How backpacking around the world in his 80s helped Dean Springbett overcome Cyclone Debbie trauma

In gusts of howling wind and rain, it took his boat and established gardens—but Cyclone Debbie did not touch Dean Springbett’s free spirit.

Five years on from the disaster that rocked Queensland, the 85-year-old said it was enough to make him want to up and leave on an adventure.

“It comes in a big roar, big gusts, blows like mad,” he said.

“The water just turned to vapor and blew away like it was snowing.”

80-year-old Dean Springbett's uninsured yellow boat is worse for wear after Cyclone Debbie
Cyclone Debbie brought down a gumtree on Dean Springbett’s uninsured boat at his Dingo Beach home.(ABC News: Josh Bavas)

Some people may wear their hearts on their sleeves, but it’s clear Deano — as he likes to be called — wears his on the walls, trees, nooks and crannies of his small beachside oasis.

His Dingo Beach home is lined with his artwork, street signs and mementos from adventures, and print-outs of photos.

Why should they be locked up in albums? That’s the way Deano sees it.

A wall with old polaroids and printed photos tacked up.
Photos from his free-spirited life line the walls of Dean Springbett’s Dingo Beach home. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

With Cyclone Debbie leaving her property in shambles in 2017, the thought of starting over at age 80 might have been enough to break a person.

But Deano had other plans.

“Everything was just devastated, it was just sticks,” he said.

“I laughed and said, ‘It even blew my heart tablets away.'”

“Palm trees I’d grown snapped down, the tree out the front which was the biggest on the beach fell down, crushed my boat.

“I just wanted to leave.

Dean Springbett camel ride
The trip took Dean Springbett from the shores of the Whitsundays to camel rides in Morocco. (Supplied: Dean Springbett)

17 countries in six months

With a lot of travel booked digitally now, Deano brushed up on his smartphone skills, left Australia and didn’t look back.

“I did Bali, Thailand, Germany, Morroco, the Bahamas, Canada … 17 places I think I went to,” he said.

a man stands looking down at the huge crab he's holding
You can take the man out of the Whitsundays, but he’ll still love the ocean.(Supplied: Dean Springbett)

Every leg of the trip was true spontaneity.

“I didn’t have any idea how long I was going to stop wherever I was,” he said.

an older man stands with a woman, they are embracing and smiling at the camera
Dean Springbett made many friends during his post-cyclone travels. (Supplied: Dean Springbett)

After hosting backpackers on his property for some time, he said he knew people all over Europe who he was able to catch up with.

Over the six months he said he met so many new friends, went on tours and just did “whatever comes up for the day”.

“and [Dingo Beach has] really grown back.”

an older man does a shot next to a younger man in a bar
Dean Springbett catches up with backpackers who had stayed at his property while traveling Australia. (Supplied: Dean Springbett)

A new ‘dingo’

Deano remembers the overwhelming feeling he had the first day after Debbie.

“At that stage you think, ‘How am I going to do this?'” he said.

“That’s the worst part – that next day, it was unbelievable to walk out and see the trees gone.”

The ABC spoke with him during the clean up, and he discussed taking on the cyclone with his chainsaw, which he kept beside his bed as the wind roared outside that night.

“I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to crawl through the bushes and branches in the morning, so I put the chainsaw there,” he said.

After returning from his round-the-world trip, things started to slowly resemble life before Debbie.

a cannopy of trees, with a dingo beach street sign nailed to one
Dean Springbett’s garden shows he is a proud Dingo Beach local. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons )

Insurance losses from Cyclone Debbie totaled almost $2 billion, with more than 70,000 claims made, including on home, contents and commercial insurance.

It was the most expensive cyclone in Queensland’s history.

Now, five years on, Dingo Beach residents look back at the cyclone as different to any they had experienced before.

Deano stuck by words he remembered saying at the time — that a “new dingo” was coming up.

“Meaning the town is going to grow back again,” he said.