16 January 2024

Better late than never: Defence help finally arrives in Bloomfield valley

| Matt Nicholls
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Personnel from QBuild and soldiers from 11th Engineer Regiment and 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment clean up Bloomfield River State School.

The arrival of the Australian Army in the Bloomfield valley has immediately lifted the spirits of locals as they begin to get the help they need for the recovery process.

Last week, the Australian Defence Force accepted a request for assistance from the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to provide support to access and resupply isolated and vulnerable communities in Cook Shire, Douglas and Wujal Wujal.

The Australian Army’s Joint Task Group 629.3, having already been engaged during the Far North Queensland floods in December, sprung into action.

An amphibious unit from 10th Force Support Battalion (10FSB) steamed from Townsville to Cairns on Wednesday to collect cargo, including heavy equipment and building materials, for the reconstruction and recovery of the affected areas.

Corporal Ridge Debono, captain of Landing Craft AB1059, and a crew of five alongside 10FSB, have a long history of supporting similar operations with their amphibious capability.

“We provide a specialist capability that sees us involved at the ‘get-go’ in a variety of operations. We find the work rewarding, and especially so when you are helping out fellow Aussies,” he said.

“The relief on the people’s faces when we rock up with our big equipment, generators, food and water gives me a great sense of purpose and pride.”

Corporal Debono said he was living out a dream.

“In May, this year I will have served 10 years with the Australian Army. I love the Army and I love being on the water. This is my dream job,” he said.

An Australian Army Landing Craft Mechanised Mk8 (LCM8), from 10 Forces Support Battalion, delivers a flatbed truck to Bloomfield as part of the ADF support to the region.

The ADF will also provide CH-47F Chinook helicopters and a landing craft to transport bulk resupply and delivery of engineering equipment into isolated communities north of the Daintree.

It is also providing personnel and equipment to help clear larger scale debris to access isolated communities, as well as specialist aviation and maritime planners and light engineering support.

Commander of Joint Task Group 629.3 Brigadier Richard Peace said the ADF had been in continual discussions with the relevant authorities to prioritise the recovery process.

“The ADF has very specialist capabilities, which is why we sent ADF planners to Cairns to provide specialised support to the Queensland Reconstruction Authority,” he said.

“I’m continually impressed by the work ethic, compassion and professionalism across the various units and people who have been involved in my joint task group during this high-risk weather season.

“We have responded to requests for assistance very quickly and delivered much-needed support and relief – I am humbled by the dedication and willingness of my soldiers to keep on going until the job is done.”

Meanwhile, the LNP’s shadow minister for Northern Australia said she was blown away by local efforts after visiting the region.

“The work that’s already been done by Cook Shire road crews to restore access is nothing short of amazing and they are making great progress moving hundreds of tonnes of silt, rocks and timber,” said Senator Susan McDonald.

Senator Susan McDonald (second from right) with volunteer Zara and flood victims Rose and Gusto in Ayton.

She spent Thursday in Ayton, Rossville and Bloomfield with mayor Peter Scott, LNP Senate candidate Andrew Cripps and staff from the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, inspecting recovery efforts and speaking to victims, some who had lost everything.

“It’s been really humbling to see such strong, selfless grassroots support in true Australian spirit,” Senator McDonald said.

“I spoke to people who suffered sheer terror as they clung to their roofs hoping a tree didn’t smash into their homes before they could be rescued.

“The QRA has been very active in assessing damage and managing equipment and manpower.”

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