JUNGLE DRUM: 'Rain, rain go away, come again another day - it's time to future proof the Douglas Shire'


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Cyclone Jasper and the ensuing rainfall caused havoc across the Shire, including in parts of the Daintree. All pictures: Lawrence Mason BELOW: Mason's pictures show the effects of heavy rainfall last December in the Daintree.

Most years I lament the lack of a good old fashioned wet season.

Not this time! We have had earlier wet seasons, later ones and other big ones, but this one will last some time in our memory.

Around 850mm fell at Cape Tribulation in the 24 hrs to 9am, December 18, 2023, but this is not in any way unprecedented for us.

On December 11, 1981 I recall the massive 818mm drenching, which my late father claimed fell in 16 hours.

And while I was away in Africa in 1996, 745mm fell in 24 hours on March 6. That’s how we got the overtaking lane on Alexandra Range - a giant landslide!

What made this different was the extent of the rain. While we are used to big falls, we usually hear that others not far away were spared.

But in this case, nobody was spared. Huge falls occurred from Cooktown to Cairns and rivers flooded higher than ever before, and landslides were commonplace.

Some places like Ellis Beach had what would be called Lahars elsewhere, but thankfully while these looked like Lahars there was no volcano.

Daintree Tea has a mean rainfall of 3771.1mm while Cape Tribulation has a mean rainfall of 3964.1.

While neither place had more than a year’s rainfall in a month, over 2500mm was recorded. But go to the dryer areas near Cooktown and Cairns and you find monthly falls that are indeed closer to or above annual averages.

I guess the question on everyone’s lips is, can this happen again? The simple answer is yes.

In ‘Rapid Cycles of Episodic Adjustment: Understanding the Holocene fluvial archive of the Daintree River of Northeastern Australia’, Sonia Leonard and Jonathan Nott write ‘Evidence from beach ridges along the coast of the Wet Tropics (Nott and Forsyth, 2012) and δ18O records from a stalagmite from Chillago(sic), 150 km inland from the Daintree catchment (Haig et al.,

2014; Nott et al., 2007), show that intense tropical cyclones have affected the region at centenary scales over the last 5000 years and that the last 100 years has seen the lowest seasonal activity of anytime period in the last 550 years (Haig et al., 2014).

If we are to return to an earlier cycle like the 450 years preceding the last 100, our shire will need to be made significantly more resilient.

We do have a resilient coast strategic plan, but it is overly focussed on storm tide inundation and makes virtually no mention of the issues we have faced in the last three months.

There are no plans to resupply communities cut off by road, no real notion of a disaster like this in the plan. No mention of water issues.

The business-as-usual approach to road repairs and recovery are not fast enough and as a community we need to become involved in planning and demand better.

Locations like Cape Tribulation need to have workable access to beaches and jetty. We are overly reliant on road access. No boat ramps exist north of the river. Even the second road (Bushy Creek) to Port Douglas has been flooding for years, neglected by all levels of government.

And we all know the water supply is deficient. It’s time to plan properly. Please get involved when we do.

*Lawrence Mason has lived at Cape Tribulation all his life, and has been involved in farming, timber and tourism. He is a former board member of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, founding Chair of Daintree Marketing Co-operative, and has been a member of both Alexandra Bay and Mossman State High School P&C. He is also a member of the Douglas Chamber of Commerce and has a keen interest in local issues.

  • A reminder the views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and author only and do not reflect those of the editor or Newsport staff.

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