As rainfall and flood records have tumbled in 2022, many of NSW’s towns and regions have been inundated over and over. And they have cleaned up – over and over.
Church communities are in the thick of it, seeking to support and help wherever they can, but the scale is immense.
“The rectors I’ve spoken to in the most flood-affected areas report significant distress and grief in their communities,” says the Registrar of the Bathurst Diocese, Warwick Baines. “Our rectors are also feeling a little overwhelmed, as they seek to reconcile the generous offers of practical assistance from everywhere with what is actually needed on the ground.
“In that regard the diocese recently received permission from Anglican Aid to repurpose unspent drought relief funding for flood relief – some of which has already been distributed to parishes, so that they can support their communities after the attention has moved on but the needs remain.”
At the parish level, the vicar of Forbes, the Rev Roger Phelps, says: “Obviously the community’s been very disrupted, because floodwaters cut the town into three parts and there were lots of homes and businesses that had floodwaters go through them.
“The town just has the silt of floodwater all through it, and there’s the smell that comes with rotting grass and things like that, which have been underwater for 10 days or more. So that’s the town. Then you have the farms outside of town, and there are just broad, broad, crop losses. The flooding continues at many of these places because the land is so flat... and as the floodwater moves down the river, each destination is flooding.”
Forbes has flooded three times in the past year, and two of those floods have been in the past month. The most recent peak of the Lachlan River was the worst, helped along by 125mm of rain in one night and the release of water from Wyangala Dam. Cowra and Eugowra were hit first, and the water reached Forbes three days later.
The story is similar in the Riverina Diocese, where towns and communities have flooded one after the other. The Darling River is so full of water that Menindee Lakes – which was effectively empty in 2019 – has been above 100 per cent capacity for months, and parts of Menindee itself were underwater for a number of days. Bishop Donald Kirk also describes the land outside the town of Hay on the Murrumbidgee as “an inland sea... it’s only about a metre deep but it just spreads for ever”.
While church buildings themselves have mostly been spared, the floods have ruined crops and killed stock that had nowhere to go on the flat ground.
Says Bishop Kirk: “I have a parishioner in Darlington Point [upriver from Hay] who only has a small landholding and he was telling me that they’ve lost half a million dollars’ worth of canola – and that’s just one person with a small landholding, so you can imagine how great the losses are for people with bigger properties”.
For a taste of how it’s been in the north of inland NSW, where the latest floods came first, the rector of Moree and vicar-general of the Armidale Diocese, the Rev Geoff Hearne, says the town of Wee Waa has been “cut off four or five times in the past couple of months”. Levees have kept the town dry, “but the farmers have struggled. Some kids haven’t been able to go to school – I heard a story of one kid who has only been to school four days this term because of the floodwaters. It just hasn’t been possible to get through.”
A few rays of sunshine
While shock and distress have been a natural response to the havoc these floods have caused for individuals and communities, the vicar of Cudal-Molong in the Bathurst Diocese, the Rev David Blackmore, says that after the initial shock wore off, “everyone kicked into a really amazing, help-each-other mode”.
For example, one parishioner contacted Blaze Aid, which now has members on the ground replacing countless kilometres of perimeter fencing. All the residents from the flooded caravan park have been invited into local homes, and when Mr Blackmore contacted a local schoolteacher the other day she was restocking shelves at IGA.
“There’s been a really strong community spirit,” he says.
Mr Phelps at Forbes agrees. A relief agency called Thread Together arrived at his church with 10 pallets of brand-new clothes on a truck, so he walked around the corner to the Elders agent – which had been flooded only a few days earlier – to ask if he might borrow a forklift to get the pallets off. No problem. The hall is now full of new clothes on racks, ready for locals to come and replace some of what they’ve lost.
In Orange, the entire community of Orange Anglican Grammar School banded together to “Stuff the Bus” for people in Eugowra. Staff member Joanne Daffern contacted the deputy mayor of Cabonne Council to check what the urgent needs were, and in the first week they collected buckets, gumboots, gloves and cleaning equipment.
“This was what they needed... there’s no point sending sheets and pillows because they don’t have homes,” she says. “We put out an SOS to the parents and they were really quick to respond, which was great to see. We stuffed the bus full and [in mid-November] took that to Eugowra.
“We are still stuffing it and, until the 8th of December, we are collecting toys for Christmas for different age groups.”
In the Grafton Diocese, which is still struggling to emerge from several flooding events earlier in the year, 1400 people are still in temporary accommodation such as pods and rebuilding or relocation is expected to take years. The needs of those coming to churches for assistance are greater, at the same time as churches have fewer resources to meet these needs.
However, there is also good news to share – including the story of Dave, who spent much of this year in hospital so was unable to deal with the flood damage on his property, or apply for government grants while they were available.
The associate priest at Ballina, the Rev Cathy Ridd, turned to the Anglican Relief and Development Fund Australia (ARDFA) for help, and Dave was provided with funds for new clothes, white goods and a TV. He has also now started attending the church.
Churches in the flood-hit parts of NSW are thankful for the help provided by different branches of Anglicare, as well as ARDFA, and clergy encourage those who wish to support the recovery to give to these agencies.
Anglicare NSW South, NSW West & ACT has a flood appeal, which by late last week had raised $75,000. The organisation’s interim executive for community engagement, Amy Lanham, says the scale of the problem is “staggering”.
“There are so many people with virtually nothing, so we’re looking to give out vouchers so they can each get some food and clothing,” she says, adding that chaplains will also be sent to the affected areas as soon as possible, “because we do know there’ll be mental health issues, so we’re looking at pastoral care support for people and referral to services as well”.
ARDFA has given more than $82,000 in flood relief to a range of dioceses across the country since the floods began and plans to expand its support as flooding continues into South Australia.
- Pray that water will recede quickly, and that people will remain safe and well.
- Pray for clergy and church members in affected areas, that they will continue to trust in the God of all comfort, and that he will provide them with wisdom as they seek to support and care for locals’ everyday needs and pastoral concerns.
- Pray that churches will remain a beacon of hope in Christ to their communities.
- Pray that many will be prompted to seek the Lord, and will find him.
- Give thanks for the RFS, SES and Defence personnel who have rescued, washed out and cleaned up for countless people in communities across the state
- Give thanks for Anglicare volunteers and other disaster relief chaplains who have visited, followed up and provided a listening ear. Pray for this ongoing work and for the mental health of locals who, in recent years, have dealt with drought, bushfires, COVID, mice plagues and now flooding.