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No funding for cyclone shelter promised to community on Australia's most cyclone-prone coast

Ben Collins, Thursday November 8, 2018 - 06:23 EDT
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The Bidyadanga community is waiting for a cyclone shelter to be built on the square basketball court. - ABC

A government department says there is no funding for an emergency cyclone shelter for Western Australia's largest Indigenous community on the country's most cyclone-prone coast.

The Bidyadanga community is home to more than 600 people who live in what the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) calls "the most cyclone-prone region of the entire Australian coastline".

Chairman of the community's traditional owner group, Thomas King, said a cyclone shelter had been promised by the former Barnett government after the community was previously evacuated 200 kilometres north to the nearest town of Broome.

"I recall the state making some assurances to community that it would get done within at least the next couple of years due to the fact of the community having to travel into town," Mr King said.

"People were stuck in town for an extended period due to road conditions and conditions in the community."



A WA Department of Planning report, amended in December 2017, states that an indoor basketball court that doubles as an emergency cyclone shelter was "at time of writing, being constructed".

But Mr King said that almost a year later, there had been no construction in the community.

The state's Department of Communities said there was no funding to provide the community with an emergency cyclone shelter.

A statement attributed to the Department's assistant director-general of commercial operations, Greg Cash, states: "[The outdoor basketball courts could] be upgraded to a cyclone shelter if further funding is secured".

'They were screaming'

Resident Faye Dean remembers the time an evacuation of Bidyadanga went horribly wrong in 2000.

Tropical Cyclone Rosita was, according to the BOM, one of the most severe cyclones in the area in the last 100 years.

It crossed the coast between Bidyadanga and Broome rated at the highest category of 5.



Wind gusts estimated at 290 km/h blocked evacuation to Broome and instead, buses leaving Bidyadanga had to head south to the next nearest town of Port Hedland, 450 kilometres away.

In the last minute rush, the final bus evacuating the community took a wrong turn.

"Instead of going to Hedland, he turned towards Broome," Ms Dean said.

The bus unwittingly headed straight into the cyclone until conditions became so bad they had to stop driving.

"He pulled up on the side of the road, the bus was full of women and children," Ms Dean said.

"The windows were rattling and the wind was blowing them, and they were screaming; they didn't know what was happening because the evacuation wasn't done earlier."

Fortunately no one was injured as the cyclone moved rapidly inland.

Residents relying on luck as season approaches

With the latest cyclone season just getting underway, Mr King said Bidyadanga residents were relying on luck to get them through while they wonder what has happened to the promise of a shelter, made by successive governments

"The area sits right in the middle of our so-called cyclone corridor, and we've been exposed to dangerous cyclones in the past," Mr King said.

"A lot of people are feeling a bit anxious about the coming cyclone season, and keeping their fingers crossed that we don't get any really high risk cyclones within the Broome/Bidyadanga area."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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