Nearly a hundred students in Byron’s hinterland won’t have to wait for government help to get their local school rebuilt if Deanne Berry has anything to do with it.
Ms Berry moved to the Byron Shire from Sydney less than a year ago and has thrown herself wholeheartedly into local community recovery efforts with an online fundraiser to rebuild Upper Main Arm Public School.
‘There are so many families in need right now, trying to rebuild their lives and their houses,’ Ms Berry said, ‘and to do that with children still with you, it makes that job a lot harder, they should be at school getting an education’.
The monster that ate Upper Main Arm
Ms Berry spoke from personal experience: the mother of two small children, one a student at Upper Main Arm Public School, lived fourteen causeways up a creek that became a raging torrent of dangerous flood waters on Monday 28 February.
‘This wasn’t a flood, this was like a monster,’ Ms Berry said, ‘it just came through and it took out everything in its path’.
Ms Berry said the ‘monster’ took out all the smaller causeways in Upper Main Arm and it was ten days before she was able to get out of her property by car.
‘Everyone up here has been on foot,’ she said.
Half the school flooded
Immediate responses to the catastrophe in Upper Main Arm have focused on access and supplies, including a pulley system across the creek where locals once crossed Williams Bridge, and earlier this week, official efforts to repair the bridge.
‘People got their diggers out, woke up and started fixing roads and causeways,’ Ms Berry said of her neighbours.
But while NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said last week the department was trying to work out how to meet the needs of all flood impacted schools, nothing specific was declared when it came to a rebuild of Upper Main Arm Public School.
‘The grounds are a mess, all the seating is completely ripped out,’ Ms Berry said, ‘the soccer posts are completely ripped out and all the signage has been ripped out’.
The school’s office, canteen and reception area were all flooded, Ms Berry said, as well as some older rooms in the lower part of the grounds.
The library took in ‘quite a bit of water’, she said, and all the fencing had gone.
‘I think the climbing gym is still standing, it’s just a big clean up job,’ she said.
Free dance lessons on offer
Upper Main Arm Public School was opened in 1927 and like many small rural schools, survived with minimal government support.
The classrooms were ‘older and in need of love,’ Ms Berry said.
‘It’s a good time to refresh the school and put in what it needs,’ she said.
Despite being largely cut-off from the world outside her apocalyptic setting, Ms Berry was determined to join the community force for recovery and managed to set up an online fundraising platform for her son’s school.
‘I always feel like schools are forgotten about, I feel they get pushed to the back of the list,’ Ms Berry said, ‘but with the amount of school our children have missed due to COVID, I don’t want them to miss any more’.
Ms Berry was a dance teacher and was offering the ten highest donors a free six-month subscription to her online dance platform at Deanne Berry Bodies.
The campaign had raised nearly $13,000 by Tuesday.