19 December 2023

Heroes come to the fore as Far North Queensland faces disaster (VIDEOS)

| Matt Nicholls
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Gav Dear helped save the lives of several people around the Lion’s Den Hotel on Monday, December 18.

How bloody good are the people of Cape York!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going and we sure do have a lot of tough nuts in the Cape.

You can’t hide from the fact that the events of the past few days have been absolutely devastating for the region and Far North Queensland as a community.

Lives will probably be lost, hundreds of homes have been lost to flooding and thousands will find themselves displaced.

There’s no other way to describe it other than to call it a tragedy.

But even amongst all of the carnage and sadness emerges good news and that’s what I want to write about in the very early hours of Tuesday morning.

This piece is dedicated to the local heroes who have gone above and beyond to make sure their neighbours – and in some cases, complete strangers – are safe during this disaster.

I want to kick it off with a shoutout to Gavin Dear, who saved the lives of several people on Monday by picking them up in his tinnie.

“There was a rumour that people were stranded on the roof of the Lion’s Den Hotel,” he told ABC on Monday night.

“We grabbed a tinnie and launched it.

“This was a sea of water like you wouldn’t believe.

“We were heading towards the Den, we could see people on the roof and thought ‘oh god’.

“Then we heard ‘help! help!’ from trees.

“We got the first fella out and then went back to get a second bloke, he was in a pretty rough state, we thought he was in hypothermia — this fellow was in uncontrollable shakes.”

It was even more dire at the Lion’s Den.

“The story always has been up here, that the biggest flood went halfway up the bar,” Gavin said.

“But in this flood, there were 16 people on the apex of the Lion’s Den roof, hanging on.”

Then came a little mustering helicopter.

“I must say that this fella is the real hero of the story, his name is Magoo,” Gavin said.

“He made 16 trips and landed on that roof in the pissing rain, where no other chopper pilot would fly.

“He rescued every one of those people. While we were rescuing these other dudes, he was just running people back and forward.”

How bloody good!

Magoo was also involved in another rescue, having made the trip out to Melsonby Range Station on Sunday to rescue two Traditional Owners, who had slept on the roof after the Normanby River broke its banks.

When no one else would go, it was Magoo who took the risk and whisked them away to the nearby Normanby Station.

Larry MacBano and his uncle Bulla spent the night on a roof at the remote Melsonby Range Station until they were rescued by ‘Magoo’ on Sunday afternoon.

There are countless heroes, but Alec Dunn and Jessie McIntosh also deserve plenty of praise.

Here is an email we received on Monday evening from Joh Anthonis, the CEO of the Wujal Wujal Justice Group:

I just wanted to give you a quick story on a true Bloomfield hero who’s selflessly put himself at risk throughout the floods, saving people off rooftops by boat: Alec Dunn, son of local fishermen Bill Dunn and his wife Michelle. His parents’ house, who live on the South bank of the Bloomfield river (Degarra) went completely under water last night, along with several others, but I believe he plucked them out of a tree to safety and continued throughout the morning getting other people off their rooftops. No SES, as their flood boat went to Cairns years ago for maintenance and never came back (I believe also because of a lack of local certified SES members/operators. So just Alec (and maybe his dad?) going about rescuing people. They say not to do this, but when the SES can’t get to you, what do you do? I don’t have much more information at this stage, internet has only just come back on this morning, but I’ve heard from several people that Alec was up and about saving people. And apparently he’s still going now. I think this bloke should get a medal or something. I doubt he’d be interested in that sort of recognition, but I think he should be commended anyway. The situation is still pretty dire here and throughout the region, but it’s bloke like Alec that help keep people’s heads above water (literally!). Hope he gets to them all.

How bloody good!

Alec Dunn is considered a local legend in Rossville/Ayton after rescuing many people on Monday, December 18.

And when asked to nominate local heroes, this is what Sarah Martin submitted:

So many people – Ariah Bolton-Olsen and the couple of Cooktown SES volunteers working into the night sandbagging and supporting. Eddie Cridland at the IGA offering free food to the volunteers. Arthur Cranston at the Bowls Club also offering free food despite his premises going under. The hundreds of donations pouring into the PCYC for the evacuees. Beau Peberdy, Chook Walker and Kathrina Southwell rescuing all the wildlife. The Bakery mopping up after being flooded and getting straight back to providing fresh bread for the community. Julie, Bradley and Kelly at the Ayton Store for driving through the flood to keep the Wujal store open as long as possible. Matt Nicholls for keeping us all informed and providing an invaluable link between family, friends and emergency services. Magoo for endless chopper runs rescuing people despite the risk. The Council crew out in the rain sandbagging, clearing gutters, trying to keep our town water on and more.

We also got a nomination for Luke and Ally Quartermaine, and Jack Pantovic for helping rescue people near Bibhoora on the outskirts of Mareeba.

I had a good chat with Luke last night so we’ll publish that story separately later today.

Many champions have been missed in this story, but it just goes to show the spirit of Cape York residents and the resilience of our people.

When people ask me why I’ve spent 10 years working in the Cape, this is the reason I give them.

“It’s the people.”

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