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Byron Shire
May 23, 2024

Taking the time to remember as the future unfolds

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Billinudgel – a station with no trains… Photo Jeff Dawson

Mary Creighton wanted to go for a drive to look around her town and her old homes at The Pocket and Main Arm. She wanted to see what the flood had done. She dressed in a lovely candy-stripe shift with pink loafers. Pretty and comfy clothes. She has always liked nice clothes and had designed and made her own outfits to wear to the dances she and her best friend, Nancy Ball, enjoyed all over the area as teenagers in the 1950s.

Mary is well known and has many friends both young and old. She tells many stories of friends who have passed away over recent times and of the outings and happy times they used to share around the area.

Over the decades she and her husband Col have given a lot of intangible and priceless gifts to the people of Mullumbimby and surrounds. Some of you will remember Mary and Colin’s fine standard bred mares and foals that grazed the, now overgrown and weedy, railway paddock adjacent to Woolies. A lot has changed for Mary and Col. More changes are coming for their children and grandchildren’s generations.

The countryside has changed, and she frequently comments, as we drive around the hills, on these changes. Mary knows this place intimately as she spent about ten years doing manual work for long hours, and little money, share farming in The Pocket.

A look back

Most of the bananas and cleared grazing areas are gone and the camphor and weeds are thick. She is disturbed by the look of the old farms and town as if no one cares for them anymore. The old hall at Billinudgel is in a poor state and trains no longer stop here.

‘When it’s my turn to take the train and leave the station for good I’ll be in trouble as no trains stop here anymore , Mary comments. 

She remembers The Empire picture theatre and the Popular Cafe in Mullum, when the streets were alive with people dressed up in ‘town clothes’ – wearing hats and good clean shoes – all that has vanished.

We drive around to see the houses on New City Road and down by Ann Street, then over by the estate next to the Showgrounds. Many of her relatives and old friends have houses in these areas and some have lost everything. Some have had to leave to live elsewhere, a hard thing for anyone, but possibly much more of a hurdle for Mary’s generation.

‘I’ve got to accept change… but this hurts,’ says Mary.

On Monday morning, 28 February, as the water raged down the road, Mary was carried from her home to a friend’s place in a 4X4. She said it was a bit of a circus and was telling her helpers not to drop her as she would lose her knickers and the water would just carry them away.

Col stayed at home watching the water flow through the living area. He stayed until it had gone down and then started hosing out the garage.

Gill Lomath put Mary up for the night then Mary went to stay up on the Tweed with family for a week. During that time, Col, with the help of family and friends, set up the old shed out the back and they moved in there while the house was repaired.

Kenny organised for their old friends to come and fix up the house. It was a gift in return for the care and interest Mary and Col had given these ‘kids’ when they were little ones playing in the street. In those days everybody knew one another and you could call on a neighbour to borrow a cup of sugar if in need. She says she misses this kind of respect and the feeling of safety and care for neighbours and friends.

Mary’s generation are proud. Not proud of all they have done, but they feel they should not take help or charity. They prefer to give than to receive. So it’s been difficult for their ‘kids’ to make them accept their help. Their children and other ‘kids’ have helped to pull up the carpet and organise all the repairs. They had to remove around a metre of the walls, clean out the mud and filth and replace the skirting and lay tiles. Mary’s home now looks clean and bright.

Getting to safety

Not everyone of their generation affected by the floods in February 2022 had the same help from family and friends. Some do not have the means to remove walls, so they have let the walls dry out and then paint over the skirting. They say ‘when you have no insurance what can you do?’.

Others were home alone and sat on their beds until someone turned up to rescue them. Rescue was a very difficult feat for anyone, let alone those elderly, ill, or disabled. People had to be able to get in and then able to lift people safely into boats, or assist them to walk through the churning muddy water full of debris to the RSL evacuation centre.

Our drive out to Main Arm did not get as far as Mary had wanted, that is, to the school. We were stopped just after the Palmwoods T-intersection at Weakley’s crossing where the water was flowing over like a rapid. Her old friend’s house was high up was safe but the paddock was pretty much gone and turned into a rocky creek bed.

Community vital

Back at the Main Arm Store we stopped for a milkshake and coffee. I wish I had taken a photo of Mary sipping on the candy-striped straw of a strawberry milkshake in her bright candy-striped shift. I saw the sweet teenager Mary saying how good life is, and how happy the people getting their parcels and meeting up at the local store appeared.

It seems not all has changed for the worst and some have the heart and spirit to find much simple joy in these difficult times.

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  1. It’s called getting old. We’ve all had that. Most of the houses I’ve lived in have been demolished and I have trouble navigating in my home town.
    A season for everything, and everything in it’s season. Life is change. Main Arm will keep changing until eventually Main Arm will cease to exists.
    It’s OK. That’s how it’s suppose to be.


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