Silvercloud Studios, April 1, 2017, 10.16 am,
Silvercloud Studios, April 1, 2017, 10.16 am, "back stairs level has dropped". Victoria Pitel

FLOOD: A silver lining at Silvercloud Studios

VICTORIA Pitel stood on the back balcony of Silvercloud Studios in South Lismore, watching a large red couch float by.

A fridge arrived at the front door, followed by an extremely heavy blue picnic table, still laden with party remnants including drinks, a cigarette and bread rolls, all in place.

Silvercloud Studios, 10.20 am levels dropping.
Silvercloud Studios, 10.20 am levels dropping. Victoria Pitel

She went to sleep on a lounge to the sound of furniture knocking together as the water rose through the rooms of the floor beneath her.

Again the knocking repeated, as it later sank.

Silvercloud Studios, March 31, 2017, 2.51am.
Silvercloud Studios, March 31, 2017, 2.51am. "Water has flooded the back deck at Silvercloud Studios", Maxine and Victoria's studios going under. Victoria Pitel

For three nights Ms Pitel was stranded at the studio and these are just some of the sights and the sounds that remain, one year on.

When the flooding began Ms Pitel was oblivious to it.

"I had an appointment up at Southern Cross University and then soon after that they closed SCU and I was like 'What's going on?'.”

"And then I tried to get home and I couldn't. All the roads were flooded and blocked. So it forced me to come back here.

Silvercloud Studios, March 31, 2017, 10.51am, view from back deck. All understory studios under water, Robyn's studio at the end.
Silvercloud Studios, March 31, 2017, 10.51am, view from back deck. All understory studios under water, Robyn's studio at the end. Victoria Pitel

"Which was a good thing because I saved most of my studio. My son and I moved it all upstairs.”

The mother and son team also tried to save the artworks and belongings of fellow artists Maxine King and Anna Nordstrum.

Silvercloud Studios, 1.10 pm,
Silvercloud Studios, 1.10 pm, "not going home for a while yet". Victoria Pitel

"Anna was having a show so we needed to get all her paintings upstairs,” said Ms Pitel.

"We spent until about two in the morning just moving stuff, until I couldn't move anything any more. And I went to sleep upstairs and my son woke me about an hour and a half later 'Mum, come and have a look!'.”

"All the furniture was starting to float around the place. And it was getting up to the lights and higher, just creeping up higher and higher and higher.”

Silvercloud Studios, 10.49am,
Silvercloud Studios, 10.49am, "Alan's studio under". Victoria Pitel

"And then I was here for three nights. I didn't have anything to do, I just paced back and forth from that deck to that deck. And took lots of photographs because that's the only thing I could do. Post them on Facebook.”

Ms Pitel said the contrast between the buzz of the pre-flood panic and the silence mid-flood was stark.

"It was very very quiet, very very still.”

"And the odd...SES boat came past and the odd helicopter.

Silvercloud Studios, 1.07pm, understory studio access, waiting for the water to drop.
Silvercloud Studios, 1.07pm, understory studio access, waiting for the water to drop. Victoria Pitel

"And my son was hungry. And the one morning we woke up and I said...somebody's delivered some food for you, cos a fridge had arrived at the front steps. And he got up all excited but I was teasing him, it was empty.”

Then the blue table arrived with pre-sampled drinks, buns and flood water.

"So it was a mixture of tragic but also humorous things. It was bizarre.”

As soon as the water went down and everybody could move around again, the hosing began and Ms Pitel went home for a good sleep.

For Maxine King who hadn't been able to get in to the studio, the images and feelings were slightly different.

Although Ms Pitel had attempted to save Ms Kings belongings, lifting things onto high shelves, she hadn't anticipated that the shelves would lift and tip over.

"It was a hard place to come in to,” said Ms King.

"You just cried. It was terrible, it was a terrible feeling.”

"I underestimated it, I didn't think it was going to be that bad, I thought 'oh it will come up to the table, I'll be right', you know.”

"When I came here I couldn't get the door open, I had to climb through a window and because the window had been forced open at this end, the water had come through and just made it like a washing machine.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I climbed through that window it was just...it was unbelievable and a lot of books and stuff like that were lost,” said Ms King.

This included a lot of visual diaries, which went back years.

"They were the hard ones. There was a lot of them,” she said.

Silvercloud Studios, 2.20am.
Silvercloud Studios, 2.20am. Victoria Pitel

"Because I remember looking at her bookshelf thinking 'What do I choose?' because they all looked so precious,” said Ms Pitel.

As time has passed Ms King says the flood has given her the opportunity to accept it and make a fresh start, "I've completely changed direction artistically,” she said.

"I didn't like those old paintings anyway, that much,” she jokes.

Ms King lost around a dozen paintings to the deluge. She is now making small rice paper and shell pendants, which can be easily moved, should another flood approach.

"So in the end it was OK.”

Images of huge mounds of debris, muck coated foliage and the smell of the mould are permanently imprinted on Ms King's mind but there are also moments of incredulous disbelief and wonder.

The perplexing case of pink plant pot, wedged "hugely high up” in the branches of a gum tree still defies explanation, as does the survival of an incredibly delicate Japanese ornament. The ornament, a soft green jar with handles and a red strawberry on top, somehow surfed the swirling water and debris that rushed around Maxine's studio. She posits that the table it sat on must've lifted right up and returned to its exact position, the jar still sitting in the centre of table, as if placed there purposefully, in an otherwise devastated room.

"I think I'll always keep that,” said Ms King.

At the time, Ms Pitel had a new kiln, which she and her son took upstairs as it became apparent there was a problem. It remained upstairs for nine months, until just before Christmas.

Only now do things seem like they're returning to normal.

"We brought it back down and got it installed. And the plug point is up there,” she says pointing to a spot very high up the wall, above the flood line, above the doorway.

"Out of reach,” they both laugh.



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