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Community rallies to help homeless camper as Tropical Cyclone Kimi heads for Queensland's coast

By Marian Faa, Monday January 18, 2021 - 14:31 EDT
ABC image
Diana McKinstry said living by the sea was helping with her recover. - ABC

The Papua New Guinean community is making plans to help a homeless woman camping illegally in a tent on a beach north of Cairns as a cyclone heads for the coastline.

Diana McKinstry has pitched a tent, established a fruit and vegetable garden and compost heap at the site between the ocean and a busy highway north of Cairns.

The 51-year-old woman, originally from Milne Bay Province in PNG, has been living there for about five months.

Roseanne O'Rourke, a Papua New Guinean woman supporting Ms McKinstry, said the community had made urgent arrangements for Ms McKinstry to seek refuge in a nearby home as a cyclone approached.

Tropical Cyclone Kimi is expected to make landfall near Hinchinbrook Island tomorrow morning but heavy rain and strong winds are also predicted for the Cairns area.

"We are trying to tread carefully," Ms O'Rourke said.

'Healing in her own way'

Ms McKinstry became homeless two years ago when she fell sick with depression and was unable to work.

She said living by the sea was helping her recover.

"This to me, it reminds me of home," she said.

"I love gardening. I enjoy gardening and I enjoy planting things ... and when it grows, I'm happy. That makes me happy."

Ms McKinstry's garden is flourishing with bananas, pumpkins, tomatoes and a small lychee tree.

She said she spent some of her time cleaning up plastic rubbish and glass bottles from the beach.

But some residents have complained because Mr McKinstry's tent and garden is in a no-camping zone.

"People don't like me here because that sign says 'no camping'," she said.

"OK, I understand it. I've got nowhere to go. I've got nowhere to go."

Authorities aware of 'complex' situation

Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), which owns the site, said it was aware of the situation.

"This is a complex matter and we are working on it as quickly as possible," a TMR spokesperson said.

"We have approached a not-for-profit community organisation which will contact campers in the area to help provide support and information on services available."

Ms McKinstry said she would comply with any official direction to leave.

"If they want me to go, I will go," she said.

Community calls for compassion

Members of the local Papua New Guinean community have called for compassion as they work to help Ms McKinstry find an appropriate place to live.

Ms O'Rourke, who is also from the coastal area of Milne Bay, visited Ms McKinstry last week.

She said she learnt Ms McKinstry found the sea a "peaceful calming place".

"In her mind ... the salt air, the beach, the white sandy beach, hearing the waves coming on, and as she cleans the area up, she is healing in her way."

Ms O'Rourke has written to local politician Cynthia Lui asking for help to find an alternative solution.

She also called for compassion in response to negative social media comments regarding Ms McKinstry's situation.

"It upset me ... there were some unkind comments," she said.

The ABC has spoken with Ms McKinstry's family in PNG and Australia, who say they lost contact with her when she became unwell, but are now trying to reconnect and offer support.


© ABC 2021

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