‘Devastating to see’: All Stars relatives’ pain at flood damage

Cody Walker’s enduring childhood memory of his nephew and Indigenous All Stars teammate Daine Laurie is of a nappy-clad, blond-haired kid doing Bruce Lee kicks off a bridge in Baryulgil.

The same Northern Rivers waters that devastated the region and displaced the entire Indigenous community of Cabbage Tree Island will loom large when Walker and Laurie represent their people this Saturday in Rotorua.

Indigenous All Stars Daine Laurie and Cody Walker.Credit:NRL Photos

Hailing from Casino and Iluka in Northern NSW respectively, Walker and Laurie travelled across the state to start their All Stars week, conducting coaching clinics in Ballina and visiting nearby Cabbage Tree Island, rendered uninhabitable by record floods last February.

With sewage-contaminated sludge and widespread mould forcing more than 180 people from the community, entire families are facing up to two years for homes and infrastructure including the local public school to be rebuilt.

“It was quite devastating to see and hear what those people have been through, so we wanted to make the effort to get up there,” Walker told the Herald.

“We played against a lot of the people who live out there when we were growing up and know a lot of them, so it’s just heartbreaking.

Flood waters in Ballina last year.Credit:Natalie Grono

“No one’s living out there any more and that’s quite devastating when you think about how old that community is and their connection to the place out there. The entire place was devastated, the floodwaters went right through the island and they’ve all been displaced, they’re living in pods at the moment.

“The people we did see were in good spirits and we just tried to give them something to smile about, especially the kids. It’s not often that they get NRL players in that region, so it was good to put a smile on some faces after what’s been a devastating year.”

For Laurie, representing his mob and cousins spread right across the region has been a lifelong goal. Doing so alongside his uncle Walker, a childhood hero and sounding board coming through the grades at Penrith, only makes his late call-up that much sweeter.

Daine Laurie as a youngster.

“Ronnie Griffiths and Mango [assistant coach Matt Bowen] rang me up late last week and soon as they called I had my fingers crossed,” Laurie said.

“When they asked me to play, I was just buzzing, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was showing off how shredded I am this year, I gave them a little flex on camera just to let them know I’m definitely fit to play.

“Uncle Cody’s known me my whole life, he’s known me since I was in nappies. To share the field with him and represent our people together, it’s so special. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and it’ll hold a special place in my heart.

“Hopefully he can set me up for a try or two and I might pull out a backflip if he looks after me. ”

Walker is equally chuffed to be lining up with Laurie, 10 years his junior, having known the Wests Tigers fullback his whole life and admired his NRL rise accordingly.

Cody Walker and Daine Laurie at last year’s Indigenous Round launch.Credit:NRL Imagery

“We’d be jumping off the bridge out the back of Baryulgil and he’d there in nappies jumping off, making sure he wasn’t left out because he was young,” Walker recalled. “He was really into his Bruce Lee back then, he had long blond hair and he was a cheeky young kid doing these Bruce Lee kicks in the air.

“It’s very special being together here. I just love his story. He came down from the country as a kid, lived with a family and stuck it out at Penrith. There would’ve been times when he was homesick and it would’ve been hard to stay down in the city, but to see him play NRL, it’s a privilege to watch him. I’m so proud of him and I’ve played against him a few times now, so this is special.”

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