Exit Row

How frustrating must it be to be a flight attendant? In the front row of six, there were only two of us paying any attention to the flight attendant’s instructions for the emergency row. The woman to my right was engrossed in her book, the man next to her was going through photographs on his mobile phone. And to the left, there were two with their eyes closed, while only one other person was paying attention. In the event of an emergency, I guess it was just me and one other who would be saving the lives of others.

I was on a flight back to Sydney, having spent the last ten days in Lismore.

Six weeks on from the “biggest flood”, followed by another “big flood” Lismore remains in a desperate state. Though many would like to believe a flood can be easily cleaned up with a mop and bucket, the events that have occurred are beyond that of a flood. Locally, people are describing it not so much as a flood, but as a cyclone or a tsunami.

One of a number of houses knocked off its stilts. This needs more than a mop!

I went for a walk around the “main block” yesterday and there’s only a handful of shops that have resumed business. In the main CBD, there are only two clothing stores that are open (selling limited items), a couple of coffee shops, and a couple of bottle shops. The bottle shops are selling some beer that went through the flood. Not so much of an issue, but we made a purchase a few days which had residual mud under the ring pull. I don’t mind so much, though you might imagine others might feel quite strongly. In case you’re wondering, they refer to it upfront as “flood beer”.

Woodlark Street, Lismore
Molesworth Street, Lismore

I also went for a walk down by the riverside. Last year, while staying in Lismore, you might recall I would often go down by the riverside for some exercise/relaxation. Though you would often see people walking their dogs, there were very few people there yesterday. A couple of kids on their bikes stopped and said hello, along with a couple of women. Twelve months ago, they might not have said hello, but yesterday they were keen for a chat. Along the riverbank, the soil remains sodden, and the devastation of fast-moving river currents remains evident in the grasslands.

Nearby, the old RSL Club (more recently a childcare centre) was being demolished. The water in the nearby swimming pool was still brown. And the city bowling club remained a mess. I read the other day they’ve decided to close down the club and distribute funds amongst members.

On the radio this morning, I heard an academic from Southern Cross University talk about recommendations to relocate the “main functions” of the CBD to the land currently occupied by the East Lismore Golf Course. The land is above a 15-metre flood (the recent flood made it to 14 metres). 

On the surface, that makes a lot of sense, though it’s going to take a lot of commitment (and dollars!) for that to occur. Too many “experts,” think it’s a simple case of moving the businesses and shops to a higher location, without thinking through who is going to pay for it to happen. 

All throughout Lismore, there is public art, featuring hearts. The heart is part of the Lismore City Council logo and now appears on homes, shops, and in the street, more generally.

In locations like North and South Lismore, there are elderly residents on low incomes who either own or rent and who simply can’t afford to move. 

And then there’s the “Vicar Of Dibley” factor. There was an episode of that wonderful British TV series, where the people of Dibley were offered incentives to move to a new location, in the midst of a proposal to flood Dibley. Despite the offerings, they decided Dibley was their home, and the connections were more important than a new house. 

As I wrote about last year during the months I lived back in South Lismore, there’s a strong community connection too. Even though I knew South Lismore could flood, there’s part of me that’s still so strongly connected to this community, that makes me think I could possibly still buy a house and live there. But, of course, I’m dreamin’.

Nonetheless, Pat and Jack want to move home. Their house is uninhabitable right now, but they still feel more comfortable in a flood-impacted house in the middle of town than living on the outskirts of a Lismore suburb. 

My niece and nephew (not a couple) have already moved back home. Their existence is more like “camping” than living, with limited power. They’re not the only ones who’ve done this. When the second flood came through, it’s estimated that 25% of people who lived through the first flood, were already back home. 

It doesn’t make sense to anyone from anywhere else. “The town has got to move”, friends and colleagues from elsewhere have said to me. In reply, I’ve told them it’s not that simple. If like me and many others you’ve lived through previous floods, and you have a house on stilts (built above the 1973 flood level), you still have a feeling you can survive again.

During the 2017 flood, Nancy was insistent that she stayed at home in South Lismore. “I’ve lived through 54, 74 and others, and there’s no need to move out this time”, she said. We reminded her she was much younger then, and couldn’t afford the same luxuries in her 70s as she enjoyed in her 40s.

That’s likely something I’ll need to consider also. East Lismore has always been on my list of possible places to live in Lismore, and if that’s where the CBD moves to, maybe that will make sense for me too.

Visiting mum and dad at the Lawn Cemetry.
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  1. Andrew

    If you intend buying, it might be a good time to do so now if some of the population are going to move to higher land. As always, it it is the poorest who suffer the most and if there is going to be relocations, federal funding needs to come forth.

    1. James O'Brien

      You’re absolutely right re poorest suffering the most. I always giggle a little when people say “now is the time to buy”. Looking at the way things have panned out the “right time to buy” was about 1975. :)

  2. marcellous

    As Jesus could have said, “Sell all you have to the poor.” Generally, provided what you are selling is something they can afford, you’ll get a better price that way because they will be in a disadvantageous bargaining position. In this case then, you might say “buy all you can from the poor” – but I reckon you might want to wait a bit to see how the dust and mud settle.

    1. James O'Brien

      Agreed. Life is still here in Sydney right now. And lots of variables with town relocation etc.

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