Nestled in the shadow of Mount Wollumbin in northern New South Wales is a town that refuses to let itself be defined by disaster.
When the flood that resulted from last year’s Cyclone Debbie swept through, the community of Murwillumbah didn’t wait for the wheels of government bureaucracy to act.
It took the flood response into its own hands.
What makes it different from other nature disaster assistance efforts is that a year on from the devastating flood, the energy of generosity grows and thrives.
Resident Carmen Stewart saw the heartfelt reactions and helped harness it.
“Here was a community that was on steroids with generosity, there were just offerings all over the place,” Ms Stewart said.
The postcode 2484 is thriving thanks to a little project that’s brought a big community together.
‘It Takes a Town’ was born from the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.
Organiser Ms Stewart said the project, to help foster healthy and happy children in their town, was underway before the flood happened — coincidentally to be launched on the day the flood occurred.
It Takes a Town immediately morphed into a flood recovery response but continued the focus on the welfare of children.
Ms Stewart said the flood response was community driven.
“Constantly we’re expecting governments and services to fix things for us,” Ms Stewart said.
“I’m interested in what happens when a community is engaged first, then bringing government and services in as a partner, not as the leaders.”
It Takes a Town has created a database of 800 helpers from a community hit hard by the disaster.
Help was offered to anyone that needed it — like the family who lost everything with two little girls in trauma from the experience. The sound of running water, even the sound of a toilet flushing, would send the youngest into severe anxiety.
Horses used to help heal
Enter ‘horse therapy’ — helping the girls and many others left emotionally damaged by the flood.
Horse trainer Bianca Mercuri wanted to help and donated time with her nine rescued horses, in an effort to help children heal.
A 10-week program taught the children basic horse management skills, but also a great deal more.
She said the circle of support became wider than just free horse time.
“It Takes a Town basically gave me the building block to start my dream. My dream has been to help kids through horses and (It Takes a Town) gave me the confidence to do that,” she said.
A circle of giving
Ross Beames is another who received with one hand and gave with the other.
The 17-year-old was struggling to cope after the flood, unable to find a place to live and was on the brink of leaving his TAFE course.
“I went and spoke with the TAFE guidance counsellor and she put me in touch with It Takes a Town,” the teenager said.
Homelessness was a big issue after the flood with the town’s caravan park destroyed and many houses classified as a health risk.
“Finding a place to live was difficult and It Takes a Town, helped me to pay for some driving lessons and helped me find a place to live.”
Now in a stable home, he is continuing his studies and is helping others in the community by offering free computer-skills sessions.
“I think it’s great that people are able to do a circle of help and share their experiences and knowledge as a community,” he said.
Ms Stewart believes the flood helped the community to create its own future.
“It’s almost as though It Takes a Town has given the community permission to act on its own behalf and to not assume that the government or council will do it first.”