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‘The smell of a campfire is something I no longer think of as comforting’


OPINION: We live in a sunburnt country, but how do you cope when the drought and flooding rains are so relentless that the sound of rain or the smell of a campfire tips you over the edge?

Residents in and around Lismore in the NSW Northern Rivers had only just started cleaning up from devastating floods in February, when just a month later homes and businesses went under again.

The only bitter saving grace was that since many had already lost everything; they had nothing left to lose the second time around.

Debris strewn through Lismore's CBD after the second flood in a month.
Debris strewn through Lismore’s CBD after the second flood in a month. (Natalie Grono)

Ruined belongings were either piled high on the newly inundated streets, or already at the tip.

It was back to the drawing board when the water subsided again, hosing out the mud and the stench that the flood waters left behind.

Rebuilding these areas will take years, but there’s no accounting for how long it will take to rebuild lives.

Many will never fully recover from the impact on their mental health.

Rain and storms will never stop happening.

Floodwater inundate cars  on March 30, 2022 in Lismore, Australia. Evacuation orders have been issued for towns across the NSW Northern Rivers region, with flash flooding expected amid  heavy rainfall.
Submerged cars in Lismore during flooding in March. (Getty)
Many people were only just recovering from record floods when a second deluge hit just weeks later.
Many people were only just recovering from record floods when a second deluge hit just weeks later. (Getty)

Devastating floods will come again, with more frequency thanks to climate change.

So how do you recover when nature itself is a trigger for your worst fears?

Those caught up in the floods have been telling of what they endured at a public inquiry underway to try to learn from what went wrong, to involve the community in the rebuilding process, and to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.

It’s been harrowing but healing for many, knowing that they aren’t alone, and they are being heard.

But as the inquiry continued, the threat of flooding emerged yet again.

A rain bomb unleashed on south-east Queensland, flooding areas including in and around the Lockyer Valley, where more than 30 people were killed in the 2011 floods.

More towns underwater. More flood survivors re-living their trauma yet again.

Northern NSW has thankfully escaped the worst of this weather, for now – but you do wonder, how much more can people take?

Flood survivors were forced to re-live their trauma - how much more can they take?
Flood survivors were forced to re-live their trauma – how much more can they take? (Dan Peled/Getty Images)
Orange skies over Bodalla during the Black Summer bushfires in January 2020.
Orange skies over Bodalla during the Black Summer bushfires in January 2020. (Getty)

It’s the same for bushfire survivors.

I was among the thousands of people caught up in the black summer bushfires that tore through large parts of Australia’s east and south-east in 2019-20.

I was forced to flee with my family as the fires turned day into night near where we were holidaying in the small NSW South Coast village of Bendalong.

We escaped when roads reopened and headed further south to Tathra – another town that was still rebuilding after deadly bushfires just a year earlier, in 2018.

The fires bore down there yet again too, forcing us to flee once more.

We finally made it home to a smoke-choked Sydney, as the bushfires burned to the north, south and west.

It was terrifying – and all we had to do was get out.

We didn’t lose a home, a business or loved ones, and yet the smell of a campfire is something I no longer think of as comforting.

It brings back memories of those bushfires, so I can only imagine what the trigger of smoke or rain is like for those who have lost so much in bushfires or floods.

We do live in a sunburnt country, with so much beauty and terror, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

But my heart goes out to those grappling with the natural disasters endured in this wide brown land.

Deborah Knight is a presenter on 2GB and 4BC, hosting Afternoons With Deborah Knight from 12-3pm, Monday to Friday.



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