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Townsville floods fail to dampen spirits

Jun 12 2019

Not since Cyclone Tracey in 1974 has a natural disaster impacted so many Australian Defence Force personnel and their families.


The record-breaking rainfall that flooded the city of Townsville in early 2019 affected around 10,000 members of ADF families to some degree. It also brought out the Aussie spirit in many Defence families.

More than 2,800 ADF personnel spent early February sandbagging and evacuating Townsville residents. For one newly arrived lateral recruit family, it was quite the introduction to life in the Australian Army and Queensland!

Following a two-year transfer process, dual-serving couple Captain Laura Fitzpatrick and Captain Liam Kiely were excited to finally make the move from the Irish Defence Forces to join the Australian Army in late 2018. With their first Australian posting to Townsville, little did they know just how much excitement was in store.

Although they had visited Australia many times, the family had never been to Townsville, which is well-known for its heat and humidity.

“We arrived right in the middle of a heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures which was a bit of a shock,” said Liam.

“But we’ve acclimatised well and really love the hot weather.”

Liam started work at Lavarack Barracks in late 2018, while Laura spent the first few months settling in and looking after their two girls, Hannah and Naomi.

“With long and bitterly cold winters in Ireland, we were quite restricted in the activities we could do with the girls. It was great to move here, where weather is hot and there’s just so much to do,” she said.

The heat wasn’t the only shock for the family. In early January, unprecedented monsoonal rains started, and just after Laura was sworn in the city of Townsville started to flood.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes to emergency accommodation, including nearly 250 ADF families.

Adopting true Aussie style, Laura and Liam took in another Army family of five when their house was flooded. In the coming days both families moved to emergency accommodation on base.

Laura said the direct provision of help from the base was a completely new concept to them.

“It’s something we weren’t familiar with. We also found the disaster management system here in Australia really slick. We were always kept informed, whether by text message or radio updates, about the flood situation as it unfolded.”

“We really love it here, the community spirit is amazing,” said Liam.

“A lot of the guys who were out there helping the Townsville community and evacuating people, had lost everything themselves.”

With more than 2,800 ADF members involved in the flood efforts, many of them didn’t have a chance to return home for days at the height of the flooding and evacuations.

“We were really impressed with the resilience of ADF families,” said Laura.

“Many of them had to deal with the floods—trying to save their possessions and evacuate their children and pets—on their own while their partners were supporting the wider community.”

While the floods don’t appear to have dampened their enthusiasm, and they have no regrets about their move to Australia, Laura said their first posting has been memorable.

“We’ll definitely never forget our first three months in Australia!”

Awash with babies!

While the city was being inundated with water 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion was inundated with babies! Three families at 3CSSB became first-time parents during the natural disaster.

Dual-serving couple Will Chilvers and Aimee Gillam, got a surprise when Alyssa arrived almost six weeks early on 28 January. While the nursery was ready, they hadn’t bought a car seat or clothes.

Dual-serving couple Samantha Mulach and Jace Cowan welcomed Declan on 7 February, as the flood waters started to recede. Samantha called the hospital the day she went into labour and found they were returning after evacuating earlier.

Sandeep and Isha Sharma welcomed Ayaansh on 11 February. Isha said the floods made the last few weeks of the pregnancy stressful and they were worried about roads being cut.

Geckos Family Centre, the local community house at Lavarack Barracks, received a lot of calls from families wanting to make donations.

“The community generosity was so overwhelming that we had to close donations,” said Officer-in-charge at Geckos, Warrant Officer Class 2 Nicole Lickorish.

The local sewing and craft group got involved too.

“We put our skills to work and made packs for families with household items like a shopping bag, apron, quilts and book bags for the kids,” said craft club member Cassandra.

This article has been condensed. The complete version was published in the 2019 Autumn/Winter issue of Defence Family Matters.

Laura, Liam and their family

After recently transferring from the Irish Defence Force, Laura, Liam and their children Hannah, four, and one-year-old Naomi were right in the thick of things when Townsville was flooded.
Photo by Rachel Bowman.

Isha with baby Ayaansh

Isha with baby Ayaansh.
Photo by Ane-Maree Rickerby of Love that Photo.

Will and Aimee with Alyssa

Will and Aimee with Alyssa.

Declan

Declan.
Photo by Angela Van Dinter of Little Details Photography.

Geckos Family Centre at Lavarack Barracks coordinated donations

Geckos Family Centre at Lavarack Barracks coordinated donations.
Photo by Private Ukrit ‘Billy’ Paensuwan.