Southside Pride

“The further up the hill you lived, the more money you had; the better school you went to; and the less you had to worry about floods…”, was how I once described to a colleague the “class system” in Lismore (my hometown in Northern NSW). She, too, had grown up during the 60s and 70s in a working-class Catholic family, albeit in Brisbane, but agreed, “Yes Catholics spend their entire lives trying to make it to the top of the hill”.

For a long time, it seems being Catholic in country NSW, meant you never had a lot of money. Was it the size of the family? Was it the Irish background? Yes, and probably other factors too. Though there were obviously lots of wealthy Catholics back then, for me and my peers, Catholic living in a country town inevitably meant “poor” or at least “working class”.

And in Lismore, the geographic (and economic) hierarchy from bottom to top was: North Lismore, South Lismore, East Lismore, Lismore Heights and then Goonellabah. North Lismore always flooded, and so that’s where the poorest people lived (including most of Lismore’s Aboriginal population). South Lismore came next, though oddly enough, South Lismore and North Lismore are geographically next to each other, and there was a lot of connection between the two. And so it goes. Though I should offer a “rider”, as there were parts of South Lismore and East Lismore which flooded as much as North Lismore. It’s hard to imagine now, but as you drive over the Ballina Street Bridge, there were houses on the river bank, inhabited mostly by Aboriginal families, which always flooded.

Though we had family who lived on “higher ground”, I was never really aware of the differences until I went to Richmond River High School. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people with a lot more money, and who didn’t have to worry about “packing things up” (just in case) when the river came up. It’s not something which worried me, but it’s just something I’d never noticed previously. That said, our high school was always considered “bottom of the rung”, because it was located in North Lismore and therefore flooded.

Is there a “hierarchy” these days? I’m not sure, as it’s thirty-something years since I’ve lived here full-time. The only thing I’ve really picked up on is a “hierarchy” between those who live “IN Lismore” and those who live “OUTSIDE Lismore”. “You live IN Lismore?”, I’ve heard people say, mostly followed by “What a hole”.

And me? I now live on a hill, albeit in Sydney. “If my place ever flooded, Sydney would be in serious trouble”, I’ve told family members unfamiliar with the geography.

But I remain a “Proud Southie”, and keep a keen eye on things. The family and I spent a bit of time yesterday going through photographs from the flood earlier this year, which saw backyard inundations for a number of family members, one family member get awfully close, and another family member actually have water inside their house. We also talked a little about which shops in South Lismore had been impacted by the floods, which had quickly re-opened, and those which have never re-opened.

We also spent a bit of time looking at family photographs. Going through old photograph albums and “biscuit tins”, we unearthed some real gems.

We also unearthed a few previously forgotten photographs of me. Oh, that centre part!

One of the jobs I’ve taken on is to begin to digitise the large collections we have.

And then last night, we went for a look around the neighbourhood. Here’s some of the “Christmas Lights of South Lismore”.

For the most part, the weather’s been overcast since I’ve been home, and we’ve had a couple of late afternoon rain and thunderstorms.

  1. Seriously deep water. Up until about 1970, certainly in the country, discrimination against Catholics was the norm, unless they were in a town of their own, and there were such places, naturally not formalised.

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  2. Growing up in Sydney in the 1950s it seemed to me that cinema newsreels would report on floods at Lismore every summer almost by tradition.

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