Northern towns without phone service for two weeks since cyclone

Towns in northwest Queensland have been without consistent phone or internet coverage for a fortnight, leaving residents and businesses without contact and concerned about their safety in emergencies.

Jan 25, 2021, updated Jan 25, 2021
Queenslanders in home quarantine will need to keep their phone handy. (Supplied)

Queenslanders in home quarantine will need to keep their phone handy. (Supplied)

Telstra said severe weather damage from ex-Tropical Cyclone Imogen and its associated low earlier this month left Cloncurry, Normanton and Karumba with sporadic coverage.

However, residents have reported that the issues are abnormal for a regular storm season and they say they have been left helpless as repairs are made.

Leanne Crossland tried to call 000 in Karumba and after several attempts couldn’t reach a signal or be connected to the emergency services.

“There were drunken men on Sunday night driving on the footpath whilst kids were about,” Crossland said.

“Luckily no one was hurt, but what if there was someone lying on the street and I had to drive to the police station?”

The Karumba local said she attempted to call the emergency services later on that day with no success, and said 1300 numbers were also out of service.

A Telstra spokesperson said ordinarily 000 calls from a mobile would connect to the base station in Karumba, but regrettably the fixed-line had been affected by the storm.

This left locals stranded without emergency or 13-hundred phone calls unless they had access to wi-fi.

Martha Crombie from the Karumba supermarket has also noted the Telstra outages, experiencing three 24-hour outages last week.

“It’s fine if you have a landline but for all the elderly residents here who have wireless phones, they have nothing,” she said.

A Telstra spokesperson told the ABC that Karumba and Normanton transmission faults had been resolved, and that the company was keeping an eye on the issue.

Carpentaria Shire Mayor Jack Bawden said that the matter needed to be pursued further with Telstra, but he had not had any conversations with the provider.

“It’s good that people don’t go to the council for everything, but sometimes you’re the last to know,” Bawden said of the public not reporting concerns to council.

“I personally heard about this on Monday, but we need to get the full story.”

High tourist numbers a missed opportunity

Ten days after outages first happened Telstra told the ABC that a crew had been dispatched to fix Cloncurry’s hardware problem.

Cloncurry Shopkeeper Jo Walters said cashless payments had been unreliable during one of the town’s busy summer season.

“It’s frustrating. You can’t use EFTPOS, we can’t use internet banking, we can’t send and receive pictures for our website,” Walters said.

She said tourists and caravaners had been swarming through town because of border closures, making the internet outages a missed opportunity.

“I personally have been affected, the local supermarket told me to put my groceries away unless I had cash,” she said.

“My son is also in the hospital in town, and every time I talk to him it sounds like there are gremlins down the line.”

– ABC / Kemii Maguire

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