Comparing 2017 and 2022 floods

Doesn’t Make Sense

“Walking around Lismore after the first flood, when there was still mud around and large piles of trashed furniture out on the street made sense of what happened. But it doesn’t make sense now”, I said to Noreen who runs the Duck Pond Espresso Coffee Shop in South Lismore.

“The night of the first flood people told me I didn’t need to worry about moving the van”, she told me this morning, adding “But I just knew I should”. She then pointed to the wall of the building next door.

Duck Pond Espresso Cafe in South Lismore, where the water reached almost to the top of the nearby green wall.

Her’s was one of maybe half a dozen businesses open in the central parts of Lismore when I wandered around today.

In the CBD itself, there’s a temporary Woolworths that’s open with only two or three checkouts. Also in Lismore Central, there’s a fruit and veg shop, and a temporary coffee shop. There’s another coffee shop open on Keen Street, and the Pie Van has also reopened. But that’s pretty much it.

Flood cleaning around the traveller's centre in Lismore
Flood cleaning around the traveller’s centre in Lismore
Lismore Pie Cart
One of the few places around Lismore’s CBD where you can grab a meal. “We opened last Monday” the owner told me.

Everything else in Central Lismore, South Lismore and North Lismore remains pretty much closed.

As I wandered around there were lots of blokes in hi-viz. Largely it seemed they were still in salvage mode rather than re-build mode.

Looking down into Lismore's Star Court Arcade
Looking down into Lismore’s Star Court Arcade
Station Hotel, South Lismore
Looking through the broken window of the Station Hotel, South Lismore

There were moments when I got a little bit teary about my hometown. The town where I was born and raised, have continued to think of as “home”, and where I have been planning to retire. Though I personally have managed to avoid the devastation of the two recent floods, I feel like some of my dreams have also been shattered.

And then of course, there’s the impact on my family which I’ve written about here. I managed to get some photographs off my nephew’s phone of what it was like inside our house on the Sunday night/Monday morning of the first flood before they were rescued. There’s a photograph of Pat sitting on the kitchen benchtop with water up to her knees. An hour later, she had water to her chest. An hour later, she would have drowned.

Comparing 2017 and 2022 floods
At the corner of Elliott Road and Union Streets, South Lismore, there’s a car dealership adjoining a butcher. This is on their shared wall: a mural which notes the 2017 flood level down the bottom, and the 2022 flood up the top.
Richmond River High School
Visiting my old high school, Richmond River High School. Located in North Lismore, flood water will often come near the high school, but never enter the building, as it did a few weeks ago.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people in Sydney”, I told Noreen, “and they just don’t understand the devastation. Lots of people have kept in touch, wishing me and everyone the best. Lots of people have donated money and goods, including directly to my family. But they still don’t really know”.

“Walking around after the first flood made sense. But walking around today doesn’t make much sense. All you can see are empty shops, collapsed buildings including houses washed off their stumps, and there’s erosion along the riverbank. But the river is back to normal. And it’s a lovely sunny day. It just doesn’t make sense.”

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  1. Sally Hirst

    I drove through Lismore to get to Kyogle last week. I feel for you. It was like a ghost town, the centre, the streets of south Lismore, all seemed not just empty but destroyed. I hope the various levels of government can work quickly and positively with the community to restore the place in a way that builds on the spirit but deals with the immediate and long term practicalities. It’s going to take true vision and determination.

    1. James O'Brien

      Thanks Sally. Your comments are spot on. There are parts of North Lismore truly devastated, with houses washed off their stilts. Until now I’ve been saying it’s like a cyclone, not a flood, but a colleague observed the impact has been more like a tsunami. Though there’s room for optimism, there’s also lots of room for pessimism right now.

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