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Peter's Story

Transcript of an Interview with Peter Arrowsmith on Thursday 24 February 2011

                    Peter is Captain of Berry Springs Volunteer Bushfire Brigade

“A lot of rain on Monday Night. Tuesday morning saw us with some swollen creeks ... Cox Peninsula Road, Hopewell Road both cut. Wednesday there was more of the same ... our days were spent checking creeks between our major access, which was the Stuart Highway, or Cox Peninsula Road making sure that people didn’t try to cross water that was dangerous. On, I think it was Wednesday night an individual tried to cross Hopewell Road at Berry Creek and ended up getting washed off the road, although I did not attend that particular incident and saw it the next day, or was informed of it the next day.

“For the major part my job was to keep Cox Peninsula [Volunteer Bushfire Brigade] and Darwin River [Volunteer Bushfire Brigade] informed of whether or not accessibility was available to Berry Springs, or for that matter Stuart Highway.

“The majority of my job was bogged people in driveways because the ground had become so saturated. It was impassable in most driveways, and even myself, I’ve had to park up the top of our property so that we can access in and out. [Unbogging] six people mainly out of driveways after the water had subsided were most of our callouts. People trying to get in and out of their driveways ... repair people trying to get in to service, get people’s services back up and running, like telephones and power. We’ve also been required to deliver water to places where pumps and stuff have been removed from their moorings ... bridges and rivers of stuff have been washed downstream.

“One driveway I had to attend where there was a tree across the road, the water was coming out the top of the bore better than any windmill or anything else you could name. It was like it was being pushed up ... yeah, it was in actual fact ... but the water just pouring out of the ground itself and running to low lying areas was more water than I’ve seen in a long, long time.

“The cyclone didn’t sort of really hit here all that much, I mean, one or two trees down, branches mainly ... trees being uprooted, but other than assisting people with trees on their fencelines and that there were no actual trees over our major roads anywhere in our area. Like I say, we were pretty lucky here, we sort of missed the brunt of any sort of wind. I have heard stories of other people in the area, who on the night the cyclone hit, apparently at midnight windows were being sucked in and out.”

There was a question here about road conditions:

“There was about 500 mil of water going across the road (Cox Peninsula Road at Berry Creek) at that stage, I mean the last time I went through it was at 400 mil that morning, and then the next morning it was about seven o’clock, half past six that I drove through it was at 400, but people were a bit worried because it looked like the road had lifted, sort of closer to the Wildlife Park end of the bridge and as I went through I found it was only a log lying in the middle of the road. I ran over one end of it, it spun around and washed off the road. People in the high clearance vehicles were able to get through, but anybody in like, a Commodore or family sedan, they had to sit there and I think most of them sat there for quite some time. Vance was taking them across in his tilt tray and then the water came up again for the third time and cut us off again.

“My phone ran hot all day – people were asking mainly road conditions and whether they could get home to Dundee or Mandorah. There was one incident ... a bloke rang me up in my own area too, but unfortunately I couldn’t get anywhere near him and I had to get Dave (Mullavey) to go and see him as the water was coming up into his house and that was the first place on ... I think it was Hopewell Road and after that there were a few more calls in the Darwin River area as to water coming in. At that stage we were pretty lucky ... I don’t know of anybody besides that fellow in the Hopewell area that had trouble with water inside their house.

“I had at one stage had to relay messages from Batchelor to Ray (Nicholls) at Cox Pen because the radio communications were being affected by the weather. He was being hit by some pretty severe winds at the time ... I think around that time they lost power as well ... telecommunications were down.

“[I had] phone calls about whether or not they should evacuate Darwin River. I had one young lady who lived in the Darwin River area, however was nowhere near the river, but was panicking because the radio had said they had to get out. All I could do was the best to reassure her that none of that information was correct to my knowledge, because at that stage we had not been officially told there was any problem, so as far as I was concerned there wasn’t a problem.

“I had Di (Tynan) from Elizabeth Valley (Volunteer Bushfire Brigade) ring me up to say that the ABC had said that Cox Peninsula Road was open when in fact it wasn’t, there was actually a metre over the road at that stage. I also had a call from NT News about the road reports, whether or not people could get access through Cox Peninsula Road or Hopewell Road, and at those times it was very impassable. I think the highest Hopewell Road came up was to one point seven metres (over the bridge) where Cox Peninsula Road went under one point five (over the bridge).

“When Power and Water were trying to get out to Cox Peninsula to fix the power lines ... on the other side, actually of Berry Creek, I had to give Dave a call to find out the condition of Leonino and Chibnall Road and was able to direct PAWC personnel via Chibnall, down through Leonino and out that way to get on to the other side of Berry Creek. [Chibnall] was rough, it was pretty badly cut up ... it had been used for two or three days. It was the only one that was still dry and even that was cut at one stage and Darwin River was isolated for about six hours, you couldn’t get in anywhere.

“They made good use of us this time. I didn’t have to be rung up by anybody to be told to go out there, I just went out there and did it, because as far as I’m concerned it’s part of keeping the public safe. It actually saves you getting called out to pull someone out of a creek that’s tried to go through it, because obviously if you’re parked there and stopping them, which I did on the first day. I stopped people from turning into Hopewell Road because it was already up too high. It was at that stage, though that you could still cross on Cox Peninsula Road so they could get down to Hopewell via Reedbeds. I actually had to sit parked with the lights going and make sure people didn’t try and turn into there.

“The whole exercise, it was a matter of getting out there and doing it. There were people that were stuck, there were people that were in predicaments that required pacifying, if you like.”


Interviewer was Frank Dunstan