What you need to know about the Lismore Flood

I did a spot with some of my colleagues from ABC North Coast, focussing on what the rest of the country needs to know almost four months since the catastrophic flood.

Almost four months since the catastrophic flood in Lismore, the city and surrounding towns are a long way from recovery.

It’s a town I know well, as it’s my hometown, and I’ve spent much of the last few months in Lismore, helping my own family recover.

But there are so many other people in a desperate state who need your help, and who need you to know the story.

Listen as Jo-Anne Shoebridge and Bruce Mackenzie from ABC North Coast tell you the story the rest of the country needs to know.

Bruce : I thought there was a recognition by government departments that this was an absolute catastrophe, and the normal rules might not apply.

Joanne : I think the thing that is keeping many people going is the love and support they received.

Bruce McKenzie and Jo-Anne Shoebridge from ABC North Coast

Transcript

Apologies if the transcript isn’t entirely correct. It comes from Otter

James : It’s three months now almost four since the catastrophic flood hit Lismore in northern New South Wales. It’s a town I know, well, it’s my hometown, born and raised here. And that’s where it is choice is coming to you from today, I thought this might be a good chance to keep you up to date. Because I think there is a feeling that maybe three and a half, four months down the track, things are back to normal and Lismore, I can tell you, they’re not gonna tell you more about this, you’re gonna hear now from Joanne Shoebridge, Chief of Staff for ABC North coasts. And Bruce Mackenzie, flood reporter for ABC North Coast. Bruce, what’s the most important message or story that you want the rest of the country to know?

Bruce : Even though the sun is shining, and the water has disappeared? The impact of this disaster is becoming more apparent almost with each passing day. We are so far from the end of the tunnel, you can’t even say the light yet. It’s just the impact of this is so extraordinary to witness with each passing day. And every day I report on it, something still makes my jaw hit the ground. Because every day I find out something more in some other impact of life that’s been affected by this this week,

James : You actually went to the inquiry and listened to lots of stories there. What What has surprised you most this week, for example?

Bruce : The thing that’s really surprised me was I thought there was a recognition by government departments that this was an absolute catastrophe, and the normal rules might not apply. And so the thing that absolutely floored me was to hear about one of the grant schemes that was announced really quickly, which was for rental assistance. Yeah, because so many 1000s of people are unable to live in their houses. And really quickly, we heard an announcement about I think it was $282 million for rental assistance, they would help pay your rent for 16 weeks. And then we discovered this week that just a tiny fraction of that money has actually been paid out. I think it’s only about $17 million in change out of that huge pool of money. Because most of the people that have applied have been ruled ineligible. And it was suggested at the inquiry that that’s because they can’t come up with the paperwork. And because the paperwork floated out to sea in the floods,

James: I’ve been dealing with my own family’s kind of situation. One of the common things is so have you got paperwork, and it’s like, no, and they say, is it damaged? I said, it’s not damaged. It’s down the river somewhere. I don’t know where it is. It’s

3

Speaker 3

2:59

transparent. It’s composite. It’s mulch on your local beach. Yeah.

4

Speaker 4

3:03

I met with a bunch of ABC managers last week. And I was trying to explain to them that the rest of the media was very quick to jump on the word recovery. I don’t even think we’re really at that. And yet we’re somewhere between surviving a disaster and recovery, whatever recovery is, and there really isn’t a word for this limbo that we’re in at the moment. I actually flew out from Ballena and I could see quite clearly the all the areas from sort of Lismore all the way south bungle Welborn Karakaya this heaps of water still lying around the paddocks for kilometers or brown, they are just sludge. So you know, and because this is not just a Lismore catastrophe, although Lismore is the epicenter, undoubtedly but there are so many places in our region, that just they just feel so far from recovery, and it’s going to be a very difficult winter for a lot of people.

2

Speaker 2

3:58

The former mayor of Lismore, Jenny Tao tweeted earlier this week that all the 130 shops in the CBD, there’s a team that are open, and that surprise me, Joe? What do you have those same sorts of things every day brings something new you hadn’t thought about the first talked about?

4

Speaker 4

4:14

Absolutely. I mean, you know, it’s something that you take used to take for granted, that’s not there anymore. You know, and a lot of when you say those shops are open, some of them are actually in their old shopfront. Very few of them actually resemble what they did before the 28th of February. A lot of them are pop up shops, under tents or they’re operating in some sort of capacity to try to get a bit of cash flow so they can actually physically get the money to repair their shops. And James, you may have a bit more insight into this but South Lismore of course is the Golden Triangle in Lismore. It’s the the industrial heartland. So many of those businesses were stuck in their major employers in town, but a lot of them lost equipment with hundreds of 1000s of dollars each each business so you know Just to try to get those businesses back up and running, if indeed that they’re even going to reestablish themselves. It’s, it’s phenomenal.

2

Speaker 2

5:07

So what for you is the most important message to get out, get out to the rest of the country?

4

Speaker 4

5:11

Ah, look, I it’s not over by a long shot for this, these communities, many of these communities and it will be years a long, slow, hard recover and recovery. And I have to say, I think the thing that is keeping many people going is the love and support they received, not discriminate. Okay.

3

Speaker 3

5:41

It is really, to consider the kindness that other people have demonstrated towards flood victims is a really emotional thing. Because it is humbling to say how kind of the broader community is I was doing a radio cross this week, and someone called in as he was driving up from the far south coast of New South Wales with a load of blankets and doonas that some local organizations had donated because they’d heard about the cold snap in Lismore, and how people had moved back into these shells of homes. And they were really struggling to stay warm. So instead of going odd, how tough for them, they got off their bombs and did something about it in the most practical way you could imagine. And I think this fellow was, you know, he just pulled over at Coffs Harbour, and for the second time, in the space of a few weeks, was doing a trip from down near chi Emma really want to deliver this kind of stuff to some of those community groups like resilient Lismore and the quarry male pop up. And yeah, that that kind of stuff. It’s, it’s kind of heartwarming, and it gives you goosebumps. And that’s the that’s the kind of thing that I think keeps a lot of people going.

4

Speaker 4

6:54

And a lot of those recovery centers that have been supporting people, they’re going to have to come to an end, and some of them are coming to an end now. And they’re coming to an end. Because there aren’t the same donations, there hasn’t been the same level of support, because volunteers are exhausted, and in many cases, put their own lives on hold for a long time. And they have to get back to their lives. It’s taken a huge mental toll on volunteers, as well as people who are directly affected, and what people are going to do without them, these volunteer groups that have just been Herculean in their efforts to support people. I don’t know, because government’s not filling those gaps.

2

Speaker 2

7:35

Yeah, let’s talk more about what people can do. Because the most common question I get is, what can I do? Who do I give money to? What do you need, and all that sort of stuff? So can you offer some advice to people? I think, listening right now going, Hey, I want to do something What can I do?

4

Speaker 4

7:51

Yeah. And you know, I had somebody ring me and say, there’s this person in Sydney who’s clearing out all this furniture and they have their house and they want to give it to people in Lismore. But the fact is, people in Lismore can’t take furniture, you know, the best thing you can do is provide money somehow, perhaps it’s to give it because give it is a wonderful organization that allows people to buy things when they’re ready for it, you know, you can sponsor someone to have a new fridge, but they don’t have to have the physical fridge until they’ve got a house to put it in. You know, those sorts of solutions are much better, just because so few people have a house, they can’t store things. They do need, you know, look blankets, warm clothing is a big issue. But, you know, I think the key thing is, is money so that people, you know, support for those local charities that are able to give people what they need when they need it as opposed to what they don’t need when they can’t store it. The US there are plenty of charities operating in this area. The Lismore city council, I think has a list of, of charities that are operating here, of course, is you know, there’s there’s always as I said, Give it there’s the Red Cross this Vinnies, there’s Anglicare. All of those organizations are operating here. There are also small local groups that have popped up to respond to the need that you can find a community on Facebook and often find out how you can support them. But yeah, as I say, I think the thing people need is cash because they need to be flexible and nimble and give people what they need. Now,

2

Speaker 2

9:21

I’d like to touch in on that comment you made that people who feel like not enough is being done. Who’s saying that, and why are they saying that?

4

Speaker 4

9:28

I think it’s it’s really difficult for people because there there has been money allocated and not a lot of money handed out in some cases. And we know there’s been issues with fraud. You know, in some cases, we’ve heard the agriculture minister dougald Saunders said he thought that organized crime was involved in some cases in fraudulent location. I

3

Speaker 3

9:48

just say yeah, the attitude towards that at the parliamentary inquiry this week. Was that okay? And that the rep was entering from service New South Wales was quizzed about those figures that I told you about before the slow rollout of the rental assistance, and she started to talk about fraud and was shut down by the members of the committee who said, We don’t want to hear about that, because that is a tiny percentage of the cases, the applications you had, and you haven’t knocked back these more than 50% of applications before because they were fraudulent. That’s a tiny percentage. And I sometimes think that, even though it’s horrible to think that people are trying to exploit that system, that’s no excuse for that system, seeming to be so fundamentally unable to deliver the help where it’s needed in a timely fashion. And I sometimes think that that can be an excuse, a bit of an excuse, and it gets people attention, people’s attention, because you think what sort of horrible person would do that. But I’m not sure that it is a valid excuse for some of the problems that we’re hearing about. No,

4

Speaker 4

10:56

I mean, people lost, they lost their paperwork, they lost their any ability to prove who they were and service New South Wales was very quick to say, Come to us, we will reissue your license will will, will try and get those documents back for you. But the bar to get assistance just week by week seemed to get harder and harder and harder, as there were more concerns about you know, the money flowing to people wasn’t intended for. And that meant that people who legitimately needed help and still need that financial help, weren’t able to access the money that has been set aside for them. That must be so frustrating.

2

Speaker 2

11:33

Okay, I’ll give you another good example. So my brother in law is 82 years old. He doesn’t have a driver’s license anymore, so no photo ID there. He’s never been overseas, so he hasn’t got a passport. We I was dealing with one sort of thing. We joked I said Wilkie has actually got some photo IDs that membership of the Lismore workers club. Would you accept that?

3

Speaker 3

11:58

I also say I would really urge people, not to just be flippant and go, oh look, you live in a floodplain, it’s time for you to pack up and move on move up the hill, but you can’t afford it for a start. Exactly. You need to realize that people living in North and South Lismore, that is the affordable housing for this part of the world, and it’s not as if even before those property values might have been affected by the latest couple of floods. It is not as if you can sell up there and move to somewhere that’s higher and drier. That’s just not an economic reality. It wasn’t an economic reality before the floods, and it’s certainly not now. So I just hope people don’t become dismissive and go oh look, you’re on the north coast. Just sell up and move on and kaput on the chin because it’s definitely not as simple as that it’s a really complex situation. Facing Lismore and people in that part of Lismore in particular, I

4

Speaker 4

12:49

reckon and it’s a you know, it’s a city that’s been settled for 170 years it’s not like it popped up overnight on a floodplain. Yeah, there’s there is there are a lot of people may not get their head around the fact that people don’t have anywhere to go and if I know of one instance, in a village downriver, where a lady who is in her 80s Who should be putting her feet up is volunteering at a recovery hub and seven members of her family I’ve been told, also lost their houses along with her own house. And so you know, her entire extended family basically they’ve all been affected by this flood. You know, what do you do? You know, because if you’re in trouble, the first thing you do is go to your family.

2

Speaker 2

13:33

Can I ask you just on a very positive note has has it been something which is used giving you great joy in the last couple of months?

4

Speaker 4

13:39

Every time every single time I drive past a house with a heart it’s on the it’s on the love hearts. They’re out there flying on the top of the cathedral building where you can see them for three most of Lismore. It makes my heart smile. It really does. Bruce,

3

Speaker 3

13:58

they had that concert recently. One one from the heart for Lismore and got the local rock and roll heroes greenspoon to play. That was pretty awesome. It was honestly I was walking around telling people it is such a joy to be seeing these people with a smile on their face. It was extraordinary. And I saw some signs of life in the CBD, went down to the trusty local famous pie cut. They said sorry, we’ve had a heck of a day. There’s a lot of people around. You’ll have to wait five minutes till the next batch comes out of the oven. We’ve completely sold out. And I thought gosh, that’s got to be a good sign.

Bruce. Joanne, thank you very much.

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