Volunteer helps Italo Stars soccer club get back on its feet after floods

Updated May 18 2022 - 9:56am, first published 1:45pm
WORTHY WINNER: Football Far North Coast general manager Steve Mackney presents Italo Stars vice-president Ben Perry with a Local Champion Award.
WORTHY WINNER: Football Far North Coast general manager Steve Mackney presents Italo Stars vice-president Ben Perry with a Local Champion Award.

ONE of heroes from the flood rescues has been recognised for his efforts in getting the Italo Stars soccer club get back on the field.

Ben Perry was named Volunteer of the month in Northern NSW Football's inaugural Local Champion Awards.

His association with Italo Stars goes back 30 years and he is the current vice-president of the club.

He has held most roles on the committee and was awarded life membership in 2016 as the club celebrated its 50th year.

He and a dedicated group of about 10 volunteers have spent countless hours cleaning up at the club in a desperate attempt to play football again this season.

It took a few days before they could even reach the ground.

Their home at Barrow Lane was all but gone. They had lost everything.

The clubhouse had only been open three weeks following a two-year refurbishment

"I've never seen a war zone but that was as close as I'll ever come to seeing a bomb hitting somewhere in Lismore," Ben said.

"We had lost all power. It was mind-blowing. Everything was gone. You think, where do you even start?

"We just salvaged what we could. We found junior goals two or three kilometres away in someone's front yard.

"Everyone knows everyone in the North Lismore community so I was getting phone calls where someone would say 'we've found your goals in Mary's front yard on so-and-so street'.

"The second thing was hosing everything off and trying to get everything back working.

"Our mower went for a swim but we got it back running. There's still a lot to clean up that we haven't even touched.

"We're going to try and mow our fields and start to fix up the infrastructure.

"Five or six guys are tradesmen and have been fixing things up out of their own pocket. Our lights have been destroyed.

"Training went back last week but we can only train for an hour or so without lights."

Perry and his Italo Stars teammate Nick Organ spent seven hours rescuing people from flood waters on February 28.

The pair met up at Ben's place and used his driveway as a boat ramp to launch his 14-foot tinny into the murky flood water which had engulfed much of the area.

They pulled people from second and third story windows, from rooves and from people's kitchens and loungerooms.

Ben's trusty tinny, normally used for crabbing and occasional fishing, fits three or four people comfortably.

But there were times when they had up to 10 people and even a dog on board as Ben and Nick tirelessly ferried people to safety.

"That Monday was pretty hectic. Probably the most hectic day I've ever had," Ben said.

"We were using the boat to get friends, family, strangers out of a pretty dire situation.

"There were hundreds of guys in boats who did a lot of good things in very dangerous conditions.

"It's mind-blowing now to think about how much water there was. We were ducking powerlines on the main road.

"You stand under a powerline and look up and see how high it is. This was the main street of Lismore. I don't want to see that again."

The danger was everywhere. On their side was Ben's experience on the water and in a boat.

But against them was the dangerous debris, the pouring rain and the volume of water.

Hearing was impaired as the rain hammered down relentlessly, while the sound of windows smashing and desperate people screaming for help filled the air.

Then there was the danger of other boats and jet skis crisscrossing roads to reach people on rooftops. It was chaos.

"We got hit by a large gas bottle. It felt like a whale coming up underneath the boat. It was pretty scary in that you just didn't know what was happening," Ben said.

"The water was a dark brown, black colour. It was a bit surreal getting people out.


There wasn't anyone in shock until we got them out of there. Getting out of their houses people were just in survival mode.

Once that was over that's when people started breaking down. People were crying in the boat.

"It was pretty traumatic. It probably didn't really kick in until the week after. It took a while (to process). It was a pretty full on thing that happened."

The disaster was almost the death of the club but the Stars continue to shine.

While they have lost players and volunteers, Ben was optimistic about the future and the 2022 season.

"Initially it was all a bit too much but we talked to a few guys and discussed it among the group.

The consensus was what else are we going to do?" Ben said.

"Apart from work there's nothing else to do. In our area there's no real social activity bar sport. So we got a team together.

"Last year we had four senior and five junior sides, this year just one senior and we've scraped together two junior teams.

"It was touch and go. It would have been the end of the club. We'll see how we go this year and what kind of funding we can get and what our options are."

Meanwhile, local referee Lucy Hungerford won an award for her efforts with the whistle.

Lucy attends coaching sessions, training nights, fitness tests and courses to upgrade her qualifications and gain more knowledge.

She is a member of the NNSWF Youth Referee Academy where she is a willing contributor to the coaching and development opportunities she receives.