. abud

    The world is watching. To leave Aboriginals stranded is a reflection on all of us. This is as bad as the stolen generation, this is as evil as the open shooting of Aboriginals. These people are should be respected. Hope the world sees and learns.

  8. Ern Malleys cat

    Alf Lacey, the current mayor and chairman of the Local Disaster Management Group disagrees with Robert Blackley. See http://fb.me/T09Gykh2

    On Monday when Anna Bligh was outlining the evacuation procedures she specifically mentioned the efforts in indigenous communities closer to the expected landfall. Yarrabah, right on the coast south of Cairns, was evacuated successfully.

  9. abud

    Ern Malleys Cat: You sound like a politician, Anna Bligh is a puppet on a string. We’re talking about palm island here.

  10. ronin8317

    “People are woefully unprepared. The state of Queensland has abandoned us,”. So what is it exactly that the QLD government is suppose to do? Force evacuation of everyone on the island? The former mayor is using the opportunity to score political points.

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