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How Indigenous communities are protecting their mob in NSW Floods

Jarred Cross -

A fortnight on from the worst of the floods, much of northern NSW is now counting the cost of the natural disaster.

The impact to homes, livelihoods and the towns at large continue to draw attention as the lasting impacts become clear. However, acute concerns for local Indigenous communities have gone largely unheard.

Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive and Bundjalung-Gumbayngirr woman Leweena Willians said the river had returned to normal levels, but a trail of damage remained.

Many Aboriginal people in the area have been displaced by the flood, unlikely to return to their homes anytime soon, only worsening a housing crisis in the area.

"Just down the road in Chindera, there were annihilated." Ms Willians said.

"They wore the brunt of sewerage outlets that went through their entire belongings.

"We've got a lot of Aboriginal people living throughout those shires that were heavily heavily impacted, lost everything."

When water levels were at their peak, the local Indigenous community were among the first to provide assistance in the area, taking part in rescue operations before any clean-up measures could begin.

"The Aboriginal community of Tweed and Byron really came out in force, and put in together as informal first responders" Ms Williams said.

Older mob were of particular concern, often stranded in isolated areas and relying on community members in boats to remove them from danger.

Ms Williams said a sense of unease remained, knowing the outcome could have been worse.

"Blackfellas we know could have been lost to these floods, because they're not mobile" she said.

"A lot of them are older, senior people that just physically wouldn't have been able to survive.

"We're talking about elderly people hooked up to machines, water up to there knees, just waiting for people to rescue them.

"There are many villages in the Tweed and Byron shire that just got absolutely hammered.

We were doing as much as we could."

Ms Williams said she was encouraged by younger generations taking on the responsibility, Aboriginal and non-Indigenous alike.

However disappointment came in the days following over a lack of government assistance.

"There was a long wait," Ms Williams said.

"We havent personally ourselves heard from the government.

"There absolutely was too much of a lag or a delay in any type of help or response"

There has however been council involvement sharing some of the burden.

"Our Aboriginal liaison officer with the council, him and his daughter came across in the boat and brought all those supplies across, because they new people were cut off," Ms Williams said.

"Making sure medicine and all that stuff was topped up, and if anyone needed to get across the river."

As initial dangers subsided, support began arriving from outside the community for what loomed as a secondary threat.

Wiradjuri man Allan Teale, as part of the Yibirmarra Foundation along with business partners, was among those to provide considerable aid.

"We sent twenty-four palates of food, water and clothing to Lismore to be distributed, under the condition that it didn't all go to the evacuation centre... that a high percentage went to Indigenous communities," he said.

Their contributions spread south to other of affected areas around the state.

"Weve also been supporting Nambucca, Coffs Harbour and Camden," Mr Teale said

"I just couldn't handle seeing them not get a meal.

"The food is only one part of what the foundation hopes to achieve"

As a situation slowly improves in the most northern part of NSW, Ms Williams and her team are similarly turning their attention to surrounding areas.

"We wanted to be everywhere, helping out communities, but we need to look after our communities first" she said.

The group plans to assist Jali and Ngulingah Local Aboriginal Land Council in Ballina and Lismore respectively, travelling back and forth in the coming weeks.

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