Bob’s life-changing rescue leads to new life out of flood zone


Bob May, centre, with his own tinnie heroes, Marcus Smith and Derek Stratton at Bob’s Woodburn home.

Susanna Freymark

Bob May reckons he owes his life to the two blokes in a tinnie who rescued him from his Woodburn home as floodwaters raged on March 1, 2022.

Bob was featured in the documentary Tinnie Heroes.

“ I reckon if I had stayed there (at home) until daylight, I might be gurgling. I mightn’t be here,” Bob said in the film.

Bob survived the flood and at 86, he moved to Wollongbar a month ago.

“The difference is no fear of flooding,” he said about his new house.

It has been two years since Bob’s house went under. He has made friends with the two blokes who rescued him – Marcus Smith and Derek Stratton – and when he walks down the street in Woodburn, people call him ‘Movie Star’ because of his starring role in Tinnie Heroes.

“When I go back to Woodburn I feel sad the community has been so devastated by the floods,” he said.

“I’ve accepted the easy way out”

Robert May at his flood damaged home in Woodburn.

By easy way, he means accepting a buyback from the NSW Reconstruction Authority that enabled him to move out of the flood zone.

For a long time, he didn’t think he was going to get a buyback and be able to move.

After the flood, his priority was to make his Woodburn house liveable. He had lived there since 2007. The walls were ripped out and he was living in a tent inside the house.

“There were snakes in the house,” he said.

This was a common problem for flooded homes as snakes sought safe places.

Bob didn’t know if a buyback was even a possibility at that point.

He said he got a lot of support from the community.

The GIVIT organisation gave him a fridge and washing machine.

“Volunteers and 19 army boys came and moved a rainwater tank that had floated down the paddock,” he said.

In the weeks after the floods, Bob was at the bakery in Woodburn – one of the first shops to reopen.

“I was buying bread and milk and the staff asked me if there was anything I needed.

“I’m okay, I said and they asked if there was there anything I’d like. I said a secondhand TV.”

Outside the bakery, a couple travelling through Woodburn heard this conversation.

A few days later a gift arrived for Bob with a letter from the couple.

Here’s what the letter said:

Forgive us for eavesdropping on your conversation in the bakery. We want you to accept this brand-new TV.

Our best wishes to you. We wish to remain anonymous.

“I still don’t know who it is,” Bob said.

Bob has many stories about the kindness he experienced after the floods.

He still wasn’t sure what to do about his home though.

Bob is relaxed at his new home in Wollongbar. Photos: Susanna Freymark

“I didn’t know what the future held. I had no idea what shape it would take.”

He looked at raising the house, but it was brick veneer. He looked at building a second floor but the foundations were not suitable.

“I went to a pop-up (organised by the now defunct Northern Rivers Flood Corporation) in the park at Woodburn,” Bob said.

He met a woman who said she’d be his case manager and advocate on his behalf.

“I was delighted when I found out I had a buyback,” he said.

Bob didn’t want to reveal the amount he was given but he said it was “adequate”. visited Bob at his Wollongbar home.

An avid orchid grower, Bob’s greenhouse at Woodburn was smashed by the floods.

He has erected a massive new orchid house at Wollongbar. The back porch is covered with pots of saplings and flowers.

Bob May has had a new greenhouse erected in the backyard of his Wollongbar home.

Bob continues to be a member of the Woodburn Orchid Society.

“I’m looking forward to recreating my orchids and inviting people to see them.”

Bob is keen to spend more time with his three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I’m relaxed,” he said.

He said he’ll be going back to Woodburn to have meals at the pub.

“I want to encourage people who were knocked back to fight.

“Fairness has not been achieved in many cases.”

Watch Bob in Tinnie Heroes below.

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