Stuck in paradise

By Daniel Hughes

Despite several attempts to return to Australia over recent months, Jerilderie’s Katrina Rochford has been left stranded in Vanuatu.

She missed out on being included on repatriation flights organised for Australians amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

She was therefore forced to shelter during the catergory five Cyclone which hit Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands in April and destroyed the home she had been living in.

And now, there is speculation flights to Australia will not resume until at least July next year.

The ordeal has left Ms Rochford separated from her children — sons Zack and Josh who are students at the University of Wollongong and high school student daughter Elle who remains in Finley with her father.

But being stranded in ‘‘paradise’’ is not so bad, with Ms Rochford being given more time to rewrite her book, help with the disaster effort and support the South Pacific community.

Ms Rochford first arrived in Vanuatu in November 2019.

She had gone there to visit a publisher friends to finsh her ‘how to’ book — at the time titled How To Get Over Betrayal In 12 Hours.

Little did she know that she would fall in love during her travels, and experience a worldwide pandemic and a cyclone.

‘‘On New Year’s Eve I met an Australian journalist who was running a few businesses here (in Vanuatu). We fell in love but I was going to have to leave because my visa was expiring.

‘‘COVID-19 allowed me to stay, and I’ve now rewritten my book with the help of my new partner — who would not of had the time to help me if COVID-19 hadn’t happened. I’m not a writer, I just wanted to write a ‘how to’ manual.

‘‘After a long line of coincidences my book is much more polished now and is called Never Let A Good Disaster Go To Waste.

‘‘I’m currently writing the final chapter and will hopefully have it done before I make it back to Australia.’’

Ms Rochford has had two flights to Australia cancelled so far.

While she is ‘stranded’ in Vanuatu, she intends to help locals as best she can.

‘‘There are no COVID-19 cases here so the government is very protective of its border, making it difficult to get back,’’ she said.

‘‘It looks like flights might not go back until July next year.

‘‘There were repatriation flights that I know other expatriates took, but we missed out.

‘‘I didn’t think borders would be closed and there would be no flights for another year.

‘‘My partner, who is Australian, is also a resident here and because of the pandemic I can get a free work permit when normally it is very difficult and expensive to get.

‘‘I am volunteering and running fitness programs for locals. Some of the children who attend are refugees.

‘‘More than 90 per cent of people on this island have no running water or electricity.

‘‘I have been involved with relief efforts after the cyclone, helping those with damaged crops and helping with replanting on damaged islands.’’

Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands between April 2 and 9 this year.

More than 159,000 people were impacted in Vanuatu, with more than 17,000 homes damaged or destroyed and leaving 87,000 people without shelter.

The tropical cyclone first hit the Solomon Islands with a category one rating on April 2 and 3, before progressing to Vanuatu on April 5, where it reached category five.

‘‘The cyclone absolutely flattened most of this area during Cyclone Harold,’’ Ms Rochford said,.

‘‘The eye hit my friend’s plantation.

‘‘The cottage I lived in on the plantation was beautiful and tranquil but the cyclone destroyed everything, including the coral reef under the water.

‘‘Nivan people have different attitudes to disaster, they laugh and say ‘house blow way’, then laugh.

‘‘Foreigners are upset and stressed here, not the locals.’’

Ms Rochford is currently based on Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo.