ABOUT FLOOD STORIES
On March 31, 2017, the city of Lismore, in northern New South Wales, was devastated by a major flood. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie had travelled down the Queensland coast and into the Northern Rivers region and hit with a vengeance. The Bureau of Meteorology reported that 20,000 people were evacuated from Lismore and Murwillumbah.
That flood was the first to overtop Lismore's levee, which had been built in 2005 to protect the town's central business district.
Flood Stories is a participatory audio storytelling project by audio documentary-maker Jeanti St Clair. The installation features audio stories about the 2017 Lismore flood, told from the perspectives of people who were flooded and people who helped in the recovery. Each flood story is presented as an audio recording that has been collected through a public storytelling workshop and interviews.
Inside a 20-foot shipping container, two racks of bright yellow raincoats run along the walls; a pair of gumboots sit beneath each raincoat. In the pocket of each raincoat is a small audio player, a set of headphones and a mud map of the story’s walking route. On each audio player is one person's flood story.
Visitors arrive at the shipping container and are asked by an attendant if they would like to listen to a story about surviving the flood or one about being part of the rescue and recovery teams.
The visitor is then kitted out with a raincoat and gumboots. They put on the headphones, press play on the audio player, and carrying their mud map, are directed to walk around The Quad and surrounding streets for the duration of the story (approximately 10-20 minutes) before returning to the shipping container where they are asked to complete a brief survey.
The installation is framed around the third phase of recovery from trauma: reconnection and integration (Hermann, 1992). The person is no longer defined by their trauma but can share their story without re-experiencing the trauma (Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre, 2013).
This installation is an opportunity for the Northern Rivers community to reconnect around some key themes and learnings from the 2017 flood, and engage in story-sharing to aid mental health recovery and release.
"Flood Stories is a way for our Northern Rivers community to reflect on our preparedness for future floods and climate emergencies, and we will do this through both telling and listening to our stories of the 2017 flood that devastated our region."
JEANTI ST CLAIR, PRODUCER
Flood Stories is a Plein Air residency at The Quad in Lismore. Originally timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the Cyclone Debbie flood, the project was postponed 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will now run for nine days at the Lismore Quad and around the town’s central business district, from April 28 until May 6, 2021.
Plein Air is an open-air residency program that invites companies and individuals to experiment in The Quad. The residency invites cross-discipline exploration across all arts forms and industries and encourages ideas to be tested in a public space.
An online repository of Flood Stories from the 2017 Lismore Flood will feature on this website after the residency is completed.
This methodology is broadly inspired by the Empathy Museum’s A Mile in My Shoes project, which suggests that an embodied-walking listening practice can support an empathetic engagement by the listener with the person’s story. When we walk as if in someone’s shoes, we are more open to understanding their experiences.
Visitors can also make a recording on their phone of their flood story or their reaction to the Flood Stories installation and email it to the project. The content may be compiled into an audio storytelling soundscape for a later project.