Yesterday, over 200 people gathered in the recently underwater Quad at Lismore to begin planning for what might come next for Lismore.
In an impromptu community gathering organised via social media, there were a series of speakers canvassing a range of views, united by their love of Lismore. Local Marita Schlink spoke about the mass trauma and grief in the community.
‘Taking care of land and country is now paramount,’ she said. ‘This community and the surrounding communities have been devastated. But we can turn it today with a community conversation.’
Local businesswoman Cassie Can said, ‘I really want to see Lismore get back on its feet… housing is obviously the number one crisis at the moment.’ She went on to say, ‘we need to reinvent, re-energize, revolutionize the Lismore CBD. We need creative community conversations. There’s no idea that is a bad idea.
‘Ideas create conversations and conversations create another way, and we all need that. Today isn’t about making decisions for anyone. It’s just getting things on the table,’ she said.
Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin thanked the community for being ‘so strong, so resilient, so caring, so compassionate. I knew that but I’ve seen it each and every day with this big event.
‘I also acknowledge that we are on Bundjalung nation, Widjabul Wia-bal people’s country and I pay my respects to them. A big shout out to the Koori Mail for what they do.’
Regarding solutions to the post-flood housing crisis, Ms Saffin said, ‘I’ve made it really clear it can’t be top down, it’s got to be bottom up, we’ve got to include everybody, we’ve got to hear all voices.’
She said Aboriginal elder women needed to be at the table too.
‘There’s been a Housing Task Force set up at state level, I said that doesn’t really speak to us. It’s good that it’s there. It’s got a commitment. But we need housing help teams on the ground,’ she said.
‘You might have seen over the last week, I’ve worked with everybody and anybody, I’ve spent more time with the Premier than I might have otherwise! We’ve got to know each other quite well. He did respond to the housing package that I put to him on behalf of the community, that’s a start.
‘I said to him, we already had an acute housing affordability, supply, homelessness problem, that we’ve never got the dollars here, and that we need that to be addressed long term. I’ve said it to the Leader of the Opposition. I’ve said it to anyone who will listen. I’ll continue to do that.
‘And what I’ve said is you cannot exclude community. The community stepped up and rescued. Our SES volunteers, the community, they need the resourcing, but the community went out in boats and in canoes. They’ve got to be included in the recovery responses and not excluded or seen as a nuisance…
‘Reach out, I’m accessible,’ said Janelle Saffin. ‘I want to work to make sure we repair, we restore, we rebuild not just our infrastructure, but our lives and our community, even better than it was.’
Amar Singh from Turbans 4 Australia (who have been providing free food to Lismore) said he had travelled widely but never been to Lismore before the flood crisis. Despite the enormous damage in and around the city he said, ‘Your spirit is still here. For that, each of you deserve a round of applause.’
Mr Singh explained that meals would continue to be available at North Rugby United Club, with the community being encouraged to act as couriers to take meals further afield.
‘We have the capacity for 1,000 meals a day’ he said.
Other ideas canvassed by speakers included pop-up shops using shipping containers for businesses able to restart trading, rebuilding Lismore with buildings on pontoons, the need for a new community hub area on land to be identified by council, temporary safe places for books to be kept and schools to operate.
There was a bigger discussion about the need to properly fix the catchment, and not reach for short term band-aid solutions.
Locals were reminded that there were announcements on 92.9 FM each morning between 8-9am about who is able to open and what they are doing, as well as local community announcements.
Anger and process
Local businesswoman Sally Flannery said, ‘It’s really normal to get angry… [but] it’s really powerful to get loud. Respect the bureaucratic process.
‘People want to help people that they like. Don’t tell them that they’re wrong. Tell them what they can do to make it better.’
She said it was also important to pay attention to mental health, not just personally, but in interactions with others.
Ms Flannery said remembering what had happened was important, (both personally and for processes like insurance) whether that be recording notes on phones or sending an email to others. Having remembered, she said it was also important to ‘set it aside a little bit, to help the healing process.’
Oliver Costello said, ‘We have to learn from the river… we have to understand the lessons… We really need to come together and learn from Country.’
NSW MLC-elect and local rice farmer Sue Higginson said, ‘It is so fabulous that everybody has come together so quickly… we find most comfort in coming together. That’s what we do.’
She said the talk from some quarters in recent days of more hard infrastructure, more levees and ‘more grey engineering’ had been quite frightening for some people, ‘especially those of us that were here 30 years ago suggesting that this is the predicament we’re in. But we can talk about that as we go forward.
‘And as we look at the solutions, as the lovely man at the back has suggested, many people are in trauma, and not ready to deal with the long term yet. Some of us are, and rest assured we’re going to be doing that as well,’ said Ms Higginson.
‘We’ve got so many wonderful diverse talents, experiences, lived experiences, voices, and emotions here. Together, we will carve out our paths together…
‘But we’re all on the same path. Because we love Lismore. We’re here because we love Lismore. And we’re here because we belong to this land.’
She said that when she joined the NSW Parliament in May she would be ‘reminding everyone what it means to come from this wonderful community.
‘But one thing I want to remind everyone is that we now have a new understanding of the limit of the flood level…
‘That’s something that we all now need to embrace in our cultural DNA, and as members of the community.’
Climate crisis biting
‘Our climate has changed,’ continued Sue Higginson. ‘It’s amongst us. it’s not something coming. It’s here. And extreme weather events will happen more and more. We can’t be frightened anymore.
‘We have to be brave together, hold each other while we do it, and work towards what our fabulous future in this brave world looks like together. I’ll be here for everyone for as long as I can.’
With more Lismore community get-togethers planned, clearly the post-flood conversation and recovery has barely begun.