Despairing residents express anger over fudged flood figures

ABOVE: Henry Luong addresses the crowd about the flood recovery in Lismore.

Susanna Freymark

A woman stood in front of about 150 people and cried as she told them she was one of the people who had been offered a buyback.

Maralyn Schofield was at the community protest outside the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation office in Carrington St, Lismore on Friday, June 30.

She was suffering survivor guilt, she said.

“I got an offer and I’m so sorry for my friends who have been left high and dry.”

Maralyn has vision impairment and her 22 year old son who has a disability lives with her.

“The corporation gave me the crappiest offer,” she said.

The gathered people were angry, frustrated and sad. Many took the mic and spoke and for some it was clearly uncomfortable to bare their sorrow as they shook and their voices broke.

A Coraki man said he was still living at a neighbour’s house.

“What do we do now?” he said.

Another man said the government “came in with their money and their lies”.

Henry Luong told people to “use your rage and make it your power”.

“You’re like a chopstick,” he said.

“If you are one, they can break you easily. If you are a bunch of chopsticks they can’t break you.

“Don’t let them break you.”

The crowd cheered.

Henry said he came to Australia for the beautiful things – mainly for kindness.

“This is the chapter where we claim back our power,” he said.

“It’s OK to not be OK. We are not OK. F*ck this!”

“I’m now a bloody angry Asian.”

A lot has happened in a week.

On Tuesday, June 27, NSW Reconstruction Authority chief executive Simon Draper announced that the NRRC would be “folded into” the authority, keeping its focus on the Northern Rivers but part of the larger body.

Mr Draper said only 2000 homes in total, right across the Northern Rivers would be given financial assistance. There would be 1100 buybacks and 349 retrofits and houses raised.

This is in stark contrast to the NRRC song sheet promising 2000 buybacks, 2000 retrofits and 2000 houses raised.

It has, as Maralyn said, left people high and dry.

Lack of commitment to the next stage of funding has been blamed.

Community members are aiming their anger at NRRC staff who were nowhere to be seen on Friday.

Communities are responding to the news with the Hands and Hearts Project aiming to repair 100 homes in 10 days on July 22–31.

A Be Visible – We Count Rally is planned for this Saturday, July 8, in Woodburn Riverside Park at 10am.

Beverly Jan Rawson is behind the Be Visible – We Count Rally and residents from Coraki, Bungawalbin, Broadwater, Wardell, New Italy and every place in between are encouraged to bring a banner with the name of their place on display.

A drone will capture photos of the rally and the banners.

“Ministers and premiers of government lied. They told us there would be funding for towns wiped out by the 2022 floods,” she said.

“This week came the cold, heartless calls from the NSW Government and emails to residents saying they were eligible for nothing.”

We want answers and help, Beverly said.

Outside the flood corporation office in Lismore. Photos: Susanna Freymark
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