2022 Northern Rivers floods 2.0: enough is enough

The main street of Byron Bay pictured yesterday (Wednesday, 30 March, 2022) after unprecedented rainfall. Photo: Scott Alexander King/Facebook.

Enough is enough, writes Sunny Grace, who says our federal government – recalcitrant on climate change and slow to help flood victims – needs to go. She filed this piece from the Northern Rivers as it experiences its second flood crisis in as many months.

According to Barnaby Joyce, the floods in February were a one in 3,500-year event. And yet, here we are one month later experiencing another such event. How many of these must we endure until the federal government takes climate change seriously, and puts in place real measures to cope during such emergencies and their aftermaths? I get it, weather is hard to predict especially with La Niña in town, but it is getting harder to predict due to climate change.

My husband was in Sydney helping our young son when the warnings came through to prepare for potential flooding. I was at our home in the hills behind Ballina. My eldest son and I ventured out to get supplies. The roundabout was already flooded, and the exit ramp was set up as two ways again, like it had been last month.

We tried to get to Ballina but the queue into town was snaking all the way to the highway. We turned around to Bangalow, aware access could be cut off again. We managed to get what we needed and headed home, watching the rivers rise beside the motorway.

I was worried my husband might not make it home. Water was rising in Ballina and the winds had turned nasty. He managed to get on an earlier flight as his original flight was cancelled. We had to go the long way to the airport and could see shop owners in Ballina sandbagging again. The airport closed after his flight landed. It recorded 433mm of rain in 48 hours.  

A Wednesday, 30 March TV news report on the latest flooding in Ballina, Byron Bay and Lismore. Video: 7NEWS Australia/YouTube.

At our house, which is on relatively high ground, we are safe from broken river levees and floodwater, but this latest weather event felt different again. I woke often during the night due to fierce winds, sheets of rain and relentless lightning. All night. No respite. The most rain recorded in Ballina in a 24-hour period since record keeping began.

In the morning I checked my community Facebook loop to discover we were cut off completely. Meanwhile, the news is all about the budget and Warnie. Updates from the SES are slow. Once again, it is community Facebook pages and local networks providing information and support. At least this time we still had the internet.

Houses on the hill are taking on water due to blocked drains and the sheer amount of water on the ground from a month ago. My studio space has a slick of brown mud across some of the floor. Once again, this is nothing compared to those who have lost everything a month ago. But if I am feeling anxious and discombobulated, I can’t imagine how they feel.

It is strange being in the middle of a disaster zone, to see the community come together to rebuild and find yourselves back at Groundhog Day. Lismore’s cancelled evacuation order was reinstated. All around us rivers were breaking banks and rain records were broken. Even Byron Bay flooded this time, the main street a river of brown water inundating shops.

Above our house, a helicopter hovers for a long time. We learn later a woman was rescued from her car trying to get through the roundabout below.

What will we wake up to tomorrow? For someone who already suffers anxiety, this uncertainty and the sense of community weariness means the cortisol is rising and falling as fast as the flood waters. I hope we can get out tomorrow. I need to get my mental health medication again. Déjà vu, anyone? We know how bad it is to go cold turkey from anti-anxiety meds. This is just one of the supply issues facing the Northern Rivers community again. Last time the region ran out of petrol. I listen to the budget and petrol excise cuts. All well and good if you can get petrol.

The Pacific Highway near Sunny Grace’s home in the Ballina district yesterday (Wednesday, 30 March, 2022). Echoing events just for weeks ago, parts of the highway went underwater during the flood event. Photo: Sunny Grace.

So, let’s hope the government is better prepared next time. Because there will be a next time. That much we can predict. Let’s hope it won’t be in four weeks’ time again. The community may be resilient but with this double whammy people are losing heart. It’s going to take more than a $3K recovery payment to rebuild people’s lives and spirits. It’s going to take more than $420 tax break we may not even get.

We can only hope, this government loses power at the next election – the exact date of which we still don’t know as I write. Because of course our fearful leader doesn’t like to give the people of this country any information about events that will affect them. He prefers to stick his head in the mud and pace the bedroom praying to some God.

It’s not good enough. We need a leader to guide this country through the terrifying escalation of climate change especially as we are in the firing and flooding line. We need to ditch coal and gas for renewables. We need to rebuild our devastated towns in sustainable ways to withstand these disasters. We need to provide housing for all Australians not by offering them a high interest, mortgage insurance free loan – we can see where that will end up. Banks foreclosing and investors picking the bones of the exhausted lower classes and homeless.

How good’s Australia? It was a lot better before this government got their hands on it.  Don’t forget their ineptitude in dealing with disaster and climate change come election day.

For information on assisting victims flood victims and accessing assistance, visit the following links:

Sunny Grace is a writer, producer and director who divides her time between the NSW Northern Rivers and Sydney. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.

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