Teenager Trayeden Fulmer uses social media to round up volunteers as Townsville cleans up
In the wake of the horrendous floods in Townsville, volunteers are rolling up their sleeves to help. (ABC Western Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)
Trayeden Fulmer is a typical 15-year-old.
He goes to high school and works a couple of part-time jobs, but he has become something of a local hero in Townsville.
He started a Facebook page to try to rally volunteers to help recover after the floods, and now he is running a crew of about 60 volunteers — all of them older than he is, including one of his teachers from Kirwan State High School.
Trayeden said while his own home was high and dry, he wanted to help people whose homes had been inundated by floodwaters and knew a coordinated effort would be better than being out on his own without extra manpower.
Trayeden Fulmer (centre) is just 15 years old, but the teenager has pulled together 60 volunteers to help after the floods. (ABC Western Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)
He said the community support had been fantastic, and that every day more people had been messaging the Facebook page volunteering to help.
Most volunteers have been aged 20–30, and have been from a mix of backgrounds and professions.
Trayeden said as well as his hands-on role in the clean-up effort, he had been very busy reaching out to Townsville locals and coordinating other volunteers.
“A lot of it has been getting in communication with people who may need some assistance, then organising the teams to get out and help those people,” he said.
“Not many people are game enough to ask for help — they always think someone is worse off than them.”
Feeling the emotional impact
With some homes completely inundated by floodwaters, and others experiencing a few centimetres of water through their homes, there has been a huge variety of work for Trayeden’s volunteers.
From ripping up flooring and throwing away furniture and electrical goods, to mopping, scrubbing and mould removal — there has been no shortage of work to do.
Trayeden said he knew the physical work would be hard, but it was the emotional toll which has been hitting volunteers hardest.
“We’re seeing a lot of mud through houses — two to three inches deep of mud,” he said.
“It’s seeing people who are losing sentimental items, and seeing the emotions people have connected to those things.
“We’ve had quite a few people who have cried and gotten quite emotional.”
With school shut, Trayeden said he knew he was making good use of his free time before he was back in classes.
Flying in to help
Among the volunteers was Aidan Bliesner, a Brisbane man who flew up for the weekend to help with the clean-up.
Aiden Bliesner flew up from Brisbane for the weekend to help with the flood clean-up. (ABC Western Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)
When Mr Bliesner was 15 years old, the same age as Trayeden, he lost his home in the 2011 Brisbane floods.
Now 23, he said as soon as he heard about the devastation in Townsville, he booked his plane tickets, packed a bag of clothes to donate, picked up some vinegar and cleaning supplies, and got ready to help.
“My family and I went through the floods in 2011 and we lost our family home,” Mr Bliesner said.
“The support we had from the community and friends and family was overwhelming and it’s what helped my mum and dad get back on their feet.
“I thought it was time to pay it forward and help out.”
Despite being unable to take time off from his full-time job, Mr Bliesner said flying up on Saturday and returning home on Sunday was better than not coming at all.
He said bringing his own experiences, he was able to relate to the victims he was helping, including Railway Estate resident Eddie, who the crew were assisting on Saturday.
Eddie’s roof began collapsing during the monsoonal rains, and while floodwaters did not enter his home, rain quickly fell from above onto his belongings. (ABC Western Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)
“[In 2011] we fled, we just grabbed what we could in the car, and I remember listening to the radio and the news that the river had burst its banks and the water was coming,” Mr Bliesner said.
“Before we knew it, the whole street was gone.
“I remember when he [dad] took me up there, and seeing the markings on the wall of all the furniture that had floated into the ceiling and how much devastation it was.
“I remember the smell. It’s something that’s here as well … you never get over it.”
Giving Eddie a helping hand
Benefitting from Trayeden and his group of willing volunteers was Eddie, a senior man who requires a walking stick.
Eddie’s roof began collapsing during the heavy rains, and while floodwaters did not enter his home from the ground, a deluge of rain poured through his ceiling and destroyed its contents.
He has only access to emergency accommodation until Monday, and thanks to the help of volunteers it is expected his home will be ready for him to move back in.
Eddie support’s worker, Karen Schwier, was on-hand at the clean-up and said volunteers like Trayeden were “incredible” for less mobile residents like Eddie who were unable to do the clean-up of their properties themselves.
“He [Eddie] has had water damage through the roof, and he was evacuated from his premises,” she said.
“He is a beautiful man. It’s devastating to see the heartbreak and that he’s homeless, basically, until we can get his home up and running.
“With the crew that’s come by today, we’ve had about 20 people through helping, it’s been a full gut on the house.
“The team have been amazing … it’s all emotional and really hits the heartstrings.”
Also volunteering at Eddie’s home was Jules Robertson, an aged care worker who has been a Townsville local her entire life.
Townsville resident Eddie is flanked by an army of volunteers. Left of Eddie is his support worker, Karen Schwier, and on the right is local volunteer, Jules Robertson. (ABC Western Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)
Ms Robertson said her house was only impacted in a minor way, so she pulled on her gloves and volunteered to help other locals who were not as fortunate.
“I had a little bit of water come in from the backyard to the house, but nothing like what people have out here,” she said.
“It’s so devastating. You can watch it on TV but until you actually get out into the community … you don’t know.
“I’ve got the weekend off so I’m here to do as much as I can on my days off.
“Eddie is a lovely man, I’ve had a big chat with him today and a few hugs … it’s just heartbreaking.”