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Roadhouse owner with 'nothing left' after Gulf of Carpentaria flooding as residents rally

ABC News (AU) logo ABC News (AU) 21/03/2023
The Tirranna Roadhouse was inundated by floodwaters. (Supplied: Jil Wilson) © Provided by ABC News (AU) The Tirranna Roadhouse was inundated by floodwaters. (Supplied: Jil Wilson)

Jil Wilson can no longer see a future in the home she once considered paradise.  

Where her country roadhouse once stood against the backdrop of bush and vast blue skies, a brown sea of debris and gutted buildings litter the land.

She says "there's nothing left" of her family's Tirranna home and livelihoods in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where fast-flowing floods nearly buried houses earlier this month.

WARNING: This article contains vision that some viewers may find distressing

"The roadhouse will never be a food venue again," Ms Wilson says.

"We can't afford to strip it down. The destruction goes right through our motel rooms and the two businesses we have as well."

The animal farm and garden at Tirranna, used by schools and charities across the region, have also been wiped away, along with their inhabitants.

"There's no power because the solar and the generators are drowned, " Ms Wilson says.

"There's no water because the tanks and pumps are gone.

"The septic and the sewerage have swept through everything."

While her family and colleagues camp out at the property and inspect the stability of buildings, Ms Wilson says she has lost all hope.

"We love this country, we love this life, but to be able to continue living here is nearly impossible to imagine," she says.

Ms Wilson has applauded locals in Burketown who "offered everything".

"The whole town is amazing," she says.

Long road to recovery begins

As Katie Brown rolls up her sleeves on flood-ravaged Escott Station, outside Burketown, the smell of burning rubble fills the air.

"We're starting to burn piles of rubbish and debris, everything else," she says.

"The garden mulch has started to become really rancid.

"It smells like … a rubbish dump."

Efforts to clean up are being hampered by a lack of supplies, with many major roads yet to open to the region.

Ms Brown, along with the rest of the workers at Escott Station, have been flown onto the property and are camping in swags while they clean up.

"It will probably be months before we can actually drive in here … It's a sea," she says.

Her 10-year-old son is living in a caravan with the family's governess at Cloncurry, more than 400 kilometres away.

"We're really lucky. They're just going to the library and doing school [of the air], just carrying on everyday like normal," Ms Brown says.

A surge in solidarity

But amid the dark times, examples of the Australian spirit are shining through.

GoFundMe pages for hard-hit residents are receiving thousands of dollars in donations.

Neighbours are resource-pooling and combining efforts to help rebuild shattered homes.

Helicopter pilots, who have been praised for life-saving efforts throughout the floods, are still working around the clock to get people home and fly-in essential white goods and furniture.

Locals who have been away on holidays are booking flights home so that they can help with the clean-up, while volunteers and emergency services continue to provide supplies to those who have been left homeless.

Some residents who have returned to decimated properties are thrilled that their beloved pets survived.

Staying positive on a 'flood diet'

Ms Brown is among those keeping a positive mindset about the clean-up operations.

"I call it the flood diet. You walk a lot and don't eat much," she says.

"Fitness levels are high … energy and motivation levels definitely depend on the size of the speaker and music playlist."

Meanwhile, local leaders have flown to Canberra to rally the government for more support.

Burke Shire Council Mayor Ernie Camp is calling for more boots on the ground to assist with recovery and a focus on flood-resilience in the region.

"Some of these roads need to be 1.5 metres higher," he says.

"You'll never flood-proof the gulf, but you can make it more resilient."

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