‘A no man’s land’: Aussie stuck in New Caledonia unrest

Savannah Meacham |

An Australian woman stranded in New Caledonia says the capital Noumea resembles a war zone.
An Australian woman stranded in New Caledonia says the capital Noumea resembles a war zone.

Australians stranded in riotous New Caledonia are begging the government to help them come home, describing the deteriorating unrest that has killed four people as a war zone.

Brisbane woman Sophie Jones Bradshaw travelled to Noumea, the capital of the French-ruled Pacific island territory, for work on May 11.

She said her husband and three-year-old son were meant to come to meet her several days later, but the riots broke out.

The family is now separated with no idea when they will be reunited.

“It’s getting really hard to see my son every day on the camera,” Ms Jones Bradshaw told AAP.

“I’m crying because he wants me to go home.

“I’m telling him ‘oh just one more sleep, one more sleep’, but I don’t know.”

Ms Jones Bradshaw said there were explosions, fires and looting across the once beautiful capital that she has travelled to for 20 years.

“It’s desolation, it’s chaos – it’s frightening,” she said.

“It feels like a no man’s land.”

She claimed half of the capital has been burnt with homes and businesses razed as the unrest sparked over contested electoral reform continued.

“I hardly sleep at night as I go down in my street to help neighbours protecting it and when I am sleeping I wake to the slightest noise from the fear of fire or burglars,” Ms Jones Bradshaw said.

“I feel exhausted and scared like any Caledonian.”

Supermarkets are bare and leaving home to get rations is a life-threatening endeavour amid periodic explosions and fires.

“There’s a few corner stores I’ve tried yesterday and today and they are empty – maybe a few shampoos and deodorants left but there’s no food,” Ms Jones Bradshaw said.

“You have to go further and further out to find a shop that hasn’t been burned or is not closed. 

“In the middle of all that, you can still hear explosions every now and then.”

Finding a loaf of bread is near impossible, Ms Jones Bradshaw said, with supplies to grocers blocked by road barricades.

It was unclear when Ms Jones Bradshaw would be able to return to Brisbane.

A man in front of a burnt out car
France has imposed a state of emergency in New Caledonia to quell deadly unrest. (AP PHOTO)

The Department of Foreign Affairs advised Ms Jones Bradshaw to register on a database so the agency was aware of who was in the country.

It told her to prepare to leave by packing her bags and charging all electronics but provided no timelines.

Ms Jones Bradshaw said she had slept fully dressed for the past five nights with her passport, phone and laptop in a bag ready to go at any moment.

All she wants is to be home with her family before her son’s fourth birthday in several days.

“I’m really hoping that (the airport) will open on the 22nd and I’ll be maintained on my flight which I doubt,” she said.

“But I’m really hoping and it’s hard not to know.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Australians in New Caledonia should limit their movement and follow the advice of authorities.

“We are working with authorities in France and New Caledonia and like-minded partners including New Zealand to assess options for Australians to safely depart,” she posted on social media platform X on Saturday.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers urged Australians stuck in New Caledonia to contact the foreign affairs department via the hotline for assistance.

“We’re incredibly concerned about the developments in New Caledonia. We call for calm in that part of the world,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“We know that there will be Australians, either in New Caledonia, or family members and loved ones here in Australia, who will be very concerned.”