Anzac Day 2021: Kalbarri and emergency services unite to mark day as town rebuilds after cyclone Seroja
The cyclone-ravaged community of Kalbarri has turned out in droves to honour Anzac Day, a fortnight on from the natural disaster that left them reeling.
A crowd of hundreds gathered around the Kalbarri War Memorial as local veterans, medal-wearing descendants of former diggers and emergency service workers who have helped the town in its cyclone recovery proudly marched down the main street.
At the end of the service, the audience gave all emergency personnel — with DFES, SES, police and St John Ambulance present — a rousing round of applause. Notably absent from the 11am service were personnel from the Australian Defence Force. It is understood they had been invited to participate in the march. The Army was present at the town’s 6am dawn service, but not for the later event. The Department of Defence has been contacted for comment.
During his speech, local RSL representative Alex Hack said the town would weather this latest storm and could draw upon the inner strength shown by diggers in times of crisis and adversity.
“Many of you will be suffering emotionally, not only for what’s happened to you but very often what’s happened to some of your friends. Many of you will block it out in the months and years to come. But remember we are all different. If you have a shoulder to cry on, you should be OK. If not, it will certainly help,” he said.
Four-year-old Noah Ralph proudly wore the World War I Gallipoli medals on his small chest that belonged to his great great grandfather. His father Ian Ralph wore the World War II medals from Borneo awarded to his grandfather.
“We take part in the march every year ... it’s a way to remember them, I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and now Noah is,” Ian Raph said.
“We owe our fallen diggers so much and it’s great that we can honour our emergency services for the magnificent job they’ve done for our community.”
The Ralph family emerged from the cyclone relatively unscathed, with Mr Ralph and his father Charlie riding out the massive storm on the water, camping out on board a 76-foot boat in rough seas.
After the 11am service, the community enjoyed a barbecue lunch cooked by local volunteers.
POIGNANT DAWN SERVICE
In a pitch black Anzac Day dawn service, it could almost have been the Kalbarri of old.
A large crowd gathered at the local war memorial, with an outline of the town’s beautiful bay barely visible nearby and a solemn but resilient mood in the air, which also carried a waft of the nearby sausage sizzle.
Even before the sun fully rose, the scars left by cyclone Seroja could be made out – piles of debris, downed trees, taped-off property, bent signs and the hum of generators.
They (Diggers) lost a lot more than we ever did. I think Kalbarri already had a very strong resilient spirit and this just reinforced that.
But for the seaside holiday town mostly still without power, Anzac Day 2021 was as powerful as it gets.
Two weeks after cyclone Seroja left the town shattered, Anzac Day was a bright spark for the community, a reason to come together and continue healing and to draw on the Digger spirit of resilience and mateship.
The words of the Ode of Remembrance, the haunting sounds of the Last Post and the raising of the Australian flag had an extra special meaning for this mighty town and the more than 200 people who came out for the dawn service.
Making the occasion even more poignant was the presence of Army personnel and emergency workers who are in town helping with the cyclone clean-up, which has already made great strides in a fortnight.
During the dawn service Anglican Minister David Day said it was appropriate with so many members in the crowd to say a prayer for first responders. “Gracious God first responders have such dangerous jobs, help them to dwell in your shadow, may you always be their refuge in difficult situations,” he read.
For family of four David Booth, partner Lisa Kerridge and their two daughters Tayla, 8, and Olivia, 6, it was their first Anzac Day in Kalbarri after moving to town last year.
Two weeks ago, they lost their home when the 170km/h cyclonic winds pummelled the town.
“We’re doing OK, we’ve got some temporary accommodation … my dad lost his house too,” Mr Booth said.
“I’ve always been to dawn services since I was a kid … this one means a lot, definitely. Last year we were in the driveway and we will all remember this one for a long time too. It was great to be among the community, to come together.
“It’s a bit overwhelming not knowing exactly what the next step is, but everybody is helping each other which is good.”
Mr Booth said his family was thankfully out of town during the cyclone. “I work in Africa and I was in quarantine and they (Lisa and the kids) made the call to come down (to Perth) to pick me up and if you saw our house it was a good call. We might not be here telling the story,” he said.
A Kalbarri local, who did not want to be named, said today felt like Kalbarri was reclaiming a bit of normality. She said the town had a long road ahead to recover, but Anzac Day and what it represented helped put things into perspective.
“They (Diggers) lost a lot more than we ever did,” she said.
“I think Kalbarri already had a very strong resilient spirit and this just reinforced that.”
The local woman said the physical rebuild would take its course, but she worried a less obvious impact — people’s mental health and delayed shock to the natural disaster.
Another unnamed local said the town just “rolled with it” and got on with it. “I think we turned the corner on the Monday morning (the day after the cyclone),” he said.
Sgt Alex Driscoll, Cpl Connor Stanton and Cpl Blake Hodgson, from the Pilbara Regiment, arrived in town a few days ago but the town’s characters and spirit have already moved and inspired them.
“It’s definitely been a different experience and I think you guys have absolutely killed it,” Cpl Stanton said.
Cpl Hodgson added: “It’s definitely a proud moment helping the community and sharing this (Anzac Day) with them.”
Sgt Driscoll said “100 per cent” the town had made its way into all their hearts. “The characters in this town are amazing … we’re from Karratha and Port Hedland and we’re all talking about coming back and getting a little Airbnb. It’s so beautiful here, everyone knows everyone,” he said.
“I love these small communities, you can see their strength and especially with what’s happened now for us to be here it means so much.”
Alex Hack founded Kalbarri’s RSL sub branch two years ago, and agreed today carried an extra special layer of meaning. He was confident the turnout for the dawn service was the town’s biggest ever.
“Anzac Day demonstrates resilience, refusal to give in and survival if you think about it … a lot of people here are suffering to some degree mentally,” he said. “I get strength from the fact that my dad was on the Kokoda track and I think if he got through that what have I got to worry about? But that doesn’t mean that if some people break down that they are weak, that’s them. We’re not all the same.”
RSL associate member and dawn service MC Graham Dunn said Anzac Day events in Kalbarri almost didn’t happen, but was organised at “short notice”.
“There’s no doubt the town needed this … under these circumstances anything that brings the community together is a real bonus,” he said. “And we’re so grateful we had the ADF with us, to join us.”
The end of the dawn service was marked with a spine-tingling and spontaneous performance of the Haka by New Zealand ex-pat Spencer Greaves.
“It sort of comes from the soul,” he said. “One of the Army came over after and said thank you so that meant a lot … it takes a lot of people to come together to rebuild from something like this.”
His partner Ashe Young said the town was grateful. “We all personally felt like we had something to be extremely grateful for in the moment, not just in the past but in the present,” she said.
When asked how his family had fared in the cyclone, Mr Greaves was matter-of-fact, with his response summing up his adopted town’s spirit. “We lost our roof and stuff, but we’re still singing songs and smiling,” he said.
Kalbarri will continue its Anzac Day commemorations with a march and service at 11am.
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