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Byron Shire
June 20, 2024

As the waters rose, so did the warriors of the land

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Paul Bibby

We get to the house at around 9.30am – a local dad named James, a softly spoken young surfer named Kye, and me.

After teaming up randomly at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall we’re now walking into what used to be a family home a few blocks up the road.

It’s almost exactly one week to the minute since the water level peaked at Mullum, and the water from that torrent is still in this house, soaked into the carpet, the bedding, the furniture, and all the other stuff people accumulate in life.

The smell hits us hard as we walk in. We pull on our masks and start carrying things out onto the street.

A house in Mullumbimby in the aftermath of the flooding. (please note: not the house featured in the accompanying story). Image: Jeff Dawson

Within minutes other humans materialise, and pretty soon a small mud-encrusted People’s Army is wheeling the old bikes out of the shed, dragging out armfuls of clothing and, eventually, ripping up the rotten carpet.

A mum and daughter from Byron Bay come by with muesli bars, fruit and water – peering at us over the mountain of rotting stuff that now sits on the nature strip.

A news helicopter hovers over head, pausing for a few moments before heading off.

From up there it’s probably easier to see what we are – a single cell in the chaotic, beautiful, unstoppable community organism that is gradually putting itself back together.

Put simply, the government authorities didn’t show up so we’re doing it ourselves.

Back at the Civic Hall – while eating veggie sausages cooked by a bloke who showed up with a barbie – we hear stories of astonishing heroism, selflessness and survival that began as the waters rose and continued over the coming days.

Community Centres and halls have been at the very heart of the community’s flood recovery effort. Image: Jeff Dawson

We learn that teams of locals laden with medicine, food and other supplies have been trekking up to help people who have been completely cut off in Huonbrook, Upper Wilsons Creek and Upper Main Arm, and then firing up their chainsaws to help clear the debris from landslides and washed out bridges.

I take a quick glance at my phone and learn that one of my friends has just got her dog back after two vets and animal welfare volunteers flew in to save it.

All around me locals are forming clean-up and food delivery crews, and tradies are cruising off to help after being alerted to spots where their skills are urgently needed.

As one team leaves, other locals pour in with donations. And it’s not just a few tins from the back of the cupboard – people are offering their spare rooms, studios and, in a few cases, whole houses.

The online tributes flow: ‘This has restored my faith in humans – in the ability we have to care for each other at the toughest of times,’ one local says.

‘To show up even though we feel shattered and to make sure people are not alone – to do whatever we need to do to help and care for each other.

‘This has bought me to tears many times this week and made me feel very grateful for my community and the little street I live in.’

In the absence of properly functioning communications for an entire week, people went back to basics – going door to door with cleaning gear, sharing info by word of mouth and showing up at community centres at pre-arranged times.

These centres have been at the very beating heart of the community organism.

Lead by the incredible centre staff and groups like Resilient Byron, they provided the central nervous system for much of the volunteer effort.

Much remains to be said and written about what happened last weekend when State Government authorities finally arrived – a full week after the worst of the flooding – to coordinate the response.

Suffice to say, the community organism has adapted and continues to function.

While maintaining their core recovery efforts, locals are now also shifting into heal and repair mode.

From fixing damaged household items at the Mullum Repair Café, to free counselling, massage and yoga, locals are using their skills and expertise to bare.

Back at the Civic Hall, all the activity around me is beginning to feel overwhelming.

James, Kye and I say a quick goodbye, shake hands and head off in our own directions – a single cell splitting into three, off to find the next house that needs cleaning.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. What an amazing community we have! I have been absolutely astounded at what the people at Mullum Community Centre have achieved.
    We have had help from an army of Mud Angels who were very good humoured and patient, as we tried to decide what to chuck and what to keep. Truly beautiful people.
    A couple of days after the flood we had a knock at the door from a lady who had driven down from the Gold Coast with large trays of sandwiches. And this is just one example of many acts of kindness and generosity we experienced.
    During Covid, it felt like this community was splitting apart but underneath all that palava, lay a heart of pure gold.
    To all of you involved, thank you so much. You are amazing!

  2. It’s people like Paul, James, and Kye who make community Community.

    I’ve seen community volunteers repairing washed-out causeways, clearing roads and landslips, helping neighbours and strangers in tough times such as now.

    But where will that community spirit go when all the locals have been driven out of the area by the unbridled greed of landlords who screw the market beyond its ability to pay, and the absolute pox of short-term holiday rental operators such as Airbnb and Stayz?

    The moneyed fools moving in and taking over Paradise are, by that very act, destroying that paradise – because the paradise IS the community, a cohesive population of people who give a damn about neighbours.

    Until the immediate, flood-induced housing crisis abates STHL ought to be banned and those otherwise unavailable dwellings be released for medium–long-term occupation by displaced locals.

    Greed is NOT good, Gordon Gecko!

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