“You say you’re going tomorrow, but your ticket says Sunday”, was the overnight message from my friend Sue. We share each other’s flight details on Tripit, in the event one of us comes to an untimely end. “They’ll be able to find the bodies”, we’ve joked.
When she rang at 9.00 am to see if I had been able to change the flight, she woke me. I’m normally very good at this level of detail, but for some reason or another, I booked a ticket on the wrong day. “You’re under a lot of stress”, she astutely observed.
Even though I had booked one of those flights which you normally can’t change without incurring a penalty, I was able to do so. As soon as I mentioned the words “Lismore” and “Flood”, the attendant on the phone changed the flight and waived the fee. There were no questions asked. When it came time to fill in the online customer service, she got 5/5 for everything.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the Uber driver got lost, and there were massive queues at Sydney Airport. Without fear or favour, I walked to the front of the queue and asked for assistance to get an express ride through security. Also asking for assistance were a couple of young women also headed to Lismore/Byron for flood recovery.
The stress of the last few days has had a cumulative effect. Yesterday at work there was a very simple task which I found difficult, handing it on to a colleague. She knows how good I am generally at planning and detail, but I think understood completely.
My colleagues have been amazing. Many have been checking in daily. It’s got to the point where I had to pre-write some of the answers to common questions. Earlier today one asked for Pat’s bank details so he could transfer some money. I have been incredibly touched by this.
Also this week, a colleague, a long-term Lismore local and I were chatting on the phone and we both burst into tears.
The trigger was hearing the news of the death of a woman we had both known since childhood. Marj Graham. Marj was a country singer and radio broadcaster who I had known since I was about fifteen. She did the Saturday breakfast show on the community radio station where my own career started. Marj, now in her 80s, drowned in her nearby home.
It’s also been a week for catching up with people from the past. For a lot of the children of people impacted by the flood, it’s been a case of reconnecting with people they haven’t spoken to in decades. They maintain contact with their parents, but not so much their peers.
The hardest text I had to respond to this week was from a childhood friend who asked simply, “Do you know where mum is? I can’t find her”. Thank God, she was identified in one of the emergency centres. I knew for sure that another family member was okay when I saw her being rescued on television.
The rescues are a wonderful part of the overall narrative. I haven’t seen the numbers of people who read the story I wrote about the rescue of Pat and Jack, but it was shared widely.
The photograph of Pat even made the front page of “The Australian”
In response, I got a phone call from Channel 10 asking if they would appear on television. As they’re very private people I doubted they would, but they agreed. I think they wanted to publicly acknowledge their grandson. Pat acknowledges having him there with them saved their lives. They sat in water for up to three hours, awaiting the rescue boats.
Rescue stories are wonderful media fodder.
So are the piles of furniture on the streets outside shops and homes.
But inside those shops and homes, the devastation is almost unfathomably.
My family have shared with me photographs and videos of furniture piled up, and deep coverings of mud. Pat has even had furniture from other people’s homes inside her house carried in by the force of the water. “There’s a fuckin motorbike helmet in the house”, Michelle told me. Later she sent me a photograph of a dead cow in the yard of the service station across the road.
I have time to write this post because I’m at Ballina Airport waiting for my family to pick me up. Already they’re about 90 minutes late, as they’ve had to take big diversions due to floodwaters.
Here at the airport, there’s no internet and no EFTPOS. As I don’t have any cash on me, that also means I can’t eat or drink anything. Please send beers!