This column was published in the NT Sun on March 27 2018.
‘COMMUNITY’ COMES TO THE FORE
Cyclone Marcus which hit on Saturday March 17 2018, left a significant imprint on the Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield communities. Few places were spared the impact of fallen trees with downed powerlines creating hazards in many areas. Water quality was compromised and power outages in some places extended to several days. Transportation services were disrupted and movement made risky because of footpath and road blockages.
The impact of the cyclone lead to all schools being closed on Monday March 19, with a significant number still shut on Tuesday March 20. Moil, Wagaman and several preschools remain closed on March 21. It is fortunate that damage to school buildings was minimal. The major problem was that of power loss, which for some schools stretched over four days.
Shade sails and playground equipment proved vulnerable to gale force winds and uprooted trees. Many school yards and student outdoor recreational areas were rendered inaccessible because of fallen trees and vegetation debris. Security was compromised for those schools, preschools and childcare centres where falling trees crushed perimeter fencing.
Against this backdrop of devastation and confusion, the Territory sense of community came to the fore. From late on Saturday afternoon, principals were getting across restoration needs. Teachers and administrative staff contributed as they could, juggling personal domestic needs with a keen desire to support school restoration. Many schools were supported with cleaning up by parents and community members who volunteered time and equipment to help with this daunting task.
The clean-up needs in school grounds and surrounds was supported by Australian Defence Force members and American Marines. Education Minister Eva Lawler was to the forefront in keeping the community appraised of school restoration and reopening schedules. There was no lack of information or awareness.
There is an immediate need for school tree management policies to be revised. Currently, pruning and trimming, is an annual requirement. But that does not go far enough.
The NT Government is considering the removal of mahogany trees in public places. This should be extended to include the removal of all mahogany trees from school yards. Black wattle and red gum trees should be included, for both pose dangers.
Funding could be provided for school councils to undertake this work, or a ‘whole of government’ contract let to remove tree hazards from all schools.
It’s time to secure school grounds and surrounds by removing all hazardous trees.