Telling Stories

“Do you have any advice, any tips for people here in Lismore for when the reporters and camera operators come knocking on doors at the end of February”, I asked Melissa Doyle, the former “Sunrise” co-host who was in Lismore on a tour promoting her new book, “Fifteen Seconds Of Brave”.

I was really interested to know her thoughts (from an ‘insider’s perspective”) on how local people should handle what is inevitably going to involve TV camera “door knocks” when the 12-month anniversary of the catastrophic flood comes around.

In setting up the question, I mentioned how my family had become quite adept at speaking to the media over the last twelve months. I’ve been able to help along the way, I mentioned, but on a couple of occasions, television crews have just turned up, unexpectedly. “Some of them have disappeared pretty quickly once they got their story”, I told her, “but others have taken a more long-term interest in telling the story of what happened here”.

Sophie McNeil is one such reporter. She’s a former ABC reporter, now working for an organisation called “Human Rights Watch”. A few months ago, she saw a few of my flood stories on this site and contacted me, not knowing of our common ABC connection. She was keen to do a story about how “disadvantaged people” had gotten on during the floods.

Her story was published earlier today, focussing on older people and people with disability.

The article concludes :

Australian authorities failed to take effective steps to protect those most at risk from foreseeable harm of the catastrophic flooding in the New South Wales (NSW) town of Lismore in February 2022, Human Rights Watch said today.

Such extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

Human Rights Watch found that NSW and local authorities did not provide adequate flood warnings, evacuation, or rescue support, leaving older people, people with disabilities, and those who were pregnant facing life-threatening circumstances with little government assistance.
Jack Bobbin outside his house in South Lismore. Flood waters reached to his top windows. © 2022 Sophie McNeill/Human Rights Watch
Jack Bobbin outside his house in South Lismore. Flood waters reached to his top windows. © 2022 Sophie McNeill/Human Rights Watch

The article mentions a few of the people she spoke to, including Pat and Jack

On the evening of February 27, Pat Bobbin, 74, her husband, Jack Bobbin, 82, and their 17-year-old grandson, Sam, were at home in South Lismore. At about 8:30 p.m., a member of emergency services came to their door and told them to evacuate but offered no assistance.

It was already dark and some roads were already cut off by rising flood waters.

Pat had moved her car to higher ground during the day. She has mobility issues and relies on a walking stick to get around: A chap come around, door knocking and said, “Evacuate.” But at that time, if we had evacuated, we wouldn’t have got through on the town side. It was bloody dark. And the town side had water … My grandson was going from front door to the back door, sort of thing, and he’s saying to Pop, “It’s coming up the stairs quick! And I thought, “Oh jeez,” because I’ve got crooked legs. Then the next thing the water was coming through the floorboards. I got a chair and I got up onto the kitchen cupboard. And the water, you could see it coming up, up and up. And then when it got up around the legs, you could feel it creeping up your legs.
By the early morning, flood waters inside their elevated house on stilts were quickly rising.
Emergency services eventually rescued the Bobbins’ just as the water reached over Pat’s shoulders. She says she and Jack would have drowned if it wasn’t for her grandson who had a mobile phone and did not stop trying to reach emergency services, despite many failed attempts to get through:
He was better on the phone than anyone. I only used my mobile for emergencies. My daughter upgraded me, and I hadn’t quite learned how to use it, I just used to only have it to make a call and receive a call. But lucky we had Sam there. We wouldn’t have made it out, I don’t think, if he hadn’t been there.
Jack Bobbin, 82, was told to evacuate but had no vehicle and was offered no assistance to leave by authorities. © 2022 Sophie McNeill/Human Rights Watch
Jack Bobbin, 82, was told to evacuate but had no vehicle and was offered no assistance to leave by authorities. © 2022 Sophie McNeill/Human Rights Watch

People in Lismore know these stories far too well. Sometimes, it feels like the rest of the country has lost interest. But because the story has been picked up internationally by Human Rights Watch, I’m hoping it will keep the story alive, and bring it to the international audience. “If Australia can’t do it, what does that mean for the rest of the world in places like Bangladesh”, Sophie said to me in a conversation this week.

When I asked Melissa Doyle the question about keeping the story “alive” I got a little bit teary.

“Hands up who knows someone who has been brave in the last nine months”, the person doing the Q&A with her asked. Of course, EVERYONE in the room raised their hands.

“There was nowhere more special to begin the tour”, Melissa said in the book about eight people she has met in her career who have endured very difficult life experiences and came out the other side.

“The stuff in inspirational calendars doesn’t cut it”, she said, referring to those “keep positive” affirmations you often see.

However, she said the common theme amongst those she interviewed for the book was the need to “maintain perspective”. “They all said it was important for them to recognise what they have, not what they’ve lost”, she said.

“Some people delayed their interviews for the book”, she said, saying some found they couldn’t speak about their experiences.

And that’s why I asked my question about the inevitable reporter doorknocks. Her advice was how important it was to have people in the community to do that role.

And that’s when the Q&A convenor mentioned a family in South Lismore who had been very public about doing that.

Eli, chatting with local vlogger, Scotty Brizzle.

And that’s when the host, herself, got emotional. Eli and his family lived through two floods this year, and then this week, having moved into new rental accommodation, their house caught fire. Yes, seriously. The community is rallying around them, which is so good to see.

Melissa Doyle speaks at Lismore Library about her book.
Melissa Doyle speaks at Lismore Library about her book.

“If I’m to be totally honest, If I’d been through something traumatic, the last thing I’d want to do is talk to someone on television”, she admitted.

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