Inland Tsunami

“What happened on the twenty-eighth of February was not a flood. I’ve lived through over 40 years of floods, all of us have in Lismore and the Northern Rivers. This was like an inland tsunami. It was utter devastation, and it was a humanitarian disaster. And that’s why I want to make sure that we’re not forgotten.”, Janelle Saffin, the NSW Member for Lismore, told me as I interviewed her about the exhibition “Through the heart… a flood of fears and tears”, currently on display at the NSW Parliament.

In the weeks and months after the floods in February/March, “retired” Lismore photographer, Jacklyn Wagner knocked on the doors of people in parts of town where there were “signs of life”. These were the houses where people, despite the devastation, people had chosen to return “home”.

She knocked on the door of a number of my own family members and took their photographs. 

Jack Bobbin, featured in the flood survivors exhibition at the NSW Parliament

Of the roughly 100 people she spoke to and photographed, only two said no. “And it wasn’t was never aggressively”, Jacklyn told me. “One person said I want to but I just can’t at the moment. I just don’t feel right. And the other one eventually got back to me., and they’re part of they’re part of it”.

Along with local politicians, Ben Franklin (National Party) and Janelle Saffin (Labor), some of the people from Lismore featured in the exhibition.

I first became aware of Jacklyn’s photography work in the exhibition “Southies”, a wonderful black and white photographic collection of the community, where I grew up, and where most of my family still lives, South Lismore. https://jamesobrien.id.au/2019/12/art-in-lismore/

The photographer, Jacklyn Wagner with myself, and Sydney Morning Herald journalists, Heath Gilmore and Catherine Naylor. Heath grew up in Lismore, and Catherine worked for a while at Lismore’s “Northern Star” newspaper. Their reporting on the flood and the aftermath has been with great local insight, and concern for the community.

At the launch and dinner afterwards, I chatted (sometimes quite emotionally) with a number of people from South Lismore. It didn’t take long to find the connectors. You just had to know a more specific address, a cross street. There were “only one or two degrees of separation, not six when it comes to people in Lismore”, a few of us joked.

“It was beautiful”, Katie said, adding “It was not what I was expecting to see. When you look at the photos… everybody looks so lost.”.

“I think everybody wants a little bit more clarity. I think they want a little bit more security. Because would you seem to be going round and round in circles, and no one’s giving us proper feedback. And you still today when it rains? We panic. And no person should live like that.”

The current exhibition of 25 photographs is at the NSW Parliament until November 24, and the complete exhibition of 100 photographs opens in May 2023.

Launch of Lismore flood exhibition at the NSW Parliament

When will it go on display in Lismore?

“We don’t have a gallery at the moment. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I don’t know whether it’s actually the right time. It may not be for a couple of years. And it’s probably something I would actually consult with all those people who are in my project as to how they feel about that. I’m sure in time it will be but that’s the way I would approach it. I would want it to be somewhere beautiful for them in Lismore, too”, Jacklyn said.

ABC Radio feature with interviews with Janelle, Jacklyn and Katie.
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