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May 22, 2024

Why a listening space matters

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The Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre is setting up the flood recovery centre in the Civic Hall as they prepare to support the next phase of the flood recovery. Photo Aslan Shand.

Of all the forgotten stories in the aftermath of the 2022 floods in the Northern Rivers, the role of Mullumbimby’s Listening Space (LS) surely ranks as one of the more fascinating.

This pro bono counselling service, part-funded for flood response and located in the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre, was established in the wake of the 2017 floods. A small team of LS counsellors provided support to many traumatised locals whose houses had been inundated or who needed some emotional support.

Most of the counsellors were volunteers or students on placement. As a team, we learned a good deal about the depths of trauma experienced by flood victims as well as the suffering of those who bore witness to a ravaged community. 

The events of 2022 proved to be much more challenging than 2017. In the immediate aftermath there was panic and confusion about how to respond to something so widespread and devastating. What role would be played by existing and newly formed organisations? Who would coordinate the whole thing?  

Thinking things through

It took time to think things through, to get a sense of the most pressing needs and what resources were available. The Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre facilitated the presence of LS counsellors in the Recovery Centre which became a major multi-agency response hub. The need for support was evident in the Centre itself where flood victims could be seen weeping, others catatonic or having psychotic episodes. It was a gut-wrenching scene of tragedy and trauma. 

We had to act, and quickly. The Neighbourhood Centre was already in full flow, offering all manner of services to a beleaguered community.

Acute crisis

Listening Space invited people with accredited counselling experience to offer their services. And they did, in the most extraordinary ways. Around 80 people turned up: psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses, social workers, qualified counsellors and many others. 

As part of a broad range of services offered by the Neighbourhood Centre – and facing extraordinary demands in a time of acute crisis – LS had to check these people out, create a roster, find suitable spaces within the Neighbourhood Centre, and appoint a coordinator. All this was done in quick time, as clients began to roll in. Love, compassion, kindness and care flowed thought the building. Helpers offered their time, expertise and support to a community in deep crisis. It was amazing to witness this; to be a part of it. 

The Listening Space continues

Listening Space continues its work at the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre to the present day, providing professionally supervised counselling services free of charge to a community still in need and seeking the human touch. LS staff provide a listening ear, information, and advice when sought. 

Listening Space was, of course, just one of many initiatives that stepped up in the wake of the floods. Countless individuals, groups and organisations became involved. Without this, it’s likely that the community would be in considerably worse shape than it is. 

Trauma remains present, people are still hurting and confused about the lack of government response to an ongoing crisis. Homes remain empty, repairs still need to be done, many people remain in temporary housing, or in cars and tents. 

Life in all its splendour will return

The suffering caused by the floods is likely to endure. But over time, and with the right support and connections, life in all its splendour will return. Mullum has already regained much of its verve. 

Looking forward, we’ll need a much more coordinated, appropriately funded and well-drilled response to whichever climate event strikes these parts. And extreme weather events will happen, most likely this coming fire season. Thanks in part to the lessons learnt last year, services like LS will be better prepared – but only with the right level of support. 

I commend everyone who offered their time, energy and skills in 2022. You made a difference to many peoples’ lives. 


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