Bill, Michelle … & Cyclone Jasper …

“Forgotten in a Paradise Lost to Disaster” 

… that’s the headline The Australian used above my image of Bill and Michelle Dunn standing in the wreckage of their home, published earlier this week.

Their rural property at the tiny far north community of Degarra on the bank of the Bloomfield River Cape York, was not just flooded but scoured away by near 3 metres of rainfall over two days in the aftermath of Cyclone Jasper. 

The pic was used 5 columns across page 3 … (and if it wasn’t for the coronation of Australia’s Danish Queen would likely have been on page 1) … and is arguably the most moving and emotional image I’ve made for some time.

Bill (73) and Michelle (58 ) managed to escape the torrent with their lives as the waters rose “a foot every ten minutes” forcing them to swim out of their kitchen window. Using wound sheets Bill tied the couple to a tree but the flood waters grew too high. Fearing the worst they had to let go … and were swept by the rapidly rising waters to a higher tree where they sat for ten hours before being rescued by another local – their son – in a ‘tinnie’. 85 year old neighbour Ray Dark wasn’t so lucky … he was swept away and is believed to have drowned.

On Sunday … a month after the flood event … I choppered to Wujal Wujal and Degarra with Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr to meet and document the couple and hear their story.

Clearly still highly traumatised, Michelle didn’t want to go right up to the shattered and still saturated remains of the house where she had spent much of her life … “I can’t do it, I can’t do it” she said on the edge of tears. I did manage a few portraits with their house in the background amongst the wreckage and destruction … until Michelle broke down in tears and fell into Bill’s chest. This was one of my very last frames of the few made of Bill and Michelle together that day.

Degarra is still waiting for the ADF to arrive to help Bill, Michelle and the rest of the community start recovery and begin the rest of their now vastly different lives.

Was a very emotional day …

Image © Brian Cassey, (the bottom image is an emotional ‘crop’) … the page 3 image © The Australian

The Wet ‘n’ Windy Visit of Cyclone ‘Jasper’ …

… it’s raining heavily as I pen this … it is the ‘wet’ season after all … but nothing like the utterly torrential rains that Cyclone Jasper brought to Cairns and the far north in mid December.

Although the actual cyclone was somewhat lower on the scale as cyclones go … the rains that followed in Jasper’s wake were the most intense seen up here in many decades.

Breaking most of the very long standing rainfall records, metres high flooding and massive landslides caused absolute havoc … and as usual it’s my sometimes challenging job to cover the happenings photographically. As a freelance this gets a little complicated as the phone runs a little hot from calls from news publications and the ‘wires’ (news agencies).

Over the course of Jasper’s journey across the Coral Sea, it’s approach and crossing of the far north coast and it’s impact and aftermath thereafter … I found myself working for all of AAP (Australian Associated Press), AFP (Agence France Presse), NCA Newswire … and News Ltd. The images I made over the initial couple of weeks of turmoil were syndicated and published around the planet … some turning up in places and publications that I had no idea existed.

Jaspers effect on far north Queensland was massive. The Cairns northern beach suburbs of Holloways, Machans and Yorkeys Knob were inundated with metres of flood water … many residents escaping to their rooftops and eventual chopper rescue. Indigenous townships further north were so badly flooded that entire communities were evacuated. At least one was swept to their death. Metres of rain eroded mountains and caused numerous massive landslides that crushed buildings, covered main roads and changed the landscape … and that’s just part of the story.

Here’s links to just over a handful of the many publications where my work turned up over the cyclone event … The Arkansas Democrat Daily – USA, The Peninsula – Qatar, The Hindustan Times – India, The New Straits Times – Malaysia, RNZ – New Zealand, France 24, International – The News – Pakistan, Kuwait Times … and The Augusta-Margaret River Mail – WA Australia. They were scores more around the planet.

There’s a selection of my Jasper images (so far) below and here are short details of each for context … from top … as follows … 1. The Sanders family watch Jasper roll in across the Coral Sea at Holloways Beach … 2. Linda Applbee sits on the saturated contents stripped from their flooded Holloways Beach home … 3. Two Pictures on the wall … Steven and Caroline Cheng survey the flooding in their house of 38 years at Holloways Beach … 4. Evacuated residents leave the flooded Barron River bridge Cairns to return to their Holloways beach home … 5. Evacuated residents reunite with rescued family members at the Barron River Bridge Cairns … 6. (left) A discharged patient awaits outside the Emergency Department of Cairns Hospital behind a line of sand bags … (right) Tree surgeon Brice Stienstra removes a felled tree from Muddies Playground on the Cairns Esplanade … 7. (left) Rattled … Inundated ‘Rattle ‘n’ Hum’ bar on the Esplanade at Palm Cove as Jasper closes in … (right) 11 year old Cairns resident Jaxon Andrews tends to a cyclone battered and drenched white cockatoo … 8. (left) Ergon electrician Justin Pitts prepares to fix a power line victim of Jasper … (right) Motorists traverse flooded Cairns streets during torrential rains … 9. A massive tree snapped by Jasper on the Cairns Esplanade.

The first image of the waves at Holloways Beach turned up full TV screen whilst watching CNN … and the fourth image, made at the Barron River bridge in Cairns, was one of 23 images selected in the ‘Australia’s Best Agency Photography for 2023’ collection published by The Guardian. Nice …

Covering Jasper certainly wasn’t uneventful … my favourite lens became a victim of saturation … and I managed to fracture a vertebrae in a fall … minor stuff … and I’ve a feeling Jasper’s story isn’t quite over yet …

Images © Brian Cassey, AAP, AFP, NCANewswire