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Byron Shire
February 3, 2023

Taking a break from the Lismore floods in Main Arm

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John and Bolt enjoying a relatively flood-free break in Main Arm. Photo Aslan Sahnd

For John Tudman and his partner, the risk of staying in their home as the flooding in Lismore took place appeared to be minimal. After the 2017 floods of Ex-cyclone Debbie they had had their house raised for a second time 600mm above the previous highest flood level. 

It turns out it wasn’t enough. 

To be safe they had set themselves and Bolt, the dog they were dogsitting for friends, up a spot in the ceiling.

‘We thought we would be okay in the ceiling but as we watched the water enter the house and begin coming up the walls we decided it was not a good idea to stay,’ John told The Echo

‘We had raised the house again after Ex-cyclone Debbie but this time it came in and went up over the windows and above the picture rails, that’s more than two meters higher.’

Lismore floods March 1, 2022. Photo David Lowe.

They had gone into the roof at sunrise and between 10–11am they decided the water was too high and it was time to get out.

‘I came down and swam down my hallway, it was incredibly dark even though it was daytime, because the windows were covered by water. Bookcases had floated and collapsed in the hallway and when I got to the front door I couldn’t push the things out of the way to open it.’

John finally got a window open about half a metre so he could swim out and holding onto the gutter, which was unclipping as he went, he was able to make his way around to the front door and kick it partially open. 

‘Our house was part of the river which was going at about 15 knots on either side of it.’

John’s partner climbed out of the roof into the water with the dog paddling alongside using some floating buckets with the computers and phones in them and the chicken necks they had for the dog to made her way to the front door. 

‘The bookcase was in the way so she put the dog on top of the floating bookcase and went back to find a ladder so that we would be able to climb onto the roof from the outside. I have no idea how she got the ladder over and around everything floating in the house. She managed to get the ladder out the window to me and I got it fixed on the deck that was under the water. Then she had to dive down under the bookcase to get out the partly kicked in door. All I could see was a faint glow as she dived down and swam out, it was very Titanical.’

Trying to get help

The three of them made it onto the roof with two pairs of shorts, two t-shirts and the big bag of chicken necks for the dog and they called 000. 

‘One friend was calling the SES to get us help waited one hour and seven minutes to get through and all they could say was “we’ll put you on the list”. By the time we got through we had mild hyperthermia and they told us to “hail a boat”. We did try to hail a jetski but they couldn’t hear us. 

‘The roof is quite steep and it was pelting with rain and we were stuck there between three to four hours. During that time a man in a private boat saw us when he was recusing some people down the street and said he would come back.’

When he came back hours later he wasn’t able to get to them because of the tress and current so John suggested he go further up the river and come back behind them. 

‘I saw him come through a house by himself. He had a stick he was using to try and lift up wires but then he disappeared.’

Eventually, a helicopter hovered over them for about 10 minutes but they had to ask them to move because of the wind it created was blowing them so severely. 

‘Then everyone turned up at once. Two jetskis and a guy from Alstonville in his fishing boat. We got onto the boat with Bolt and cut through The Duck Pond, Norco and the river before heading up Casino and Ballina Streets which were like a highways for boats.’

Flood rubbish around You Are Here sign in Lismore, 7 March 2022. Photo David Lowe.

As the flood water receded it was time for the clean up and John said it was 100 per cent a community based response. 

‘Volunteers from Summerland House to people from as far away as the Sunshine Coast turned up to help them clean up.

‘They bought their own provisions and cleaning materials and then they left them behind for us. It was mostly young people and they gave us the momentum to keep working. By yourself it is so overwhelming.’

But everyone needs a break and John, his partner and Bolt were able to escape to the peace of Main Arm Village to take a break from the clean up – they couldn’t be more thankful for their flood free getaway. As they say, everything is relative!

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