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Collective efforts provide relief for forgotten victims of disasters

Written by: Louisa L on 5 June 2021


Australia is beset by disaster, but you wouldn’t know it without scratching the surface of laid-back Dunbogan village on Birrpai Country beside the Camden Haven River, just south of Port Macquarie. 

‘Been there Dunbogan’ T shirts once sold from Dunbogan Boatshed. Even the riverbank’s civic artworks don’t impose – life-size corten steel silhouettes include a dog taking a dump. 

Not all are so light-hearted. An artwork by Rick Reynolds, one of three in the wider area, marks the height of historical floods. 

The whole of Dunbogan and much of nearby Laurieton was one of the worst hit in last March’s catastrophic floods. Now a rusted old man silhouette wears a life jacket, snorkel and mask. 

Survival has many mechanisms, including laughter. 

Easy to forget

Across from the taped-off Boatshed which was boat hire, café, fishing shop combined, every house went under. The single employee of the fish and chip shop lived next door. She awoke to knee deep rising water, and spent the night on the shop’s counter. A long-term worker, she lost everything in her rental and will not return to work. Caravan park residents, even those built on second storeys to protect from flood, saw their community smashed. 

Much of neighbouring Laurieton was deluged, not only from below as waters rose, but as drains were overwhelmed and water cascaded down Dooragen, or North Brother mountain.  

From 1898 huge break walls began to tame the once deadly river entrance. The Camden Haven area became a quiet backwater, so far barely touched by the deluge of rapacious over-development swamping the east coast. 

It became easier to forget the deadly power of nature, to ignore generally unpoliced building regulations banning ground floor living areas.

It was front page news for a week or so, with occasional media flood-flashbacks. The clean-up seemed to be over, though half of the two local newspapers deal with flood aftermath, overwhelmingly voluntary. For many, forgetting is not so easy.

Banking bad and insurance

To get reasonably priced flood or fire insurance, you need to live where it doesn’t flood or burn.  

At least this time insurance companies didn’t inform residents, as they did in northern NSW in 2017, that the sad stinking piles of their belongings, often everything people owned, had to remain inside houses until assessors arrived. Instead, they were removed by a goodwill volunteer army. 

Walls were scrubbed and repainted. Then checks uncovered dangerous black mould. In June, houses remain empty.

The brief royal commission into banks and insurance companies mean people won’t have to face such awful treatment as in the past, but only if they have the strength to fight back.

In ‘Banking Bad’, journalist Adele Ferguson gave public voice to those who stood up – sometimes for decades before having outrageous injustices dealt with by the banking and insurance industry. She meticulously and powerfully documented how corporations, their compliant governments and tame state “enforcement” agencies conspired against corporate victims, to threats of bankrupting legal action rather than medals for heroism. 

Insurance companies are now settling even (very rare) vexatious claims. Pay up to shut up is the modus operandi. Settling with those who might spearhead negative publicity and inspire others to claim is top priority. They bank on most people being too devastated and isolated to fight back. A few dollars here and there can save a whole lot more on the bottom line. 

Passing commentary

Delay also benefits insurance giants. Years after the 2017 floods, a single mother still living in a caravan spoke of her shame at being homelessness. 

Why wasn’t it front page news instead of passing commentary? And all the other stories? Why are the oppressed made to feel shame? How many Australians remember the viciousness of the banks and insurance companies, the compliance of governments which bleat that they represent the people? The royal commission lasted only two months in payment of lifetimes of damage.

During the 2019 fires this writer was in Laurieton evacuation centre and wrote, “As the emergency unfolded on Friday, local radio announced Victoria’s Kinglake residents were finally receiving compensation, eight years after bushfires destroyed their homes. The announcement provided no comfort in this new disaster zone.” 

Nor this one, unless collective power again shakes the corporate profit machine.


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