Lismore floods - one year on

We’re just so thankful that we have been shown so much love, so much generosity. We’ve been able to stick together as a community and that is the most important thing. The buildings don’t define us.

Upon the one-year anniversary of the devastating floods, Instructional Leader and IEU Rep Belinda Cahill of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish School, South Lismore, reflects on the past and the future.

On the morning she spoke to Newsmonth, a storm hit the area, and she said the rain continues to be a constant reminder of the devastation people in the area faced.

“Our immediate response after the flood was to support our families and community. We were also focused on bringing our school community back together as quickly as possible, and returning to some sense of normality was our priority.

“For the first two weeks after the flood, the staff spent their time in gum boots and gloves. We knew how important it was to help our community, cleaning out houses and businesses. It was devastating. Seeing people’s lives and belongings being piled up in the gutter. Words can’t describe the emotion and impact that has on a community.

Sticking together

“After two weeks, and looking at several potential school sites, we were blessed to be able to relocate to East Lismore, where we are now. We are so grateful for the generosity of St Carthages Parish to allow our parish school community to stay together and continue to focus on wellbeing and learning for our students at the Our Lady of Lourdes site.

“On the Saturday before we opened, we had a huge working bee at the new site. The parish school community gathered together in solidarity and we worked from sun-up to sun-down to get the site ready for our children. Without the support of families, staff, students and members of the community, this small miracle would not have been achieved.

“Once we started back at school, there were challenges. We had counseling available for our teachers, families and children. Our Lady of Lourdes was an infant school, so it was quite small, and we have 240 children.

“Initially we made the best of a difficult situation, but we were squashed in. We had three classes combined in some rooms. We had no desks, no chairs, no pencils, nothing. That’s when the outpouring of love from families, businesses, members of the community, other schools and people donating anything they could came.

“We had people from all over the country, some driving for days, just to make sure our kids had what they needed. Donations of backpacks, books, pencil cases, shoes and lunch boxes came pouring in. We had a lot of love shown to us and a lot of things given to us to ensure our children did not go without.

Milk crates to chairs

“The ingenuity of our teachers and support staff was amazing. We had a teacher use milk crates from Woolworths and put yoga mats on them to turn them into chairs. The children loved it.

“Within a week of being in the new site, and nearly a month after the flood, every child had a book and a pencil, and most of the families had received everything they needed for the return to school.

“Twelve months on and we’re not back in our old site but we have achieved amazing things. We have three new demountable classrooms, beautiful turfed areas, new technology and furniture and a new sensory/nature play area. We have created a new school.

“The teachers and support staff have been through a lot, some of them lost their own homes, but they made sure our children had the best chance to keep learning. Sacrifices were made and when we look back now, it’s hard to believe we have achieved so much in such a short period of time.

“We have 30 staff and a very small staff room. There really isn’t anywhere to sit and eat our lunch. Most of the teachers sit outside and watch the children play while they eat some lunch.”

“We’re just so thankful that we have been shown so much love, so much generosity. We’ve been able to stick together as a community and that is the most important thing.

“The buildings don’t define us. We’re a small school of excellence wherever we happen to be. Our goal for the future is to find a space to establish a library so our children can start borrowing books again.

“This story is a celebration of the staff’s is dedication and their willingness to do whatever it takes to enable our children to have the best learning opportunities. We are very proud of them all.”

Our Lady Help of Christians Parish School Principal and IEU member Michael Piccoli, said, “You never know what you are capable of achieving as a school, until you are forced to face situations that you never expected would happen. It takes a village to raise our children and the 2022 floods certainly showed us how important it is to stand together, look after each other and never lose sight of what is important.”

Sue Osborne

One year after the devastating Lismore floods, schools in the area are still facing an uncertain future.

Left: Our Lady Help of Christians Primary School South Lismore has temporarily moved up to the old site that was Our Lady of Lourdes in East Lismore. No decisions about the future location of this school have been made.

Centre: Trinity Catholic College Lismore lost both its campuses. It is looking unlikely that the school will ever operate on the site again. Since the floods they have temporarily relocated: Year 7- 10 students and staff are at Southern Cross University, East Lismore and Years 11-12 to St John’s College, Woodlawn on the outskirts of Lismore.

Right: St Joseph’s Primary Woodburn’s future is also uncertain. Since March 2022 they have been operating in demountables in the grounds of the Catholic church in Evans Head.