Australia Weather News

Mungar pineapple farmer Colin Hawken is happy with his latest harvest, two years on from a mini tornado that destroyed most of his crop. - ABC

No amount of preparation could have prepared Phil and Kay Smith when a "mini tornado" struck in October 2018, ravaging a narrow band of homes and farms from the South Burnett to the Fraser Coast. 

The supercell swept through the Smiths' property at Yengarie, west of Maryborough, taking most of their pineapple crop with it.

Mr Smith jokes that, two years on almost to the day, he has learnt at least one lesson: "Put better doors on the shed so they don't fly off."

"It hit that quick, you couldn't do anything," he said.

Two years later, just as they are finally reaping the rewards of a lot of sweat and tears, Queensland is gearing up for another storm and bushfire season and the State Government is spreading its 'get ready' message, urging property owners to prepare their homes for potential disaster.

 

The Smiths said nothing could have prevented the devastation on their property two years ago.

"You try and clean up around your house in the storm season, but this just took everything, it didn't matter what you did," Ms Smith said.

"We only found out it was a supercell about three minutes before it hit — the warnings came through on our phones."

Government loans keep farmers 'rolling'

Down the road from the Smiths, Colin and Megan Hawken grow pineapples on their property at Mungar.

The supercell wiped out 80 per cent of their crop — an estimated $500,000 worth of fruit.

Two years on, Colin Hawken is heading to Fraser Island for a weekend with friends — his first break since the disaster.

"We just had to keep going with getting things back on track," he said.

"We were very lucky — one of the local pineapple farmers around here donated planting material to us so we could get started again."

The Federal Government offered low-interest loans through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA).

Mr Hawken borrowed $180,000 to build a new shed and buy new equipment to keep his business going.

The Smiths also took out a QRIDA loan and qualified for the Centrelink Farm Household Allowance.

"Without that help we wouldn't have survived," Kay Smith said.

Disaster sees families 'pull together'

Phil Smith said the first 12 months after the storm [were] "incredibly hard".

"You wonder if you're doing the right thing by replanting, when it could all just go again … And now we need rain — we're back hoping for that to happen," Kay Smith said.

"But you've got to do something; it's our living — so you just keep plodding along.

"This is our 36th year here and we'd never experienced anything like that [supercell], so you hope you've got another 36 years before anything happens again."

Col Hawken said the COVID-19 pandemic had also brought setbacks, with the decline of major markets including the cruise ship industry signalling a glut on the horizon.

But both families said they see a bright long-term future for the pineapple industry.

Megan Hawken said finding positivity each day — even the "small stuff", like their three beloved Labradors — had kept them going.

"There is [mental health] assistance out there," Col Hawken said.

"We haven't needed that — I've got a wonderful family network and the family all pulled together.

"Particularly the wife — she works like a Trojan."

ABC