Flood Effort - Northern NSW - We Are Here For You!

Together with community and business partners we have offered assistance to Northern NSW schools affected by the recent flooding, with staff and volunteers putting together free Back To School packs for students. For more details on Sharlene's experience in the area, see her first report and her second report.

 

Acknowledgements for the efforts and great contributions of individuals and businesses in getting this done!

Jeremy Treyvaud at NAB, Arthur Baker, Richard Harms and John Figliano at Oxford University Press, Paul Smith at Pearson Education, Lorraine Tooth at Pilot Pens, Cath Marshall and Annette Finlayson at Pan Macmillan, Cromack Transport in Grafton for their generous free delivery of goods, the volunteers at Make and Mend Do, South Grafton, Sharlene Coombs for her tireless co-ordinating efforts, and Sharlene's sister Lexie and brother-in-law Chris for helping collate the packs.

Finally, the staff at Network Educational Australia who worked very hard to get this sorted and quickly dispatched to Sharlene. The beaming smiles on those children says it all for me!

Regards,

Rob Watts
Managing Director, Network Educational Australia

30th March 2022

PS From Sharlene on the ground: a massive thank you to Rob Watts for his ongoing support of our Northern Rivers communities as we have battled first fire and now unprecedented floods. Our community spirit is alive and strong thanks to wonderful people like you!


Sharlene's Report - 28th March, 2022

Hi Rob,

Just a quick update on Friday for you before I head off to my volunteer duties.  Lex, Chris and myself loaded Dad’s Isuzu up to the hilt and headed off on Friday morning, first stop, Palmers Island PS, where we delivered 10 packs for their students. The Principal, Ellie, was so thankful and got some of the kids to come and sit for a photo with me. They were absolutely chuffed to receive their packs.

Next stop, Yamba Public, where we delivered another 10 packs.  Then onto Pacific Valley Christian School at Townsend (near Maclean), where we delivered another 10 packs. Also very grateful. 

Then a quick coffee to keep the energy levels up, and steel ourselves for some emotional scenes at Woodburn. Fourth stop, Woodburn Public School, which was mostly saved from inundation and became the evac centre for the town, until they had to evacuate the evac centre to move to higher ground (unbelievable, as Woodburn PS sits on a hill). We delivered enough goodies to make up 110 kits for the students of both Woodburn PS and Broadwater PS.  Broadwater has been wiped out and won’t reopen for another 18 months (if at all) so the students will be attending Woodburn (another challenge thrown in).  The students are returning to the school for the first time today and will be greeted by lots of goodies to help them get back on their feet again. However, they won’t be able to use their playground for a while…the water has gone, but the brown snakes have set up camp as it’s one of the drier areas in town at the moment. The GA, Warren, goes nowhere in the school without a snakebite kit…that’s how bad it is.

Our last stop is St Joseph’s School at Woodburn, however, we won’t be going to their Woodburn location, as that has been totally wiped out as well and may not even be rebuilt on the current spot. They are currently set up in demountables at the Catholic Church in Evan’s Head, about 15 mins away. To get there, we have to go through Woodburn town itself. If you remember the old Pacific Highway and how it used to pass through Woodburn, you’d remember the river on one side and the shops on the other side of the highway. Every single one of those shops has been gutted. Some are slowly being put back together but others will never restart. Even the heritage listed Post Office and Police Station didn’t escape the devastation. Not only have the people of Woodburn been displaced from their homes, they have also lost their shopping and service facilities, some of their schools, their jobs and their livelihoods. In the words of Warren, the stoic GA at Woodburn PS, some of the townsfolk will never get over this. He is reminded of an image taken from a drone of the floodwater stretching 100km one way and 40 km the other, and just shakes his head.

As we head East on Woodburn Evans Head Road, the impact starts to really set in…every single house has a pile of rubble out the front, sometimes bigger than the house itself. Many of the houses are just shells, and a lot of them will be condemned. I’ve been told that Broadwater is even worse with houses moved off their foundations completely and cars and caravans still overturned.  Thankfully, the hundreds of poor cattle that were washed away have now been removed from roads, front yards and trees (yes, trees) and buried to try and reduce the smell.

As we’re driving toward Evans Head just out of Woodburn, I’m reminded of a recent image below of what appears to be a large river with one boat after another.  This is the Woodburn Evans Head Road under about 2m of water the day after the flood. The water has mostly receded now but the damage is permanent and some people may never return – it’s just too distressing for them. The second picture is a friend’s driveway on this same stretch of water (I mean, road). One good thing we discover on the way is that the army has arrived and their presence is everywhere…thank goodness, as this part of the world is still doing it really, really tough, over 3 weeks later.

We finally get to the temporary base for St Joseph’s Woodburn and unload 50 kits, knowing that every single one of these will be gratefully received and needed. The Principal is nearly in tears when she sees the boxes which makes us tear up as well. With the last box unloaded and our goodbyes and best wishes said, we head back home through our flood stricken community, knowing that we’ve made a difference to the lives of our Northern Rivers neighbours.  As one of the Grafton PS students so aptly said in their messages of support in the packs, “We are all here for you”.

Rob, feel free to share this with the sponsors if you like – it may give them an idea of what it’s really like on the ground and how they’ve really made such a difference to so many students’ lives in the Northern Rivers.

 

Many thanks,

Sharlene


Sharlene's Report - 7th April, 2022

Hi Rob,

Thanks again for meeting Lexie and I at Woodburn yesterday so that we could collect the OUP Dictionaries and Heinemann Atlases and include them in our latest delivery to flood affected students. Our first stop was Coraki and as we set off, we quickly realised it was going to be a long day ahead as many of the roads were still blocked by floodwater.  We managed to get there the long way round, but it was a slow trip. In some parts, there were arguably more potholes than pavement and it wasn’t unusual to see whole slabs of bitumen washed away and sitting at obscure angles in roadside ditches.

The scenes between Woodburn and Coraki were quite confronting at times, and particularly upsetting was the noticeable absence of cattle. On a normally productive stretch of farmland where cattle, both dairy and beef, are regularly seen grazing the lush pastures, we saw nothing but empty paddocks. This particular stretch of country alone has lost hundreds, if not thousands of cattle which have been washed away in the tidal wave of water that swept through the area during the first flood event. Perhaps the only consolation about the second flood event which swept through last week was that these farms had almost nothing left to lose. 

We finally made it to our first stop in Coraki – St Joseph’s – just as the heavens opened up on us. We delivered 48 backpacks full of goodies and some wonderful OUP Dictionaries and Heinemann Atlases to an extremely grateful Principal, who explained to us that they had sadly lost quite a few students after the first flood event.

Many families who rented in the area have lost everything and had no choice but to leave to find accommodation elsewhere. Others have set up tents, camper trailers and caravans on front lawns and footpaths in front of their flood damaged homes. The lingering weather hasn’t made it any easier for them either…many are covered in tarps and surrounded by sandbags.  There’s still a real sense of shock and disbelief among the locals…completely understandable and warranted after not one, but 2 extreme flood events in the space of a month. 

We then head on to Coraki Public School to deliver a box of OUP Dictionaries to the students there. Lyn Parker, the Principal, is extremely grateful and suggests presenting them to the students and taking a photo to say a big thank you to OUP for their generous donation. The look on the students’ faces was priceless when I showed them that it was a complete dictionary and thesaurus in one. I then discovered that they had been working hard on exploring words and descriptive language to use in their presentations and this donation would help them immensely. We were all chuffed, as you can see in the photo!

We said our goodbyes and then headed back towards Woodburn, the slow way again, with more grey skies and rain threatening before travelling onto Evans Head. As we headed towards the coast, it became very obvious that this side of town had also suffered significantly during the second flood event last week.  Much of Woodburn was still surrounded by a lake of water and there was debris and SES vehicles everywhere. We passed a set of stockyards adjacent to the road which gave us a true indication of the height of the floodwaters last week…as indicated by the wooden chair that got caught up on the top rail of the stockyards, and the bin which had floated over the top rail and settled inside once the majority of the floodwater receded. The row of houses in the background line Big River Way – the old Pacific Highway before the bypass was built.   

During our first delivery 2 weeks ago, we visited St Joseph’s at Woodburn at their temporary campus in demountables behind the Catholic Church at Evans Head. These students have done it particularly hard, with some not only losing their homes, but also losing their whole school. However, they are resilient souls, as is the wonderful Principal, Jeanette, who keeps this school ticking.  When we present her with the OUP Atlases and the Heinemann Dictionaries, she is overwhelmed and insists on a photo with her school captains.  This school lost all their dictionary and atlas resources during the flood so these wonderful donations were absolutely perfect. Again, the looks on these students’ faces were priceless with some just wanting to find a quiet spot and curl up with them.

A massive thank you once again to the incredible generosity of companies like Oxford University Press and Pearson – you’ve made such a positive difference to many students here on the Northern Rivers, in so many ways.  You’ve given them hope and belief in themselves. You’ve shown them that you are thinking of them and that they count, particularly when their community feels so let down in other ways. These gestures will stay with these students for many years to come and will manifest in renewed learning opportunities and real, positive hope for their futures.

Eternal thanks,

Sharlene, Rob and whole Network Ed team