The restoration of a school, which has only 56 students, is a symbol of hope for the community of Blakebrook in northern NSW.
CAPTION: Gunner Jarrad Gardner clears debris at the flood-damaged Blakebrook Public School near Lismore, northern NSW, as part of Operation Flood Assist 2022. Story by Captain Annie Richardson and Leading Seaman Kylie Jagiello. Photo by Corporal Sagi Biderman.
The community is in the process of rebuilding Blakebrook Public School, which was badly damaged in the devastating floods that recently swept through the area.
Working with the school’s two teachers to clear debris, acting principal Louise Tate described the school as “the best place on earth”.
“I’ve been here almost 25 years and it is like a second home to me,” Mrs Tate said.
“Our first impression of the school was heartbreaking – we’re close to creek systems out here and a good metre of water and mud had gone through.
“To see it like that – I went into a bit of shock.
“You opened the doors to the classroom and thought, ‘where do we start?’.”
Personnel from 8th/12th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, who are based in Darwin, have been cleaning up the three-classroom school to help the students return next term.
Leading the large clean-up for the small school was Lieutenant Nick Jenkins.
Lieutenant Jenkins said the locals were in need of help, and grateful to receive it.
“It’s been confronting seeing the impact the floods have had on the community, and this school,” Lieutenant Jenkins said.
“For my team to come in and assist, it’s been a privilege to help and to see the resilience of the community.”
During a visit to flood-affected areas, Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell saw the devastation firsthand.
“Mrs Tate showed me around the school and, while the classrooms have been gutted, their community has a determined, resilient spirit,” General Campbell said.
“Rebuilding the school is a critical task. Getting students back to learning is a priority.
“The community, state emergency services, first responders, foreign militaries and civil contractors have all come together to provide disaster relief to flood-affected communities across NSW and Queensland.”
Driving by and seeing all the hard work that has happened to get the school cleaned up gives Mrs Tate hope they are one day closer to opening the doors to students again.
“Our school is home to students from far and wide, including a large contingent coming from farms, which have been cut off due to the floods, road closures or landslides,” she said.