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Opinion: WALGA & Morawa Shire president Karen Chappel on the community resilience and slow rebuild from Seroja

Karen ChappelGeraldton Guardian
A home in Morawa hit by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja.
Camera IconA home in Morawa hit by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja. Credit: Dana Hurst

It is April 2023.

Town ovals have sprung to life again in anticipation of the 2023 winter sports seasons.

Seeding is under way, school holidays are in full swing, Youth Week begins on Friday, and there is a noticeable increase in the number of grey nomads heading north.

Many communities are taking advantage of next week’s solar eclipse and are hosting astro tourism events.

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It all seems very normal – the ebbs and flows of the life we love here in the Mid West.

At home the final barge boards are being fitted in place to mark the end for me of a long rebuild in the wake of the devastation left by ex-tropical Cyclone Seroja.

Two years ago, with the threat of a cyclone looming off the Mid West-Gascoyne coast, the mood in Morawa was one of disbelief.

For a cyclone to impact the Mid West coast was a shock. For it to impact inland communities was a stretch too far in the minds of many.

But it did, and two years on, the scars of that day can still be seen through the veil of normality which has returned to our region.

Northampton and Kalbarri bore the brunt of Seroja and while those communities keep on keeping on, the infrastructure – the homes, the pub, the businesses – can seem a long way from recovered.

There have been myriad reasons why the rebuild has taken so long; the shortage of tradies, supply chain issues, escalating costs and lengthy negotiations with insurance companies.

For those with roofs still to be sealed, walls to be fixed, fences to be erected and essential services to be restored, it can be a frustrating wait.

It is estimated the rebuild will take another 12 months and it is good to see two years on, the State Government is still pitching in funding to help the local governments at the coalface get the job done.

All affected local governments in the area are working hard to finish the rebuild and pick up the pieces in their communities.

But the beautiful thing about living in a country town is you always have a neighbour to lean on and the knowledge that as a community, you are all going through it together.

This is what got us through the initial shock on day one. It is what got us through the days with no power, no water and little communication with the outside world, and it is what has got us through the long rebuild.

Shock — the feeling we all felt that day — is tough to process, but thankfully it is not one we had to process alone.

When local government leaders gathered six months after Seroja struck, the grief and emotion was evident.

Listening to Northampton Shire chief executive Garry Keefe describe with raw emotion the toll that day took on his community was tough.

In a room full of people who consider themselves tough, resilient, rural community leaders there was barely a dry eye to be seen.

Moving forward, we will still take time to reflect around the bar, on the main street, or over the two-way, but in doing so we heal.

That veil of normality — the footy, the netball, the community gatherings, the seeding, the tourists — is all a result of the strong communities we have built here standing up in the face of adversity, rolling their sleeves up and moving forward together.

Cr Karen Chappel is president of the WA Local Government Association and Shire of Morawa

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