Cyclone Debbie is an event that will not be forgotten in our lifetimes. Two months on and the Northern Rivers is still in the process of recovery. Hardest hit were Lismore, Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads. It is events like this that can bring a regional community together with a common goal. In spite of the devastation the spirit of community is strong and recover we will.
There have been some amazing stories of survival and loss. This feature highlights some of the positive stories of how people stepped up to help our local businesses to keep going and rebuild our economy.
One such story is Nick Muller of Republic of Coffee; Nick had not experienced a flood before and was amazed at how the community rallied so quickly to get them back up and running.
With floodwater over a meter high going through the Magellan Street coffee shop it is astounding that within a couple of days they were back in business. Luckily they managed to move most of their equipment out of the way, although their roaster is sadly still out of action.
“We were so lucky, Adrian at Northern Rivers Flooring was out helping us and many other businesses with pressure cleaners. We had a number of builders and sparkys helping us to clear up and restore our power, the guys at Jazz Construction really helped us out. It’s pretty awesome to be part of the community when this happens, without the help of our customers and community volunteers we would not have been up and running by the Tuesday.”
The logistics of the mass clean up were quite incredible and could not have been possible without local groups such as the Lions Club that ran bbqs for several days to keep people fed during the clean up. Many of the local churches and charities organised fundraisers and collections to help people with clothing, bedding, furniture and all the essentials.
Southern Cross University opened its doors to local businesses affected, offering free working space and internet connections so that they could continue to operate. Mr Allan Morris, Executive Director of SCU IT, commented, “ Someone can register, arrive with their laptop, hook it up and use the University’s wireless systems and internet connectivity. That way their business can continue and they can get back on their feet more quickly.”
In Murwillumbah local printer Print Spot lost furniture, computers, paper and vinyl stock as well as jobs that had already been printed and were waiting for delivery. Liz Hickey comments: “Although we lost a fair amount, we were lucky. We had about 6 inches of water coming through, businesses just 200 meters down the road had 4 meters of water through them. We had a week of clean up and could then get back to business. Another 2 inches of water and we may not have been so lucky.”
Businesses in Keen Street found a little ray of light during the clean up from the offices of Connect Northern Rivers, as their upstairs office did not lose power. The office has a coffee machine and, as soon as staff realised no one else had power, they were soon supplying the street with hot teas and coffees to do their bit to support those other businesses. Businesses that faired better than others have offered support to others less fortunate, for example:
Colourworks Australia Pty Ltd announced it would donate $50,000 worth of office equipment to help businesses affected by the recent flood to get back on their feet.
The offer is open to any business that requires printers and/or photocopiers and lost their equipment in the flood.
Lismore Shopping Square organised 34 temporary retail spaces available for use for businesses that have been affected by the flood. These spaces were available for a period of up to a 6 weeks and included tables, power, and security for retailers at no cost.
The Lismore Flood Appeal raised over $450,000 over 2 months and those funds are now beginning to flow to local residents and businesses. All eligible applicants will receive funds from the Lismore Flood Appeal by 7 July and applicants who have not heard from the council yet will be notified shortly.
Donations came from individuals, businesses and community fundraisers from all across the Northern Rivers and Australia. The Appeal received 385 applications, including 74 from local businesses, and all eligible applicants in flood-affected areas will receive funds to help get back on their feet.
When an event like Cyclone Debbie happens, devastating as it is, there are still so many who consider themselves lucky. To be part of a community that cares enough, that’s strong enough, that gives support when it’s needed, surprisingly there are so many positives that come out of disaster. Recovery is a journey and we are well on the way.
A Tragedy For the Community
The March flood was a tragedy for Lismore. However, confidence is starting to return, thanks in part to the great work of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the determination of the general community.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the Chamber in organising a survey of floodeffected businesses.
This allowed me to fast-track approval for Category C Disaster Relief Funding for our community. We received this funding in under two weeks which was record time. This meant more financial help with grants of up to $15,000 to get our local businesses and community back on their feet.
The Government has also fast-tracked grants for our local farmers and primary producers.
This assistance is still available and I encourage all those affected by the flood to apply for a grant.
There were also grants available to householders where water entered their house.
I also encourage businesses to work with their insurers. If you have any problems with this, please let me know so that we can involve the financial ombudsman.
The Federal Government is also giving councils tens of millions of dollars to help fix crucial local infrastructure, such as roads. There is a lot of infrastructure to repair and we are on our way to replacing it.
The Government has also provided local flood relief funds with tax deductable status.
This means donations to Lismore City Council’s Flood Appeal and other flood relief funds are tax deductible and have been backdated to March 28.
The ATO also initiated fast tracking of tax refunds for people affected by the flood.
I would like to particularly thank the wider community who came out in force to volunteer to help clean up our businesses and streets, and those who came with food and drink for our volunteers. While the last few months have been tough, we will recover. We now also need to discuss flood mitigation options so this doesn’t keep happening every 10-15 years.
Thank you and shop local.
Council Provides Post-Flood Business Support
Lismore City Council has established a Lismore Business Flood Recovery Taskforce to ensure continued support for businesses following the March flood. The Taskforce is designed to help businesses open their doors and restart trading as well as bring shoppers and visitors back to the CBD. A central focus of the Taskforce will also be ensuring that businesses are better prepared for any future flood.
Taskforce membership includes NSW Small Business Commissioner Robyn Hobbs (Chairperson); Lismore Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Deborah Benhayon; Lismore Business Panel Chairperson and local business owner Kaylene Hopf; Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers CEO Alex Smith; Jane Laverty from the NSW Business Chamber; Lismore MP Thomas George; Page MP Kevin Hogan; Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith; and Ben Roche from Southern Cross University.
Lismore City Council has also collaborated with the Lismore Ministers Fraternal to dispatch volunteer ministers throughout our greater CBD, North and South Lismore business areas. These ministers will provide businesses with the opportunity to speak freely about their experiences and seek confidential and personal support.
The Lismore Business Flood Recovery Support Unit is based at the old Lismore Regional Gallery building and they will continue to support businesses for as long as necessary, be that weeks or months.
City Centre Manager Jason Mumford and Acting Manager Economic Development Tina Irish are available to meet with businesses to provide ongoing support while working on a targeted marketing and advertising campaign to attract people back into the Lismore CBD.
Acting Manager Economic Development Tina Irish comments: “Since the flood we have provided support by helping businesses to access Rural Assistance Authority grant funds and get the right referral advice. Businesses who need help with applying for grants, referral to support services or insurance claims, or for that matter, any Council matters, they are invited to make contact with us anytime”.
Tina said while many people had already accessed Council support staff, the flood had affected everyone differently, with business owners and operators at all stages of recovery.
“We want to make sure we are here when people need us and we are close to the CBD so we can quickly and easily visit businesses when they are ready,” Tina said.
The Rural Assistance Authority Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Grant (up to $15,000) for small business is available until 13 October so there is still plenty of time for flood-affected business owners to apply.”
For more information or to book an appointment with phone Tina Irish on 0427 003 645.
Floods Can Bring Out the Best in People
Floods go hand-in-hand with Lismore City Printery. Since we began in North Lismore in 1950 many floods have hit us from minor floods to major floods, all have your heart in your mouth until they start to recede.
Flood planning was always something we took seriously, driven home into our business plan through three generations of our family business from 1950 to present day. The saying is to plan for a metre above the 1974 level. Put everything up and then hold your breath.
Luck has been on our side through 1989 and now 2017. The 1989 flood missing any major damage to us by 25mm and 2017 getting about 25mm over. Enough to do minimal damage but not major. Had it risen another 150mm it would have damaged equipment that could not be moved.
Due to our good fortune we thought that we would rally behind the businesses that were devastated by it, and yes there were many. We contacted our major suppliers, Doggets Paper, Spicers Paper and Australian Envelopes to give us replacement stock to the businesses affected at cost price. In true community style all came on board and we also put our print costs through at cost as well.
Just wading through the water on the Saturday and seeing the damage & devastation caused by this flood, which was the aftermath of cyclone Debbie, was surreal. It was the dirtiest flood I have ever seen. I think it caught a lot of people by surprise.
The results of the devastation were only too clear but the resolve of our community was also clear. I have had the experience of the 1974, 1989 and now 2017 floods and now all the business owners and community have experienced a big flood. Most didn’t realise it could get this serious.
The positive thing to take away is to use this knowledge and experience so we can be prepared for future floods. Really the only way to go is to get a flood plan in place and when it looks like getting to moderate level, ACT!
Recovery Through Resilience and Spirit
The Northern Rivers is no stranger to floods but 30 March was one like we haven’t seen for over 40 years.
Like everyone I was shattered to see large areas of my electorate, particularly Lismore and Murwillumbah, devastated by the flood. It was however heartwarming to see communities coming together to help and support each other practically, financially and emotionally.
I extend a huge thank you to Recovery Coordinator Euan Ferguson who led our region through the recovery phase. The Small Business Commissioner, Robyn Hobbs, has also played an enormous role in supporting, advising and guiding our business communities through this difficult time.
Tweed Shire Mayor Katie Milne and General Manager Troy Green, together with Lismore City Mayor Isaac Smith and General Manager Gary Murphy and all the staff have worked extremely hard to get their local government areas back up and running as soon as possible.
The team of volunteers who worked out of the Lismore Railway Station did an extraordinary job, big and small, making a world of difference to those affected the most.
I also thank all the government agencies, State and Federal, that spent long hours at the recovery centres providing help and advice to businesses and residents and ongoing support over the past couple of months.
Lastly, we cannot overlook the emergency services. I will never forget the vision of 50 fire tankers camped at Wollongbar TAFE and in the main streets hosing out businesses.
I know over time with the communities working together the Northern Rivers will be back to its brilliant best, reinforcing the resilience and spirit we are known for.