22 December 2023

Wujal Wujal vows to rebuild after flooding forces town to evacuate

| Matt Nicholls
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A Wujal Wujal woman is helped into a Chinook helicopter by Army personnel, including Wujal local Clayton Baird (left).

Just days after her people were sitting on their roofs scared for their lives, Wujal Wujal council CEO Kiley Hanslow is now putting all of her energy into making sure that the community she loves still has a future.

“We need a commitment from our leaders that Wujal Wujal will be looked after,” she said.

“Politicians and governments will have their attention pulled to other things soon enough.

“But we can’t be forgotten.”

Ms Hanslow was speaking to Cape York Weekly from Wujal on Thursday morning, having stayed in the community as evacuations entered their third day.

“I know it’s probably the right thing to do,” she said of moving the townspeople to Cooktown.

“But I’m worried for Wujal and the community.

“We’ve got Christmas coming up and our people are homeless and displaced.

“We should be getting into the clean-up now but we can’t get anyone here to do it.”

There are no services left running in Wujal, except for the Telstra tower.

The only thing working in the community at the moment is the Telstra tower, which actually stood tall during the floods.

It was only the lack of battery life that saw telecommunications cut out. The telco has since flown in to fix a new generator which has a short life due to a smaller-than-usual fuel tank.

“We’ve got no power, no water and no sewerage,” the CEO said.

“But we’d manage if we were given the resources.

“Hopefully they can get a road pushed through soon because I know a lot of people won’t want to be relocated.”

Ms Hanslow has been in contact with almost every government agency and said finding housing for Wujal’s residents was proving a challenge.

Cooktown’s housing situation was already at breaking point before the floods.

“They can’t stay at the PCYC long-term,” Ms Hanslow said.

“I know some people are staying with family but many of them are overcrowded already.

“I’m worried that if people are dispersed all over we’ll lose our community links.

“They are better off being here in community if we can make it work somehow.”

The high water mark is clearly visible at the Wujal Wujal council offices.

Ms Hanslow has only lived in Wujal for 18 months but said she worked in “the best community in the Cape” and was heartbroken by the flooding.

She praised the townsfolk for their selflessness during the emergency.

“I was in the office and I usually work pretty late and all of a sudden there was a knock on the door and I heard ‘you guys have got to come and look at this’,” the CEO said.

“We got in the car and drove down to Cr Robert Bloomfield’s place … water had come up past Aunty Kathleen’s place and was continuing to come up.

“People sprung to action and were getting people to get out and get to higher ground.

“It was ‘get out, get out, move up, move up!’ We have emergency bags in the office so the first thought was to go get them because they have first aid kits in them.

“Our community is really strong and everyone was making sure that everyone else was safe.”

Remarkably, there have been no recorded fatalities at Wujal, with everyone seemingly accounted for.

Cape York Weekly broke the news of Wujal’s plight in the early hours of Monday morning, having taken a 3am phone call from distressed community members stuck on roofs, including nine people on top of the health clinic.

Within hours, the story had made its way to the Premier and Prime Minister’s office and Wujal had become a national story.

Now, Ms Hanslow wants to use the attention for leverage.

“We are going to need a lot of help,” she said.

Wujal residents have been have been evacuated to Cooktown over a three-day period.

Previous requests for support that would have helped Wujal fell on dear ears.

The council applied twice for a grant through the state government’s Gambling Community Benefit Fund, only to be rejected twice.

“We wanted a four-wheel drive bus and a trailer with an emergency kitchen that we could use in instances just like this,” she said.

“We tried to get a bus as cheap as possible and we found what we wanted for under $100,000.

“We thought ‘this is going to be really good for the community’.”

Wujal will still need the bus and it could come in handy soon to transport residents to and from Cooktown as the clean-up and rebuild begins once a road is pushed through.

  • Cape York Weekly editor Matt Nicholls has set up a GoFundMe page to support Wujal and to help buy a bus.

To make a donation, go to www.gofundme.com/f/wujal-wujal-flooding-fundraiser

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