I am guest blogger today for a blog hop (virtual book tour) and launch of the eBook After Yasi by June Perkins. This is the full transcript of our interview.
Your book is called ‘After Yasi’, so could you tell me about what your life was like before the cyclone and what it is like now (I interviewed a group of 25 women in the Philippines who had endured Typhoon Yolanda and asked them this same question)?
Before the cyclone I was busy raising my family and quietly doing creative projects with poetry and photography and my writing group in the community and trying to generate more income to contribute to my family’s wellbeing. My husband was a local teacher, and much loved by his students and their family. My children were attending a small local primary school surrounded by cane fields, and my eldest was about to start year 11 at high school. They were all doing reasonably at school, with the two youngest in particular doing very well.
After the cyclone our family had to replace many essential things we lost, and live with friends for a while. We had to move house twice in year. But considered ourselves blessed as some people were living in caravans and temporary structures and garages waiting for rebuilds. We received some unexpected financial help from charities and friends to replace some of the larger items. This was such a moving experience and we will all never forget this help from organisations such as the Salvos and Red Cross.
I used my creative projects to support the recovery of the community and developed further skills in community journalism, exhibiting, song writing and film. I was invited to guest blog for ABC Open, which was an amazing experience and led to six months working for them on another project encouraging regional writers. This culminated in an Australia Day award, which is something I would never have expected. Many others were also honoured for cyclone recovery work, including young people who had spontaneously assisted.
What, if anything do you miss the most about ‘before Yasi’? is it a way of life, a feeling, a relationship or a possession?
Cyclone Yasi woke me up a lot to needing to do more of my creative work with greater confidence and commitment to make a difference to other’s lives well beyond what I had done before. It gave me a focus that wasn’t there before and helped me tap into my inner strength and recognise the capacity for community spirit in many around me. Many of my friendships deepened after the cyclone and we completed projects we had spoken about for years (such as a photography exhibition for Indigenous women.) I also set a goal to become financially equal to my husband, which I still have a long way to go, but I kept thinking about how I would have coped without my partner there financially, emotionally and spiritually.
We were very committed to staying and making sure that others were alright, even though it might have been easier to leave straight after the cyclone and return to our extended family networks for support. I had many parents come up to me, keen to know that my husband would still be teaching at the highschool.
My children although unsettled did well at school, but gained a lot from the special visitors we had to our area, like musicians Phil Emmanuel, Graeme Connors, and cricketer Damien Martyn. We took part in the local cricket community as my youngest son took it up.
However, my eldest son did his final year by distance education as he missed so much high school during year 11, through migraines and other physical ailments. We do not know how much of this was because of the cyclone and how much was that he was finding it hard living in a country area. Straight after the cyclone I remember him falling asleep all over the place as a kind of stress reaction. He didn’t talk about the cyclone as much my youngest son either.
The cyclone happened in 2011, almost 4 years ago, how have your feelings of the impact of the cyclone changed or evolved during this time?
It was a massive wake up call for many to assess their priorities in life and many of my friends went through some massive changes, including relationship breakups, job changes and making decisions to contribute time to community development (like you Mel). Several families moved out of the area for opportunities for their children and to live closer to their extended families (if they were not strongly local).
I found that Filipino kids were terribly frightened by the typhoon and grieved over the loss of things like school books and toys. How old were your kids Ben, Sheridan and Sandon at the time of Yasi? Do you think that their feelings about Yasi were or are different to yours?
My eldest played his guitar all the time, and made sure we took those out of the house when we had to shift locations during the eye of the storm. It was the most important thing to him to still be able to play his guitar. He still does that to this day.
The children didn’t care about the loss of things at all, they are pretty detached from material things, but they did grieve for their pet bird that died, and for their guinea pigs who died a year after the cyclone and had been through it with them.
My youngest had a terrible year the year after cyclone yasi in a new school after one of our house shift, and we had to eventually shift him to another school, which funnily enough I had covered in one of my video documentaries as the place operation angel helped the community. The community spirit there was awesome and he had a wonderful year in that school community, for his final year of primary school. Two years after the cyclone my daughter started to do not so well at school, which was a surprise to us all. In Brisbane she is now doing very well, straight A student, and has been accepted to a design excellent program at her school.
Is there anything you would do differently in the lead up to Cyclone Yasi?
I wish I had already been more confident in my life generally and had made sure my eldest son was happier at school and in life before and after the cyclone. I did do the best I could but wish I could have done better.
Since we lived in Brisbane he has begun to blossom. He was finding it tough before Cyclone Yasi as he never really fitted into his high school.
How do you feel about the response of government, charities and insurance companies to the victims of Yasi? Do you think anything has improved since 2011.
We didn’t have insurance, so I can’t comment on that, only to say without the help from government and charity we would have really struggled to replace our household goods.
The first government assistance we collected was stressful because you had to line up in big cetnres, be interviewed and you still felt a bit traumatised. Later some of the charities visited people in their homes and met with them privately. They gave out counselling tips, listened to you and worked out how they could help.
There were many grants, fund and programs available but it was not always easy for people to know about or to access their funds and many of their programs came a relatively long time after the cyclone from when they would have been most useful.
These focused in key areas of health, industry, environment, and community.
Their criteria often gave no room for individual initiatives of local creatives to be supported. Like people from small business and agriculture their incomes also suffered after the cyclone.
Some of these funds were overseen by panels with little representation of community artists on these decision making bodies of how large amounts of money would be spent. I think the panels should have had a broader representation reflective of the community diversity.
A number of temporary workers were employed for a period of three years, who were supposed to help disperse more of these funds and be close the community pulse of things, but I personally didn’t find consultations with them helpful and felt they lacked imagination and drive to really voice what the community wanted, and gained much more from the work of ABC Open, the already established community development officer of the council who our writing group already had a good relationship with and the ongoing person employed by the Red Cross. She was very open and imaginative in her approaches.
They may have been helpful to others, but everything I was doing they didn’t see as worthy of any financial assistance. So I just found other ways to do the work and sought assistance from community sponsors, my extended family.
On the whole I think more funding should have been given to creating long term sustainable projects in the community, not just short term fixes and there could have been more support of imaginative approaches. I tried to support such initiatives whenever they occurred through documenting them for abc open, Dance for Recovery, was a project I particularly loved.
We had some excellent short term health programs like free sampler tai chi classes, yoga, diet classes which I think could have become a regular annual event.
The visits from cricketers, musicians, and artists organised by groups like Rotary, similarly would have liked to have seen that developed and be regular, as in the years after the cyclone there has sadly been some youth suicides.
Youth in country areas need to have dreams and see a future for themselves – having role models to aspire to show and interest in their community is something I’d like to see more of. I don’t think these suicides are a result of the cyclone necessarily, but more of ongoing issues in country areas.
Creative recovery was an arts project that came in as well as part of a state wide initiative to empower arts worked in disaster areas. They sent someone in from Brisbane to visit us a couple of times, created posters and encouraged community journalists. Some from our community went to conferences to meet other artists. Again that was temporary and I am not sure how this will be mobilised in the future.