My Beautiful Lismore

It’s late Monday afternoon and I’m thankful my family are safe and sound.

They don’t have any power, they don’t have any food, and they don’t have any clothes.

Like, seriously no clothes aside from the ones they were wearing when they were evacuated from their homes in South Lismore.

Anyone who has ever been to Lismore knows the city floods — hardly a year goes by without the river coming up.

The first big flood that I remember as a child was in 1974. All around Lismore there are signs that highlight that.

A few months ago a relative who has never visited Lismore before could hardly believe his eyes when I pointed them out.

The ’74 flood was the biggest on record. But I remember my dad’s sister-in-law Eileen Crummey/O’Brien — a well-known local First Nations woman — talking about floods of similar heights to this week’s in the days prior to European settlement.

Back in ’74 the CBD was inundated as well as parts of North and South Lismore. All of our family’s houses in South Lismore escaped the worst because our houses were built on stilts, as is pretty common in Lismore.

But this year’s flood has gone so much higher.

In ’74 the flood peaked at 12.15 metres. This time, the flood will peak 2m higher than that!

During the 1954 flood, Mum, Dad, Granny, Uncle John, and my four older sisters had to live in the roof cavity of their low-set house for several days as the water swirled below.

Almost 70 years later and only one member of the family survives; my sister Pat. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would ever be in that position again.

But, today, she found herself sitting on a chair on the kitchen benchtop, with water up to her chest.

She lives in a high-set house now and, when this flood has peaked, she will have had about 2m of water in the upper level of her house.

Pat’s husband Jack and their grandson Sam stood in the water as they waited for boats to rescue them.

Pat rescued by the SES. (Source:

I checked in with them all a few times overnight but by early morning I suggested they evacuate.

“Can you get out? I think you need to get out,” I told Pat.

By that time, they had already moved their cars to higher ground and the water was coming up, so they were effectively trapped in their houses.

Thank God the rescue boats arrived in the early daylight hours. They were assisted into the boat via a narrow kitchen window and were taken to the nearby Ballina Street Bridge.

Pat is a little bruised from the experience, but thank God she’s alive.

When I spoke to them on the bridge, there were about 20 other people with them.

The SES told them they couldn’t transport them any further at that stage as they still had another 200 people to rescue.

However, Pat has a lung problem, and her resuscitation machine was covered in water, so an ambulance was called to come and pick her up to take her to Lismore Base Hospital.

Jack and Sam went to the evacuation centre at Southern Cross University until later joining other relatives at a home in Goonellabah, which is up on the hill.

Rescue boats on the Ballina Street Bridge
The normal river level at the Ballina Street Bridge.

Everyone has also been joined by my niece Karran and her young family who took refuge in the roof of their two-story house in South Lismore.

I never ever thought I’d recommend that Karran would need to grab a ladder and climb up into the roof, but that’s just what they did.

“That’s what Mum and Dad did in ’54, and I think you should do that too”, I told her.

After a few hours, another family member was able to use his fishing boat to rescue them. This involved a long ride over several kilometres to finally reach safety. The depth and the strength of the fast-flowing floodwater made it frightening to travel in.

“We were at the same level as the electricity wires,” Karran told me.

“I kept the girls’ faces covered — so they couldn’t see anything.”

We all know it’s likely some people have drowned.

No one in Lismore expected such extreme flooding. Both recent arrivals and long-term locals like my family never expected anything worse than the ’74 flood.

It’s been a roller coaster of a day for my family in Lismore, and me. We’ve stayed in touch hourly, though there’s a bit of radio silence now, as mobile phones have started to run out of charge.

“We don’t have any power, so I’ll have to go and sit in the car or go around for a drive,” Pat’s daughter Michelle joked when we spoke earlier today.

I’ve done a couple of spots on ABC Radio today to tell the story of what they’ve gone through. Everyone needs to know how bad this is, and when the time is right, I hope people will support my beautiful hometown.

ABC Radio Sydne

This also appeared on the ABC website.


9 responses to “My Beautiful Lismore”

  1. At least your family is safe in spite of some having a hairy experience.

    I couldn’t believe the flood level markers in Echuca. How could the Murray rise so high? It seems even worse in Lismore. Do you know how much higher than the levee the river rose?

  2. Hi James I was thinking about your family and friends in Lismore today, so glad to hear they are safe. My dad used to always talk about the floods up there. Saving the chickens putting them in the laundry to keep them safe and then drowning in the laundry sink. Silly the things you remember about in times like this. Take care thinking of everyone in Lismore.

    • A friend told me today he knows of someone who has lost 300 head of cattle which just floated away. One of my strongest memores of the 1974 flood was of cattle caught in the river current. Their mournful cry is with me still.

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