THE past 12 months have been a mixed bag for the communities affected by Ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja.
As some people still struggle with their insurance providers to receive the amount that is rightfully owed to them so they can rebuild and move on with their lives, others have now completed that process and are ready to start anew.
Members from the local community and State and local government representatives attended a local recovery meeting and workshop at the Mingenew Recreation Centre on Monday to discuss the challenges still facing the towns affected by the natural disaster, which left a damage footprint about 700 kilometres long and 150km wide throughout the Mid West, Gascoyne and Wheatbelt.
With April 11 marking a year since the cyclone devastated the region, Shire of Northampton president Liz Sudlow said the date was likely to be quite difficult for those who hadn't made a great deal of progress in their recovery and rebuilding process over the past year.
"Given the current situation that the world is in, with the pandemic and floods happening on the east coast, it may well be that the recovery process ends up taking longer than it would have ordinarily," Ms Sudlow said.
"Obviously there have been delays with some people's insurance, and delays in acquiring trades people and getting building materials etc. and while that's very frustrating we can't worry about what we can't control.
"One year on, I think it is important to focus on how our community has banded together and worked within the capacity we have and the resources we have to rebuild."
From her personal experience, Ms Sudlow said delays in receiving engineer reports for two houses on her farms in Northampton as well as units in Kalbarri, were holding up the rebuilding process.
"Anecdotally, there are probably equal amounts of people who have completed their renovations and rebuilding and people that are still waiting," she said.
From a Shire perspective, Ms Sudlow said the progress on the town's heritage buildings, which include Chiverton House, a museum in the main street of Northampton and the Alma School, which was formerly a one teacher, weatherboard building, had been even slower due to the specific guidelines around rebuilding and what materials could be used.
"It's been hard to find builders who are happy to renovate heritage buildings and get those specific materials that keep in line with the age of those buildings, so we are also dealing with those sorts of issues," she said.
"The pub in Northampton, which is privately owned, also had major damage so we are hoping that the person that has purchased that will renovate it because it's another significant building in the main street of our town."
With the Shire of Northampton encompassing the popular tourist destinations of Horrocks, Port Gregory, Kalbarri and Northampton, Ms Sudlow said there was still a dire need for accommodation, particularly in Kalbarri, for both incoming tradespeople and also for the town's own local employees.
"My understanding is that there are a number of people who have been forced to leave town because the house that they were renting has been sold or put on Airbnb for short-term holiday accommodation, so that's quite unfortunate," Ms Sudlow said.
"The issue in Kalbarri is also two-fold, because prior to the cyclone there was a State government election promise to put in some accommodation for employees in the town because State-based tourism was going crazy as a result of the lockdowns...then the town also needs to house the tradespeople who are doing the rebuild."
Ms Sudlow said about 30 units had been made available for tradespeople involved in the rebuild at the Kalbarri Beach Resort and that the GMA Garnet Mine had secured half of those.
Early last month the State government announced it was seeking registrations of interest from suitably qualified proponents to acquire Crown land and develop a multi-user workforce accommodation facility in Kalbarri.
At about 6740 square metres, the site on Woods Street is centrally located within walking distance of Kalbarri's shopping, hospitality, recreation and beach areas.
The future accommodation is being designed to assist in housing seasonal workers and tradespeople.
Under the State and Commonwealth disaster funding arrangements, the Shires of Perenjori, Morawa, Mingenew and Northampton have also been provided the opportunity to secure four caravans, to help provide workers accommodation within each of their towns.
Attending the local recovery meeting in Mingenew on Monday morning along with Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) commissioner Darren Klemm, State Recovery Controller for Seroja, Melissa Pexton said the Mingenew and Perenjori Shires had taken up that offer, purchasing the caravans and putting them in their local caravan parks, while the other Shires all had the approvals in place for the workers accommodation in the case they decide to take part in the program it in the future.
"We have committed to some funding but it needs to be demand driven - so those local governments are the ones on the ground monitoring what the needs are in the community, where the workforce is coming from and what sort of accommodation is required," Ms Pexton said.
Following a tour of the Mid West in February in which DFES met with affected community members to help raise awareness of the recovery grant packages available to them, Ms Pexton said they had seen a lift in the number of people engaging for the first time, in not only the DFES recovery and resilience grant program, but also the small business and primary producer grants being administered by the various agencies.
Heavily involved in the recovery process, after being on the ground in Kalbarri four days after the cyclone tore through the Mid West, Ms Pexton said the outlook of community members had been quite varied.
"Everyone you talk to is different, but there's definitely an understanding now of how long a recovery can take," she said.
"When you're first hit by a natural disaster I think there is this initial thought that life will get back to normal very quickly, but what is a common sentiment across all of these communities is that unfortunately, in reality, that isn't always the case.
"There are people who are a little bit worn down and that is absolutely understandable when you think about some of the engagements around insurance and the run around that they have had.
"Those face-to-face interactions and that support that is available becomes a really critical element to them feeling like they can keep going - and that can be formally through our community recovery officers, but also neighbour to neighbour and the community helping one another out."
Ms Pexton said she had been pleased to see the local governments starting to take charge of each of their community's recovery processes.
"I'm a big believer that wisdom always sits in the community and it gets to the point that it's inappropriate for our team to be stepping in and making decisions for communities that will own this for a really long time," she said.
"We've had workshops in Northampton, Chapman Valley and now in Mingenew that have been supported and facilitated by the State team, but where the input has come from the grassroots level, so that the issues that each community knows are important are being prioritised."
With reports of the Mingenew region receiving anywhere between 50-80mm at the end of March and start of April, Shire of Mingenew chief executive Nils Hay said, as an agricultural community, it was important that the sector did well as it had flow-on effects to businesses and throughout the broader region as well.
"The fact it was a really positive season and harvest was great and the rain also meant we had a really good wildflower season, so there were some positive things that happened over the past year," Mr Hay said.
"If the past week is any indication of what the year is going to look like from a rain point of view, I think there will also be plenty to look forward to for our farmers and wildflowers this season as well.
"Last year's Mingenew Midwest Expo was also probably a bigger than usual event, and I think that was in part because of COVID and Seroja.
"Through that expo we were able to donate $50,000 back to the Lord Mayor's Distress Relief Fund which went back into helping people who were affected by the cyclone."
Mr Hay said there was a lot of cause for optimism within the region, with the Shire leasing the town's old National Australia Bank to the Mingenew CRC and the North Midlands Project, a community not-for-profit based in Carnamah, and the groups to set up the space as a new community hub for arts and culture projects and events.
"The town's historic railway station is also being set up as an arts and cultural space and we also have a stargazing event at the end of the month out at the satellite tracking station which is part of our ongoing efforts to grow astro-tourism in the region," Mr Hay said.
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