One photograph I took on my first morning in flood-devastated Lismore gathering images and interviews for the Disaster Country series of articles and podcasts will always stay with me.
It reminds me of Lady Bird Johnson's famous quote "Where flowers bloom so does hope".
Five weeks after the floods, the leaves of a magnolia tree in the city are still muddy brown. But three bright clean green leaves have sprouted - with a flower bud.
In my 18 years as a press photographer, I have covered a variety of dramatic news events, including bushfires, crime scenes, droughts and floods.
I was not prepared for the devastation I saw in the Northern Rivers of NSW.
On our first day in Lismore, the sheer magnitude of the flood shocked me. Even though most of the piles of debris had been cleaned up the empty gutted homes and businesses remained.
The Aussie Home Loans shopfront was stripped back to its timber frame and brick walls, the glass windows and door gone. All that remained was the logo hanging on the wall.
The town was abuzz, but not in the way it would have been before the flood. Trucks rumbled past loaded with flood damage material. Tradespeople were measuring up for new Gyprock and electrical fittings. High-pressure hoses cleaned footpaths and roadways. Council workers were even replanting a roundabout. The Australian Defence Force were set up in the Bunnings and Spotlight carpark - a surreal scene.
The Disaster Country assignment took me away from my usual Newcastle Herald duties for some days on the road with journalist John Hanscombe and Voice of Real Australia podcast host Tom Melville, who was behind the steering wheel dodging potholes galore and navigating the many roads closed by landslides.
We visited the flood-affected villages of Coraki, Woodburn, Uki, Mullumbimby, Upper Main Arm and Huonbrook. As we spoke to residents who had lost everything, it was hard to fathom the stories of survival they were telling us. We're proud to be able to share the experiences they so generously shared with us.
The devastation in Huonbook and Wilsons Creek west of Mullumbimby will stay with me. Large sections of the hillside and road completely washed away. Massive boulders the size of cars washed down with the mud and debris from the hills above. The landscape almost unrecognisable to the locals.
Handmade paths built by the community allow them to safely navigate through the sticky red mud. The time and effort to rebuild the infrastructure will take months if not years.
This scene is repeated in nearby valleys in the region. It's overwhelming the size of this natural disaster and the havoc that has been caused in this region.
I am truly grateful to all the people I met who trusted me to photograph them at such an uncertain and challenging time in their lives.
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