DEATH TOLL WILL BE MUCH HIGHER
Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.
The Kiwis flew over Vanuatu’s southern island of Tanna to record cyclone Pam’s devastation, but Tanna’s topography allows for more protection than most of the northern islands where the real death toll will rise dramatically.
When I took my Jetranger to Vanuatu to start a tourism business the Government legally commandeered it, saying, “you must now fly it where we say to fly it or we will get someone else to fly it”... they were right, my tourism business soon became a mostly unpaid, full-time search and rescue business.
My house overlooking Port Vila bay shook violently each night, shifting furniture around and breaking stuff, but my 100 kilo pet bush pig, Murphy, never batted an eyelid, he was used to the earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis that bedevil this archipelago.
Up until May each year there were regular cyclones that stripped every tree of its birds, and branches and lifted boats in the air to spin off their moorings while parts of houses whizzed by horizontally.
By Spring everything was back to normal.
But Pam was a super cyclone and most of the smaller northern islands will have been flattened beyond recognition. Without satellite phones or airstrips, their only hope is a helicopter.
This is a land of death and disaster. In the aftermath of a catastrophic tsunami in The Banks, a remote archipelago south west of the Solomons, in 1998 (not reported here) only the steeple of a church remained above the mountains of sand dumped on the village by the massive rotating wave. I got there to find people were dying from horrific injuries.
But they would not allow me to transport the injured back to Port Vila hospital until all the dead were returned to their islands of birth.
Dumping mangled bodies from a net sling on to other island communities didn’t work because most natives wouldn’t accept them, so I dumped them on a remote beach somewhere and tore back to pick up the injured.
Unfortunately, most of the seriously injured were now dead and, after returning to Santo to refuel, I had to start over again.
In the end no-one was saved. But this is Vanuatu where life seems less important.
Australia’s base aid package of $60 million a year is mostly lost in corruption and much of the extra emergency material aid, in cases such as this, is lost in bureaucracy.
I received no help from the Government, my nets, strops, and rope ladders I made myself by hand. I bought my own inflatable rafts and other much needed equipment.
So you can imagine my delight when I found $100 grand worth of Australian-donated search and rescue equipment gathering dust at the back of a hangar at the airport.
There were inflatables, navaids, medical supplies, nets, a generator, lights, survival suits and every type of tool needed in an emergency. I called the Minister for Home Affairs and he turned up in a singlet to tell me the price to me was 1 million vatu. After calling him a dark female genital part, I suspect it’s all still there.
Recently, my co-pilot and drinking mate, known as Shags, crashed and died still trying to save a few more natives from their acts of God.