Rochester Rotary’s support to ‘flood towns’

Special delivery: Part of the adventurous Rochester Rotary volunteer crew in NSW for the flood-relief program, Angela Beutel and Brian Griffiths, with Woodburn hub volunteer Krystal.
Take what you need: Inside the Woodburn hub, which was made available to flood victims to take what they needed after floods destroyed homes and belongings.

Rochester Rotary’s own version of “the four musketeers’’ — Eric Bish, Bryan Griffiths (the reliable driver), but terrible joke teller), Heather Watson and Angela Beutel, left the comfort of the Campaspe Shire township on June 3.

Their destination was to deliver the many boxes of fabulous donations that had been given to support the plight of NSW’s Northern Rivers flood towns.

Angela Beutel provided the Campaspe News with an insight into the trip. Here is her first hand account:

“We were hoping to reach the sanctuary of Cooabarabran on our first night, and did so, but not before we had travelled through significantly muddy roadworks in NSW — and heavy rainfall.

“The roadworks set us back, time wise, but not at this stage in spirit.

“The drivers exchanged positions as often as legal and with a ‘sat nav’ and google maps on the phone we managed to still argue nicely over the way forward.

“At Coonabarabran, again with rain heavily coming down and now being dark, the ‘sat nav’ convinced the drivers to go around to circles several times as this was the street for the night.

“In the end a phone call ascertained we still had eight kilometres of the trip remaining before a welcome shower and bed.

“Up early the next morning to a chilly, but clear day and surrounded by bush with the kangaroos having breakfast and the bellbirds calling.

“The drivers pulled out to continue the journey before stopping for morning tea and a little later at Armidale for lunch.

“Much rain had fallen through these areas and crops will not see a harvester or tractor for some time, if at all, this year.

“From here, one of the male drivers took a wrong turn and we proceeded along Waterfall Way towards Grafton.

This was one of those trick roads for buses towing trailers, several hairpin bends, potholes similar to moon craters and by the time the 50-odd kilometres had passed both passengers and bus/trailer were well shaken.

“By then everyone was ready for a walk at Coutts Crossing. Believe it or not, not one stitch was dropped on the jumper Heather was knitting.

“Our trusty drivers were a tad worried about tyres and the underside of the bus. Unfortunately, later at the next stop, they were proved correct as the wires were sticking out of the tread like a Ferris wheel. Lucky we were able to put the spare tyre on.

“Ulmarra, the next stop, is where we camped for this second and third night in a lovely old two-storey hotel, on the banks of the Clarence River.

“This area had also been flooded, as shown by the amount of furniture, tools, clothes and doors waiting on the kerbs to be collected. The paddocks all around were soggy fields of sugar cane, which had started to rot.

“One farming couple, in their 80s, several kilometres across these paddocks, sat on their roof for two days waiting to be rescued.

“Very harrowing and cold This was the first weekend that the produce store, also breakfast bar, had opened and both the book and antique shops were the same.

“The next day was an hour’s drive to deliver our boxes to the people of Woodburn, through the Rotary Club of Evans Head.

“It was 21ºC, but the grass was saturated and smelt of mud. The streets were clean and looked as if the floods were part of one’s imagination — until you walked past all the empty shops — where cardboard patched the walls to keep the electric wires inside.

“Rosie’s, the local cafe, had been given some power, so hot food and other small goods could be purchased. It was also the main meeting point for people of the town.

“Devastated, withdrawn and still unbelieving of this torrential flood back in February this year, is how most of the people felt. They had lost everything and those that found photos, jewellery and some crockery really lost this too as the photos crumbled and the others were too dirty to use.

“We spoke to many people and they shared some of their stories. The bridge across the river to Lismore is where they huddled together with cars, horses, cows and other animals, as they watched the water rise and wash their two-storey homes away — wondering if the bridge was high enough.

“A carpenter and his wife, married for 52 years, watched as the torrent of water took all their memories and possessions. He was devastated that three generations of tools belonging to his father and grandfather had been lost.

“A young women who showed horses had lost six in the flood and several were still missing, along with saddles and equipment.

“One mother had just bought $900 worth of good school shoes for her children, never worn and never seen again. This was along with all the other lost possessions.

“Television shows the sensational part of the tragedy, such as this, but forgets that for most the actual part of packing up their lives will be happening for years to come.

“The boxes were welcomed with open arms and most could not believe that not only had a town in Victoria — that they had never heard of — collected all the goods, but had delivered them in person.

“Well done Rochester. I must add that the blue hair dye was sensation with the teenage girls — perhaps not their mothers.’’

Rochester Rotary Club thanked the people of Rochester, and surrounds, who donated to this cause.

Special thanks were directed to the Uniting Church’s Northern Cluster, especially Brian and Desri Morgan, and their congregations. Also to the Tongala Uniting Church for its donation of cutlery, crockery and even the hymn and prayer books.

Katherine Franklin donated possibly 60 or 70 boxes of pharmaceutical and first aid goods, as well as hand-knitted scarves and beannies.

Rochester businesses were also outstanding, particularly Rochester Business Network, along with the Shire of Campaspe and the Rotary Club of Bendigo.