How the Lismore tinnie army saved the community

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet wants the so-called tinnie army, the “wonderful and beautiful” members of Australia’s biggest community-led rescue effort during the February flood, to play a more permanent role in future disasters.

Perrottet told the Herald that former NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller, the NSW Flood Inquiry co-chair, has been tasked with trying to incorporate these spontaneous rescuers into the response to future flood and bushfire events.

The premier said bigger and more frequent disasters driven by climate change would require a better and different systemic response from government agencies and volunteer organisations, adding that sometimes having “to ruffle some feathers in the public service” was required.

He said the appointment of NSW Police Deputy Police commissioner Mal Lanyon as Northern NSW Recovery Coordinator two weeks after the flood in northern NSW had “stepped on the toes” of Resilience NSW, but it was the right thing to do, as was the creation of the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation.


Four people died in the February 28 flood and thousands remain homeless after the event, which is now the subject of an independent inquiry by Professor Mary O’Kane and Fuller. The inquiry was due to report the first of its findings by June 30 and a second report later in the year. However, it will now hand down one report by the end of July. A separate state parliamentary inquiry is also being held.

Hundreds of community members, dubbed the tinnie army because of their aluminum fishing boats with outboard motors, hit to rescue thousands of trapped residents during the record-breaking flood in February and early March this year after SES volunteers were overwhelmed in the Northern Rivers of NSW .

Rescues were co-ordinated by groups through social media networks, who directed volunteers, including high-profile surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson on jet skis, and TripADeal founder Norm Black, who brought in helicopters to save people trapped by landslides and from isolated, flooded properties.

In Lismore, the tinnie army came together after the SES issued a call for residents with boats to assist in the rescue operation in Lismore on February 28, when it was hit by a 14.4 meter flood, two meters higher than the previous record. However, SES headquarters in Wollongong later tried to shut the request down. An order that was ignored by the community, and many frontline SES volunteers.

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