A slice of paradise

With support, Rese and her family are putting their haven back together after the floods.

Rese and Kai had just started their farm stay and Airbnb business on Goat Island in the middle of the Richmond River before the floods washed it away in February 2022.

With 60 goats, horses and cows, it was a place where the couple would raise their blended family and maintain an income.

“It was a beautiful family environment,” says Rese. “We had complete off-grid solar, water tanks, composite toilets. It was just divine - the kids were jumping in the water all day, going for bushwalks, riding horses, motorbikes. Kai turned Goat Island from a wild piece of land in the middle of the river to an absolute haven.”

Rese and her partner Kai had just set up their business on the island when the floods came. Photo: Aysha Leo/Australian Red Cross.

But when the rains came, Rese and Kai lost their haven. “When the floods hit Lismore we knew that it was going to be quite high,” says Rese. “We didn't have the kids that week. We were lucky that it was just us two for that week. It was a bit of a panic for a few days. We lifted a few things up into the top storey which is just a big sleeping area.”

Living on an island, the boat was always ready to evacuate, but Rese admits she was surprised with how high the waters came. “We actually left everything else downstairs like it wasn't going to be that bad - we thought maybe knee height which was approximately the 1954 flood height.”

When it was time to leave, Rese was shocked at the speed and ferocity of the current. “Because we live on an island, we always have a punt ready; it’s the only way to access the island. Even when it's raining heavily, the water drains out a bunghole, so you can't sink this thing. We had that tied to our shed."

"I looked and thought, oh my god, this water is completely around us. I looked around the shed, and there wasn't any land left. I could hear goats drowning, I couldn't see horses, I couldn't see anything anymore. As water starting to bubble through the floor it was less than 10 minutes and the water was knee deep. The dogs were already sitting in the boat in the rain."

Rese and Kai lost belongings and their animals in the first flood in February.

"Kai said, 'You've got to get in the boat. The horses are gone and we've got to go.’ So we got in the boat and travelled across in the roughest, most horrible fast river - it was like it was the ocean. There were cows floating down, there's massive hay bales you're dodging. We got to our car on the other side but the road was already flooded.”

After a sleepless night with neighbours back on the mainland, Rese and Kai used their boat to rescue people across the community who were stranded. “I was so relieved for the light to come up at 5am. I just said, ‘Kai, we're going to get out there. There are people that are going to need to get out.’ So we jumped over the balcony into our boat, left our dogs with our neighbours and headed to Broadwater and Riley's Hill to help evacuate people and their pets. We just took everyone we could.”

After three days on the water, Rese was exhausted and had to retire from the rescues to focus on healing her body. Kai continued. She says the $500 Relief Grant she received from Red Cross paid for fuel for the boat rescues, water that they were handing out to stranded people, and medicines to heal the injuries she incurred.

“All of these people that have donated money, you have no idea how much that helps. That money went straight into over $300 worth of fuel. I spent at least $100 at the pharmacy because we were so roasted. I had to get cold sore tablets, aloe vera gel, Vitamin C, anything to help my body heal.”

The physical scars may have healed, but the mental trauma will take some time to recover from, says Rese. “There are so many triggers now. I think I'm a pretty switched-on person. I've got my stuff together. But I jump when I hear water running, heavy rain or the tide’s coming up and I'm sitting there thinking I wonder how high that's going to go. Although the kids weren’t there during the evacuation, they lost all their belongings and pets. They are going to need ongoing support and counselling too.”

Rese and Kai’s children in happier times at Goat Island.

As their recovery journey continues, Rese says whatever happens, she, Kai and the kids will return to Goat Island. But with extreme weather events likely to continue as a result of climate change impacts, they will always have an escape plan should their home flood again. “We're going to get back there. Absolutely 100%. I'm not giving up on this piece of paradise.

“I have no doubt that this is the new norm. And we'll just live around that. We'll build for that. We live in a flood and bushfire prone area, its important no matter what the disaster, we should always be well prepared and have an escape plan.”

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