Supporting Flood-affected Communities in Northern NSW

After catastrophic floods hit Lismore earlier this year, Society members, volunteers and staff swung into action to assist devastated communities. 

When catastrophic floods hit the Northern Rivers in February, thousands of people lost everything they owned, and many local businesses were destroyed. In the worst-hit areas, entire towns were decimated. North-East Regional Director, Clare Van Doorn was seconded to head the Society’s flood response and immediately relocated to Lismore to commence the task.

Led by Lismore Central Council President, Gail Gaudron, who worked tirelessly throughout, Conference Members worked long days at the Disaster Recovery Centres (DRCs) set up across the region. They spoke with traumatised flood victims and provided financial support and an opportunity to share their grief. Members also liaised with other agencies to ensure that applications for support were completed and processed as quickly as possible. Other organisations at the DRCs included Service NSW, Service Australia, Legal Aid, the Salvos, housing agencies and the Insurance Council.

Members enabled people to share their story in a space that was caring and compassionate, allowing people to take their time, despite the noisy surrounds of a busy auditorium. Members travelled from other regions to assist local Conferences meet the high demand. Staff from outside the area also came to help, wherever there was a need.

Resilience NSW had suggested that it might be traumatic for the victims to have to recount their story to each of the service providers at the DRC, but members found that most people wanted to talk about what happened and shared their stories at length. Many wanted to show the photos of their destroyed property and belongings.

‘The experience made me think of this quote from Dr. Jordan Peterson about the need for people to share their story’ said Rosie Leo, Member and Community Engagement Coordinator and Conference Member, who was heavily involved in the Society’s response – “people organise their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to share their story to, they lose their minds”’.

Members of the Frassati Young Adult Conference prepared food and served the community from the front of the destroyed Vinnies Store and office in Magellan Street, Lismore. Shortly after, the fully stocked Liverpool Night Patrol Van arrived in Lismore. The young Conference Members visited impacted areas serving hot drinks, cakes, and snack packs. They also distributed personal care packs donated by Nutrimetics Distributors, which were sent from as far away as Adelaide.

When the Van visited the Koori Mail Flood Relief Hub, they found that a group of Hare Krishnas had set up and were singing and chanting, and then later there was an Aboriginal smoking ceremony with didgeridoo playing and a guided Aboriginal meditation. It was great for the Society to be there too, serving hot drinks and offering a listening ear to anyone who needed it.

To date, the Society has distributed $3.278 million in direct financial assistance to people worst affected by the floods, including the $3 million raised by the Vinnies NSW Flood Appeal.

Conference Members continue to assist those who are still recovering, going above and beyond regular Conference work to help impacted people get back on their feet.

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