A Love Letter To Lismore

image courtesy ABC News

Less than a week ago, we heard reports that Cyclone Debbie was brewing in far north QLD. Days later, the rain began sheeting down. By Thursday afternoon, the Lismore roads were drenched. I was getting SMSs from school and ballet to take care driving home, and that floods were predicted.

3am that night, the Lismore flood levee broke, and the water rose,

and rose,

and rose.

It reached 11.5m, which is a record high.

Water cascaded down the streets of the Lismore CBD. It flooded shops, cafes, schools, offices, homes.

The town was devastated. Brown, muddy water filled the streets, like an oversized, miserable swimming pool no one should ever swim in.

Even when the rain had stopped, the water filled the streets for days.

We only live about fifteen minutes up the road, but we were completely fine. Well out of harm’s way.

Yet Lismore, our dearest neighbour, lay sodden, drenched and distraught. People had lost so so much.

I was born in Lismore. My girls were both born in Lismore. We owned our first home in Lismore. And I spent the first few months of parenting life walking the streets of Lismore, carrying my baby in a hug-a-bub. I didn’t love the hill I had to climb in thirty degree weather. But I have always had a soft spot for Lismore.

When we moved from Lismore, to be closer to friends and family, my love for the town only grew. Spending days in Lismore op shops and cafes were my favourite. I loved the Lismore Star Court Arcade. The vintage shops. I loved Polli and The Blackbird. I loved Shoppe One 17 for quality kitchen supplies. I loved my hairdresser at The Boys. I loved the weekly farmer’s markets. I loved the carboot markets.

And I still do.

Over the last few years, there has been a burning optimism in Lismore. More and more cafes and restaurants have opened. Less and less shops are empty. And shops and cafes are not unlike those in gentrified Melbourne areas, if not better, because they are authentic and unpretentious.

And I keep coming back to Lismore for more of this authentic, and unpretentious vibe. Lismore doesn’t really try to be anything it’s not. What it is, is a vibrant and warm community. It’s people who love and appreciate the town. It’s people who embrace diversity. It’s creatives. Entrepreneurs. Hard working people.

Now my daughter is at school in the Lismore area, I’ve been looking at real estate there. The more time I spend there, the more I love the community.

And then came the floods…

The amazing thing, is that the moment the flood inundated the town, people drew together, and became stronger. Immediately, there were people offering accommodation, food, supplies, clothes, and help to clean.

Some people made music in the streets. My brother’s friend, Tom Papworth, made a sign “Running Low On Chicken Nuggets: Request Airdrop“. He was joking of course, but the humour was in good taste, and was needed.

The moment water was drained from the streets, almost everyone I know did something to help. People gave up work to help clean houses and businesses. The Lismore Helping Hands Facebook group is fast growing. It has gained another thousand members since I last looked. The Edge Fitness gym in Alstonville banded together to collect anything and everything from Alstonville and surrounds, which could be donated. Friends cooked warm meals for people who have lost everything. And my brother and his partner delivered chicken nuggets for Tom.

I haven’t been into the town yet. What I hear is that the streets are broken, and debris is everywhere. I’ve heard that interiors are caked in mud, and structures are destroyed. I’ve heard buildings smell like car oil and fuel.

I’ve also heard that businesses are already re-opening, only days after the flood. Supported by volunteers, Lismore people are getting back on their feet again. Slowly. It will take time, and maybe for some, full recovery is not possible.

My heart goes out to Lismore, where my heart first began, and will keep bringing me back. Lismore, we love you. And you will rise again.