New Caledonia: Australians still stranded in New Caledonia await more evacua...

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Published Time: 22.05.2024 - 03:00:44 Modified Time: 22.05.2024 - 03:00:44

Tylah Carre, an Australian tourist in Noumea, said he received a text from French authorities saying they would "conduct flights for [their] safe departure". New Caledonia

Tylah Carre, an Australian tourist in Noumea, said he received a text from French authorities saying they would "conduct flights for [their] safe departure".

"But we don't know if we have six hours or just an hour, like yesterday when were told there's a bus downstairs," Mr Carre said.

"Many are staying in their rooms in case they get the call."

Janine Banks, another Australian tourist, said she was frustrated with the communication from the Australian government.

She said she hadn't received any information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade until 9pm last night and relied on WhatsApp for updates from other tourists.

"We were told Monday night to be ready for evacuation on Tuesday, so we packed and waited by the phone all day."

She then heard no updates during the day.

"We lost hope after the 6pm curfew," Ms Banks said.

Ms Banks had initially booked a trip to Vanuatu but her flight plans changed when Air Vanuatu went bust.

Queensland academic Nicole George was teaching in Noumea when rioting erupted last week.

She was hoping to be one of the more than 100 Australian residents who were repatriated on the two ADF flights overnight.

"Yesterday was a hard day because we were thinking we might get home," Ms George said.

Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said the French government was "currently planning flights to Brisbane today, using their resources".

"So the primary plan is more French flights," he said.

"But we do have contingency plans and we do have planes on stand-by should there be an issue with that course of action."

He added a French plane was due to leave for Brisbane this afternoon or evening and evacuate 100 Australians.

"So bringing it to around 184 Australians roughly, brought home over the last day or two."

Victorian doctor Max Winchester and wife Tiffany are also stranded and said their first attempt at a kid-free holiday had gone terribly wrong.

The pair, from Woodend, had been holidaying when the political unrest began and were unable to get seats on the first evacuation flights.

"We're being told we're going to be evacuated by the French and we just don't feel comfortable with that," Dr Winchester said.

"We've seen what a mess this place is and the French haven't been able to manage that, and we just don't feel comfortable with putting our security in the hands of the French at the moment.

"It was my attempt at our first child-free romantic holiday."

Dr Winchester said he and his wife had run out of their medication and were unable to go to the nearest town because of fires, looting and vandalism.

"It's not safe to go into town. Basically we spend every night here with one eye open, hoping we don't get attacked by looters and rioters," Dr Winchester said.

Yesterday's defence force flights departed from new Caledonia's domestic airport, but Australian tourists told the ABC they were unsure if barricades still blocked the road to New Caledonia's international airport further north.

From his hotel window, Mr Carre couldn't see any fires but heard local news of a factory ablaze in Noumea's industrial zone.

"It feels like it has de-escalated, but it's uneasy," he said.

Some shops had stock, but most shelves were still empty.

New Caledonia's chamber reported 150 companies had been looted and burned.

French President Emmanuel Macron is on his way to New Caledonia in a move which could also complicate further evacuation flights.

Aides to Mr Macron said he would meet with officials and local representatives on Thursday for a day of talks focused on and on the reconstruction of the island.

The unrest in New Caledonia, with a population of 270,000, was sparked by French plans to impose new rules that would give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.

Pro-independence groups say any such move would dilute the Indigenous Kanak vote.

Ms George said she was worried Mr Macron's visit would further inflame tensions and make it difficult to continue evacuations.

"We don't think a group of tourists from Australia are really high priority at the moment.

"We are concerned if the violence kicks off [again] in the next couple of days."

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander s as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.

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