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Seeds of hope sprout one year on from 2022 floods

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Published
3 March 2023

Southern Cross University’s Northern Rivers campus looks starkly different to this time last year.

When the catastrophic 2022 floods hit the region in February and March, the University’s Lismore campus became the main evacuation centre for residents and a rallying point for many relief efforts.

But a year later, the high ground of the East Lismore campus has been seized in a way that has dramatically changed the campus.

Thousands of people now work and study on the 75-hectare campus, bringing a commercial and professional vibrancy as a result of relocations and new ventures associated with the floods.

More than 20 local organisations used the Lismore campus as their base in the aftermath of the floods, with a range of service providers remaining on-campus this year.

These include:

  • 30 consulting rooms for Primary Health Network mental health practitioners, general practitioners, and a pop-up pharmacy and pathology.
  • Trinity Christian College and The Living School establishing their schools on campus.
  • Richmond River High relocating to land on the University boundary.
  • TAFE NSW delivering programs from the Lismore campus.
  • Business NSW establishing the Northern Rivers Business Hub as it continues to support local enterprise.
  • A suite of more than 50 pod homes constructed as emergency housing on the University’s football fields.

February 28, the anniversary of the natural disaster, coincided with student Orientation for 2023, almost symbolically welcoming students back to campus face-to-face. Other key features of Southern Cross’s leadership in community recovery include:

  • Seven projects funded under the Vice Chancellor’s Flood Recovery Project Scheme; including developing a digital archive of the Richmond Catchment; discovering community values for river health; mapping the flood experiences and impacts on children and youth; collating a directory of service providers to support in recovery efforts; improving the GIS flood evaluation model; and measuring the mental health and wellbeing of flood-affected marginalised groups.
  • PhD candidate Marian Bailey named 2022 Student of the Year for her volunteer work at the on-campus evacuation centre and continued assistance over the following months to help those who were displaced.
  • Several Southern Cross staff and students awarded medals by Lismore City Council on 28 February 2023 as part of a function for more than 240 boaties who performed rescues during the flood events.
  • Stories of these civilian flood rescuers have been captured by Southern Cross University journalism lecturer Jeanti St Clair and photographer Raimond de Weerdt. Their exhibition, Rescue: Stories and Portraits of Civilian Rescuers from the February 2022 Flood, is currently on display at Lismore’s Serpentine Gallery.

One member of the ‘tinnie army’ was Southern Cross law lecturer Dr Aidan Ricketts. “The beauty of disaster is it brings out community spirit,” Dr Ricketts said. “There are all of the bad things but there’s also all of these amazing, inspirational experiences that you have along the way.”

Southern Cross University Vice President (Engagement) Ben Roche said it was imperative to acknowledge the experiences of the community during and following the floods.

“The values that you should lean into as you move through your study are precisely the values that this University demonstrated 12 months ago when this city and this region was so deeply challenged by the disaster of the 2022 floods,” Mr Roche said.

“We are ambitious. We are bold. We care for our people, we care for our planet, and we care for our communities. We build trust through action, and we do what's right. It is the demonstration of these values that make us a remarkable university.”

They started collecting people off  roofs, out of boats, helicopters.  
We would have every 15 to 30 minutes blackhawk  helicopters landing on the Morrie Ryan rugby  
oval dropping people off. The campus was  in complete blackout and there was very  
very patchy mobile connectivity. So we  had little sense of what was happening.  
We had up to a thousand people here it's just it  was this multifaceted approach to to the response  
that involved not only looking after evacuees  and housing their primary needs of you know food,  
water and power, balancing that off the response  and what we needed to help to provide to the ADF,  
the police and the ambulance. You would you would  sort of trying to wear multiple hats at one time. 
And we very quickly agreed that our  response to the questions would be yes  
and then we'd work out what that meant afterwards. For the university so it was just an enormous task  
to get that mobilized and get that happening and  and then all the logistics around that so you know  
Salvation Army was doing a thousand meals  a day um then doing breakfasts and lunch so  
just the logistics around that all of the  donations that came into the university. 
We've had an outpouring of different regions  come here and donate their products and goods  
for us to distribute out to the community,  some are even flood affected that have been  
given so many donations themselves  which is really really inspiring. 
As a kid I grew up in uh I was born in Weewa  and the floods drove us out in 74 I think it  
was and my family were affected by floods when  I was a child so it holds strong to me so yeah. 
People don't want to sit on their hands and don't  want to be doing nothing and they will do anything  
to help, they don't care if it's scrubbing down  mud or if it's doing deliveries or if it's just  
picking up boxes and throwing things around  I've really seen that genuine community spirit. 
I just trawled Facebook for addresses that  were popping up that needed help. When you  
first walk in you can't ignore the smell, that's  the first thing that you notice and then it kind  
of just clicks in that this is someone's  life this is their reality we started there  
with a team of students and then we just didn't  stop. The adrenaline takes over and you just go  
and go you don't even think twice about it. Yeah it's quite shocking it's um just seeing  
people with the whole world's possessions  destroyed on the sidewalk so it's quite  
confronting but we're yeah we're just trying  our best to do what we can to help them  
even if it's just a chat to reassure them or you  know we've ripped up floorboards pulled up linos,  
separated garbage, yeah everyone's sort of working  together and you know just pitching in because  
everyone just wants to help the community  and help people get on with their lives. 
All the people who've been volunteering day in  and day out have just been truly amazing and the  
amount of donations coming in is also quite unreal  I mean I actually over the last couple of weeks  
I've found the whole thing quite emotional in  so many ways how people come together how people  
you know support each other even under  really difficult circumstances and  
also how resilient our staff have been. You know we've turned over pretty much  
every single square metre of space that we have on  the Lismore campus to become a springboard for the  
recovery of Lismore and the region the fact that  we've got we've got a police station on campus  
we've got three schools we've got a business  recovery hub, the public recovery hub, we've got  
a health precinct standing up health and medical  services that are currently unavailable in the  
town because pretty much every medical centre in  Lismore has been wiped out. We've got professional  
services operating out of the campus um so that  people can have their court hearings so people can  
see their children you know and and get some  sense of movement and productivity again.  
All of that has happened because the  University said yes first and foremost. 
Like the rest of the CBD and north and south  Lismore my business was literally up to the  
ceiling. Business NSW, in partnership with SCU is  setting up this business hub. We have hot desks,  
we will be running Q&A sessions for insurance, for  commercial tenancies, for the landlords for the  
tenants. There's a lot of very traumatized people  in town but really the focus here is to actually  
get businesses up and running as soon as we  can and to find out what businesses need to  
be able to do that. I don't know where we  would do this if the University wasn't here. 
So we had a total of eight classrooms on the third  floor that did not have water in them. The rest  
of the entire two campuses were inundated. It's  wonderful to be here at Southern Cross University  
in wonderful facilities working with  wonderful staff from the University  
to keep the education journey  happening and alive for our students.  
Oh I think we all had a sense of relief  just to know that we do have a place to  
be able to come together and and still learn.  It's really great to just even see everyone and be  
around people that are going through things  and we can really lean on each other.

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