Eyes glaze over when you talk about the floods

“We’ll miss you when you go back”, Pat said to me last night. I’ve been home in Lismore for the last couple of weeks, and have really enjoyed being here. I’ll be back for Christmas, and maybe another trip before then. I see the Lismore Show is on at the end of October, so I might return home for that.

This is a photograph of Michelle and me, taken at the Lismore Show in about 1975.

Though we lost a lot of photographs in this year’s floods, some of the past weeks has involved going to Officeworks, printing off the very best that have been digitised, framing them, and putting them back on the walls.

For several years now, it’s been a family routine to go through old photo albums, and either scan or photograph the collection and back them up. We’ve done hundreds (maybe thousands) that way. As it’s been a group effort to select the photographs for digitising, it’s also been good fun, as we’ve remembered (or sometimes not) the circumstances/situations.

So my advice? If you have some old photographs, digitise them and back them up. You don’t necessarily need a scanner. You can just use a mobile phone or camera.

“I’ve backed everything up to Google Photos”, I told a relative last night. He asked if that was going to be enough, wondering if I should also back them up to a hard drive. I told him I didn’t think Google was going to go broke anytime soon, and also mentioned hard drives are more likely to go under a flood than Google is. Of course, there are lots of other backup options, too.

Though Lismore still has a long long long way to go, this trip has been characterised by a greater sense of optimism. There is still a lot of trauma in the community, including amongst family and friends. As someone from “away”, I find people still talk about what happened during the floods earlier this year. They want you to know.

I was in Spink’s Park the other day, taking a photograph of the Queen Victoria Fountain, and a man stopped to talk. I think he assumed I was not from Lismore, a visitor, and he wanted me to understand what had happened here. We chatted for quite a while, and I explained my connection.

Queen Victoria Fountain in Lismore
Queen Victoria Fountain in Lismore

I went into a local shop the other day and saw a photograph I took (and put on Twitter) on the counter in front of the register. I chatted with the couple who owned the store about their experiences, both with their business and home which had been impacted by the floods.

“That’s my photograph”, I said with surprise and delight at Lismore Embroidery the other day. They’re selling discount clothes right now. “They’ve been through the floods”, they warned. “So long as it has been through a washing machine since, I’m happy”, I replied.

This has happened a lot.

There’s a short-hand conversation you can have with people in Lismore about this. You just need to ask where they live, and you know instantly what they’ve been through.

It’s different in Sydney (and elsewhere).

“(In Sydney) people’s eyes just glaze over when you talk about the floods. When they ask about the flood and want to know how it’s going, they expect you to say it’s okay. We’ve mopped up, and we’re getting back to life as normal. But when I tell them it’s pretty fucked, they lose interest. Let’s keep the conversation alive, as there’s so much ahead of us,”, I’ve told a number of people.

As we chatted over a family dinner the other night, I was amazed to hear about the number of extended family and friends who are living in “pods”. Pods are caravan-like accommodation that has been provided by the state government. Others are “couch-surfing”, going from house to house, and staying with family and friends.

Looking a little more peaceful than during floods, the Wilson’s River at Lismore.
Looking a little more peaceful than during floods, the Wilson’s River at Lismore.

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  1. Bernedette Stephenson

    Who is Spink’s Park named after?

    1. James O'Brien

      Hi Bernedette, as I recall, it’s named after Mr Spink who was involved in the local council. I think he was an engineer, or maybe a town planner or something like that. I have relatives with the name, but I don’t think they’re same family.

      1. Bernedette Stephenson

        Could that be Robert and Amelia Spinks? My father’s Grandparents.

  2. Andrew

    It is terribly difficult for people to respond ‘its pretty fucked up’, especially for someone who has a enough knowledge to know that it cannot return to how it was so far as housing goes. How many hundreds of years flood? It could happen again anytime.

    1. James O'Brien

      Good point. I’ll try to be less confrontational.

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