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Byron Shire
April 17, 2024

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Living in Limbo, Life after the flood.

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… the people we thought we’d saved are still drowning; they’re up to their necks in bureaucracy and despair and it’s not on the news.

In Christian theology, Limbo is the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the Damned.

In our region that’s how many are describing the last 12 months of interactions with the NRRC and insurance companies in their attempts to find not the ‘afterlife’ per se, but life after the flood.

A year ago the water came. It was so fast that authorities were caught off-guard, neighbours had to rescue neighbours, strangers saved strangers. It was a courageous and extraordinary moment when we saw the best of who we are; when we stood with compassion and solidarity in the detritus of another person’s life, in an attempt to help them find restitution in the midst of extraordinary loss.

The devastation was more than visible; we could smell it. We were consumed by this wave of grief and deep knowledge that for all of us everything had changed. For some, more than others.

I wasn’t flood-affected directly. In fact, while thousands were, thousands also weren’t. For some, life has gone on pretty much as normal. We’ve lived a parallel life to the many who were flood-affected. 

But the people we thought we’d saved are still drowning; they’re up to their necks in bureaucracy and despair and it’s not on the news. A chopper can’t record airborne vision of the Virgin Mary drowning in phone calls, misinformation, insurance company paperwork, assessments and conflicting scopes of works. There are no dramatic pictures of the misery of not being able to plan, of not knowing how to move forward, of not knowing how to survive the day. 

Up to 75 per cent of people who live through natural disaster can experience PTSD.

This aftershock cannot be captured with a camera but it’s a real story. It is many many stories. It is the post-flood bureaucratic zombie apocalypse where survivors compete for limited resources with no sense of who is in line, if they are in the wrong line, or if in fact there is any line at all. They do however get told to ‘please hold the line’ – a lot.

One year on they are very very tired of holding the line.

Over the last few weeks I have spent about eight hours sitting with flood survivors from Lismore and Mullumbimby. It’s clear they are distressed. They talk of the days they’ve spent, every week, on the phone to insurance companies, builders and government departments trying to establish a way forward. They tell me how what they clarify one week gets contradicted or revoked the next. It’s so confusing.

Personal stories are muddied with detail about someone else, with government requirements, with past experiences, with frustration. It’s what happens when people are in mental distress. I ask if they need mental health support. But they are clear, ‘No more social workers. We want real help.’ You see, it’s builders, and money they need most, because the underlying cause of their distress is being left abandoned and feeling hopeless. They need reason to hope.

Rumours and misinformation abound. In Lismore one group had ‘heard’ that someone in the Byron Shire had been given a buyback. That’s not true. A group in Mullumbimby believed nothing would happen until Lismore and the most heavily affected had received buybacks, but the people I spoke to in South Lismore had not been offered buybacks. They’re all waiting too, wondering where their need has been triaged in relation to everyone elses’. Flood survivors everywhere are worried that $800 million is not enough to go around. 

Meantime elderly people who once rented or owned are now couch-surfing. Children are still traumatised by the sound of rain. In south Lismore uninsured homeowners, and those who took payouts, who’ve since rebuilt their homes are hearing rumours their area is scheduled for ‘retreat’ – where will that leave them? Some sold at a ridiculously low price so they could pay out part of their mortgage. Most are still paying for a house they can’t live in. A woman in her 70s tells me ‘I am project managing the rebuild of my home. Could your mother do this?’ No, I don’t think she could. Every day for people whose homes were flooded is hard. They are struggling to find money to retrofit or raise their home, knowing they don’t have capacity to repay an extension on their mortgage. The cost of repairs means they will have to sell. They have no guarantee that they will be reimbursed by the NRRC, nor do they have a timeframe – for anything. 

The people I have spoken to have all been told NRRC caseworkers are coming to help them action their cases. Caseworkers were promised on the ground by November, then by December… now it’s February. No one I spoke to had seen one. I don’t know if it’s incompetence or willful misconduct, all I know is the landscape of retrofitting, rebuilding, house-raising and building within resilient housing frameworks, alongside promises of ‘support’ not yet seen, and ‘pathways to recovery’ not yet even identified, is completely exhausting people. 

One man tells me ‘The promises of the NRRC gave me hope, but now that hope has turned to despair.’ The NRRC needs to pull their finger out. This is taking too long.

We the community must stand together once again. Where there is a strong grassroots community there is hope. And guess what, an election is coming. The NSW Coalition government has fucked this up. This time we don’t need boats to save people. We need votes.

Flood-affected people could do with advocacy and support right now. Are you a retired builder or town planner? Are you an experienced home renovator? Contact Mullumbimby Recovery Service.

On 28 Feb, the Neighborhood centre is co-hosting a Reflections Day barbeque, 10am–2pm, with Red Cross and Byron Shire Council. [email protected].


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8 COMMENTS

  1. This is so so true. People don’t understand that we have not recovered and life is not back to normal and probably never will be. We are still living in a caravan and in extreme heat it’s not pleasant. My 90 yr old mother is still waiting for her house to start being repaired.

    • I understand. We got burnt out of our home in a bush fire. And people around the world who have had nature try to kill them while destroying their home and possessions, can understand what you and I went through. I lived in a caravan in the desert for 3 years before I could get my current house completed. I feel for you. Would be great to buy up a bunch of those cheap ex-fracking dongas and rent them out to you guys at a nominal fee to cover costs, but that’s just not an option in your state cause building codes, it’s dangerous or something. We should get them to live in an un-powered caravan for a year through all seasons. Not the politicians, the people who pushed for all the building codes cause they like to tell other people what they can and can’t do on their own property. We’ll let them out once they change their mind.

    • I understand. We got burnt out of our home in a bush fire. And people around the world who have had nature try to kill them while destroying their home and possessions, can understand what you and I went through. I lived in a caravan in the desert for 3 years before I could get my current house completed. I feel for you. Would be great to buy up a bunch of those cheap ex-fracking dongas and rent them out to you guys at a nominal fee to cover costs, but that’s just not an option in your state cause building codes, it’s dangerous or something. We should get them to live in an un-powered caravan for a year through all seasons. Not the politicians, the people who pushed for all the building codes cause they like to tell other people what they can and can’t do on their own property. We’ll let them out once they change their mind.

  2. Hey Mandy unless you are living in another
    Country…!! Labor has been in government
    For how long ? the buyback funding nearly
    a billion dollars one year later WTF has labor
    Done this past 6 months to push through
    The red tape and get some positive outcomes
    For those most affected in lismore and surrounding
    areas ? FA is the answer…you went to town
    On the previous government for the apparent
    Inaction Inwich the government offered
    The defence forces..but the SES knocked back
    Requests.. labor are running the ship mandy
    All good just blame the previous government…

  3. It is unlikely that Lismore, a safe Labor State seat, and Ballina a safe Green State seat , are going to elect the Libs. Therefore why would the Libs bother to spend any money on us? The Libs have previously not funded seats they cannot win and are doing it again it seems

  4. Well “dongas”aren’t safe , same as containers , boarded up houses or caravans, anything boxy will float and crash in heavy current.
    Best to loft convert and then work down – buy out destroyed houses and Bunnings vouchers for the rest

  5. Thank you Mandy
    It’s true we need money to pay banks and stop the financial abuse not beurocratic quagmires withholding human rights money in the bank and causing financial sanctions hardship and poverty because yes the area doesn’t vote nlp in state but the fed guy is nlp and labour in fed. Just pay move the people and stop using victims the people as political pawns tactics. All parties have sucked at this in results but now all key stakeholders of key nrrc roles board and in governance roles premier deputy and nrrc board and senate flood and fed emergency must step in as billions is being misappropriated to developers and back in gov failed Resilance nrrc groups perverting billions of money from the victims and rebuilding moving and putting nsw and the area back into financial health. They must be sacked or held to public account if the oversight doesn’t do their job urgently as clearly the premier and deputy and nlp love to kid a dog when down and thrive on being cruel and future faking gaslighting victims who vote around australia and all Australians. At the end of the day political perversion of justice and money in political discrimination needed a fed integrity overhaul of the states intentional withholding of money directly to flood victims and instead filling up their fail gov groups and paying billions to their mate keeper program and developers. Follow the money. Look sat what they do not what the press spin, which is all they are good at. They don’t pass the pub test and it beggars belief more floods will come and higher and only one is paid in 1 year so it will take 6000 years for the nrrc to move pay raise retro fit intentionally, as they have undermined under resourced to ensure money isn’t paid for permanent solutions to the victims urgently as senate ordered. The nlp nrrc acting in concert and cultural systemic corruption fraud and human rights crimes of withholding money is nothing new but needs to stop as they take a public wage and are swindling billions of taxpayers money on disasters and flood that doesn’t go to change the cause and just is window dressing. All you need to do is compare the same flood and qld results vs nsw and the fact nsw didn’t have a group to do buybacks for the 17yrs they did. Look 5-7 billion on temporary money nlp misappropriated as it is a false spend away from permanent money to help survivors and the Murdoch machine spewing whatever rubbish lies the nlp premier deputy use with nrrc to mislead Australians so they think we are all being looked after as they play the villain but are more like our child molesting covert protected priests. We needs urgent intervention as they are committing fraud and aiding and abetting financial crimes of office and human rights abuse. Put politics aside and just pay the money. I asked senate for 1.5 as that’s what 6000 will costs as the 800 will only cover 1000 homes and sone land – and that’s only if the huge wasted wages on staff involved and the future faking gaslighting nrrc and lipstick on a pug Resilance don’t steal it all in flights taxis wages hotels because they refuse to get 300 local staff need urgently to do buybacks etc. ie 100 local staff buying back 10 each a week will do 1000 buybacks a year and will bring more millions into the area – instead nlp nrrc have staff in Sydney in expensive offices with nice views abusing us not putttibg things in writing non compliant to laws and their policy and a management of wrong doers stonewalling and covering up not cleaning up. Yes they have no integrity and no public interest at heart and gov poor performance no morals or ethics and no results practices. But it’s time the big boys and girls who ordered the Urgent buybacks protected us and the feds who paid the 400 million and the state tax payers of nsw who paid the 400 million ( so the 800million) david and Kieron of the nrrc are sitting on and withldibg urgent money from us with because no one is holding them to account and they act like power crazy tyrannical truculent unaccountable high risk losers because their nlp parents Dominic and Paul are into wrong doing and have always perverted public funds for their political nlp nest and filled their pockets stealing proper fit governance as icac protects weaponised their wrong doing by saying they have no duty of care or duty to act and can be incompetent. Be clear they aren’t incompetent they are cruel and money men who hate labour green voting areas and always withhold money. It deserves a RC and fed icac and these criminals who fake it as Heros to be held to legal consequences of public fraud perversion of justice money and intentional human rights abuse

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