In February/March 2022, the biggest flood in modern Australian history devastated the area of Lismore and surrounding areas of the NSW Northern Rivers. In the official warnings issued by the State Emergency Service, together with the Bureau of Meteorology at the time, there was no indication of the potential scale of this event.
This record-breaking flood disaster reached 14.4 metres at its peak, and homes and businesses in the area found themselves underwater for the first time during a catastrophic event that affected more than 31,000 people. Lismore’s CBD was cut off, with major roads in and out of the area experiencing closures.
Residents in the surrounding areas of Coraki, Ballina, Bungawalbin, and Woodburn found themselves unprepared as floodwaters quickly rose in surrounding areas, cutting off exit routes, and causing nearly 10,000 people to became homeless and seek refuge in local evacuation centres. Rescue efforts became overwhelmed with a flotilla of tinnies mobilised to evacuate hundreds of residents that were trapped in rising floodwaters.
In La Niña years, large floods are more likely to come in clusters and sadly Lismore was hit with a second flooding event just 21 days after the first. This second round of devastation wiped out more homes and businesses in a community already struggling to comprehend how they could ever recover from the unprecedented damages caused by the floodwaters only a month prior.
As people from across the world watched on disbelief, the Australian Mutuals Foundation set up a disaster relief appeal to raise much-need funds for the communities impacted by the flooding crisis. Generous donations poured in from organisations from the mutual sector, individual community members, and also co-operatives around Australia with over $211,000 being raised to support flood recovery efforts.
In partnership with the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), G&C Mutual Bank and Summerland Credit Union, the Australian Mutuals Foundation distributed the funds as small grants to local not for profits, charities and community groups in affected regions, to help re-build from the devastating impact of the floods. Over 40 community groups have received grants, with many of those not eligible for Government funding or have struggled to receive assistance elsewhere. The grant recipients were identified as key local community groups who were directly impacted by the flood, and where a grant could help re-establish their work in the community. The Coraki Community Garden was one of the grant recipients with the funds enabling the community space to be restored after it was flood-affected. Grant funds were also used to purchase a shed to store equipment as well as new garden beds. “The water just came and came, to places that never ever flood. The lower part of Coraki, water went up to roofs and the town was cut off. “My house, which has never flooded, the water came up to my knees.” says Shelly Hayes from the Coraki Community Garden. “The purpose of our community garden is to provide a place for people to garden. We have community members from a local nursing home, local schools” added Shelly who is thankful for the grant. “I want to say a big thank you to the grant because it’s really made all the difference, giving us hope. We’ve been torn apart as a community so it’s been really important to start bringing our community back together again and build resilience”.
Flood water contamination of rain water tanks became a serious and ongoing community health issue and the Australian Mutuals Foundation provided a grant to the Northern Rivers Flood Action Group who were provided water testing kits to ensure safe drinking water. “We are extremely grateful for the assistance from the Australian Mutuals Foundation to be able to provide drinking water tests to people on the northern rivers so that they can test their water to make sure it is safe for them” says Tony Carusi from the Action Group who was also personally affected by the flooding crisis. “For me personally, we had most of our farm machinery, our cattle, our possessions, we tried to have things on high grounds but we got totally smashed”.
Another grant recipient was one of the local fire brigades whose own emergency vehicle had been lost in the rising floodwaters. “We lost our truck in the floods, it was a write off and we lost all the equipment on the back of the truck which is devastating because we fundraise for our equipment and we haven’t been able to fundraise due to Covid.” said Charlie Wilkinson from the Bentley Rural Fire Brigade. “My own home was underwater, but I had to negate that and help people that were in more urgent need. Our team spent weeks in Lismore working in the floods there, all of us volunteers”.
Despite the challenges that faced the area, local member-based organisations came together to support their flood impacted communities. Credit unions and mutual banks also came to the rescue, setting up a rapid response community banking hub at Southern Cross University. “The best way we could help support the community was to get as many banking services available as possible.” says John Williams, CEO of Summerland Credit Union. “The Community Banking Hub was a great initiative that enabled us to bring six different customer owned banks together in one shared facility that was operational within six days of the floods – the first financial institution in the region to open. The impact of the floods has been significant. It has destroyed a lot of the social fabric and the way that has been re-built is through organisations like the Australian Mutuals Foundation and their generous donations to in excess of 40 community groups. Many of those organisations would not have received support from Government agencies or other sources.”
The Australian Mutuals Foundation was established in 2016 as a charitable vehicle for Australian credit unions, co-operatives, and mutual banks. It is through the foundation that credit union and co-operatives are able to make meaningful contributions to their communities and to other worthwhile causes. Being able to assist in times of great need is a great demonstration of community spirit, and an example of people helping people – the same underlying principles of credit unions and co-operatives. The Australian Mutual Foundation would like to thank those who supported the 2022 Flood Disaster Relief Appeal and made it possible to help fast-track the recovery journey for those who were in affected areas and recipients of the appeal grants.
Watch the 2022 Flood Disaster Relief Video to hear from some of the recipients of the Australian Mutuals Foundation appeal grants.