You’ll remember the one.
For Cynthia, those four words have come to define life over the past few years.
First, it was the years-long drought that “bruised and battered” her family’s 40-hectare property in Scone, NSW (“You’ll remember the one”).
Then came the floods in 2021, which left them unable to access much of their farm without a tractor (“You’ll remember the one”).
In time, the water subsided … and then the mouse plague took hold (“You’ll remember the one”).
“They were everywhere. I’d be walking through the grass and they’d bounce out beneath your feet,” 18-year-old Cynthia says.
“At school one time, there was one running along the bench of the biology lab.
“I haven’t even mentioned the fires,” she adds.
It’s a situation playing out across Australia.
The nation’s largest consultation of young people on climate change and disaster risk — conducted in 2020 by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience and World Vision — found more than 90 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one natural hazard event in the three years prior.
Since then, parts of Australia have endured one of the nation’s worst flood disasters on record, as others were left to count the cost of bushfires.
From the east coast to WA, the stories of these young people may differ.
But through loss and uncertainty have come personal lessons of resilience, community and stability.
‘When the fire was out, I didn’t know how to feel’
On February 6, 2022, Georgia woke up with a “sick feeling” in her stomach.
“It was hot and windy, and there was just dust going everywhere,” says the 16-year-old, from Wagin in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt region.
“We haven’t had that many fires, but it just felt like it was a fire day.”
In what felt like the blink of an eye, the horizon was engulfed by smoke. As her family and neighbours raced to the fire front, the sound of tanker planes roared overhead.
“It got very, very scary quickly, because it was the first time that I’ve seen the water plane,” Georgia says.
“Because it was on our second farm and the wind was changing, we didn’t know if it was going to come for [the house].”
Though their fears were avoided, as the smoke settled and the community began to count the cost of the disaster, the scale of loss became clear.
“When the fire was out, I didn’t know how to feel,” she says. “I just gave Mum a hug and cried.”
Some 12 months on, it “still feels we’re fighting the fire”, Georgia says.
Fixing fences and other infrastructure has been a long and arduous task, while the fire season now evokes an added layer of stress.
But through the recovery, her experience has also instilled in her the value of community.
Without the support of those that call Narrogin and Wagin home, “we’d be lost”.
“We’re already pretty close because we’re all out in the middle of nowhere,” she laughs.
“But even though everyone was affected differently, everyone got together.
“It makes us feel more together,” she adds.
‘You need those little things to keep you going’
Some 4,000 kilometres across the other side of the country, the northern NSW community of Lismore was about to face a different type of devastation.
After what had been an already inordinately wet summer, the Northern Rivers region suffered catastrophic flooding in late February and March of 2022.
Sixteen-year-old Ivy remembers when the rain started. But then, “it just didn’t stop”.
“We’ve always had floods in Lismore — in 2017 my mum’s house was affected by the floods, and the school is always cut off,” she says.
“But this time, I just had a feeling deep in my gut that this was going to be bad.”
Ivy’s Dad’s house, where she was living at the time, was spared in the disaster.
But without power, phones, or the internet, they were unable to contact loved ones to make sure they were okay.
“There was this big high school in the middle of Lismore and we could just see a bus shelter hit the powerlines,” she says.
“Even after all the water dried up, we were without power for about two weeks.”
When the power came back on, Ivy found herself instinctively reaching for her guitar, and with some help from the “Reddit Gods”, got to work fixing her busted amp.
Since her early years, she’s “always struggled with school and anxiety”, but through the difficult times, music has kept her anchored.
“It’s been a symbol of stability through my life, music in itself, really,” she says. “I’ve spent hours and hours and hours playing my guitar.”
Reflecting on her experience, Ivy is candid: “I think people need little things like that, Wordle or whatever it is, to keep you going.”
“I was so anxious and everyone was so anxious and depressed during that time,” she says.
“Stability is why humans built communities.”
‘It doesn’t last forever’
Seven hours south in NSW’s Hunter Region, Cynthia has learned “a thing or two about staying optimistic and motivated”.
From floods to fires (not to mention a global pandemic), the 18-year-old’s high school years were affected in more ways than one.
“You have to stay home from school and all that, but you still have to do your school work,” she says.
“So it was good motivation to get all that done and keep busy. Staying optimistic just helps you know that it will pass.”
Through the cycle of natural disasters and uncertainty have come her own personal reflections.
She thought the drought would last forever — “but no, we got floods”.
“But they also went away too,” she says.
“It’s helped me realise that if something bad happens to us, it doesn’t last forever.”
The ABC’s Heywire competition is open to all regional Australians aged between 16 and 22.
The annual competition provides a platform for the younger generation, in pockets of Australia that rarely see the spotlight, to “tell it like it is”.
If you are aged between 16 and 22 and would like to find out more about the ABC Heywire Competition, go to the ABC Heywire website.
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