Weipa aerials
Weipa aerials

‘Panic’ across Cape as phone network crashed

AN extended Cape York communications dead zone has northern leaders calling for improved systems to address recent failings of mobile and fixed line phone services.

On Sunday all communication 80km north of Coen was cut after a fire damaged Telstra fibre optic cable at Yarraden.

Services were restored late Monday night.

Manager of the Bamaga Tavern Matthew Mathew Hampton said the already remote town was thrown into a state of "panic" as all electronic food, fuel and beer transactions were put on hold.

"If you only had $20 bucks in your wallet when it went out that's all you had. You couldn't pay wave or go to an ATM, you were effectively cashless," he said.

"(But) it was cash only for 95 per cent of the town. The supermarket was doing EFTPOS sales up to $100 on food only on credit."

Manager of the Bamaga Tavern estimated takings were down 90 per cent during the recent Telstra phone and internet outage.
Manager of the Bamaga Tavern estimated takings were down 90 per cent during the recent Telstra phone and internet outage.

Mr Hampton said for visitors to escape the outage zone north of Coen travellers would need a full tank of fuel plus two 20 litre jerry cans.

"People were trying to negotiate getting fuel on credit by ringing up and paying when they got to Cairns, it was a joke, he said.

"Yesterday was an absolute ghost town. Bamaga on a Monday is a bit of a hub at the moment but people were scared to burn fuel … we were getting told (service restoration) could take anywhere between four maybe even 10 days.

"We had absolutely no communication from Telstra, we were left complete in the dark even by the council. Everyone was left in … a state of panic."

Bamaga Tavern Matthew Mathew Hampton said Bamaga was a 'ghost town' when Telstra phone lines were damaged on Sunday .
Bamaga Tavern Matthew Mathew Hampton said Bamaga was a 'ghost town' when Telstra phone lines were damaged on Sunday .

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott said a flood washed earth away exposing a fibre optic cable which was then damaged by fire.

He said out of cyclone season there were no contingency plans in place to cope with the communication dead zone.

"We were caught a little off guard. We have to try and plan for these contingencies and while you have land based assets in a disaster prone area it's always going to be a problem," he said.

He said potential lost business and the message the outage sent to future travellers was a concern.

"Certainly, you wouldn't want this happening again. Perhaps (fibre optic) technology is getting old and we need to look at other alternatives like satellite technology enhancement or even backup to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

Aerial views of the township of Weipa near the Rio Tinto bauxite/aluminium mine.
Aerial views of the township of Weipa near the Rio Tinto bauxite/aluminium mine.

Telstra regional general manager Rachel Cliffe said it was not possible to provide an exact number of customers affected by the outage but mobile services and 1800 fixed lines were impacted.

She said areas affected included Weipa, Bamaga, Coen, Aurukun, Rocky Point, Thursday Island, Saibai Island, Yam Island, Moa Island, Darnley Island and Badu Island.

Ms Cliffe said the company worked as quickly as possible to get communities back online.

"There is no acceptable amount of time for customers to be without service. In this case, we were faced with the challenge of infrastructure damage caused by mother nature, that required substantial repairs, in an incredibly remote part of the state," she said.

Customers disadvantaged financially by the outage are requested to contact the company on 132 000 and "and we'll work with them around compensation for loss of business".



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