I’ve just arrived back in Brisbane. It’s been two wonderful weeks in Bali. The six hour flight leaves me feeling groggy and irritable.
In the taxi heading home, I sit glumly, staring out the window, sunglasses obscuring my eyes, my down-turned mouth testimony to the onset of post-holiday blues. Our Indian driver, handsome in a spotless turban, fiddles with the dial of the car radio in search no doubt of an audible radio station. The loud crackling of static only further exacerbates my irritability.
At last, he settles for the soothing though unctuous voice of an ABC news reader. My attention is caught by his words ”Toowoomba floods “. I focus on the menifluous tones of the news reader and his almost dispassionate delivery of news so shocking I can’t at first absorb its devastating enormity.
I hear the portent of tragedy. After a day of torrential rain, a wall of water – an inland tsunami if you will – tears through the city centre of Toowoomba, sweeping everything before it. People going about their everyday business are suddenly confronted by a ferocious wave of mud-red water, biblical in its proportions and fury. A mother and child swept to their deaths, while others more fortunate, cling desperately to tree branches, car roofs or anything that will enable them to a survive the onslaught of this cataclysmic cataract. How is this possible? Toowoomba is 700m above sea level and has no real river to speak of.
My becoming aware of this news is made all the more shocking for that same flood of water,8m in height, continues its rampage and plunges over the Toowoomba range down into the Lockyer Valley. It’s fast and furious momentum, devastating small towns and villages that stand haplessly in its path. Lives are lost. People are missing.
I open the door to my house, the musty smell of dampness assails me, It’s been closed up for 2 weeks. For the same period of time, almost constant rain. Fresh air will quickly dispel the miasma of abandonment and neglect. A quick reconnoitre of the refrigerator and pantry reveals the lack of victuals. Supplies are needed; a trip to the village is in order.
In Coles, it’s absolute bedlam. Panic reigns. Row upon row of empty shelves. No bottled water to be had. People push shopping trolley’s laden high with provisions; enough I suspect to last much longer than Noah’s flood of 40 days and 40 nights. I’m here merely for bread, eggs and milk. I leave with a side of smoked salmon, yogurt and chocolate. At Cibo, while tossing back a restorative coffee, I’m urged to prepare for the worst; the floodwater is expected to go higher than ‘74 flood. In the village, shops are closing and proprietors busily sandbag their doorways.
At home the telephone rings.It’s my sister Susan: “Do you think you should leave?’ I can hear my mother’s worried voice in the back ground: ”Tell Tony I’m not letting that little dog go back to New Farm!” Beau has been staying with my parents while I holidayed in Bali. Susan and I manage a momentary laugh. “It’s comforting to know Mum is more concerned for the welfare of dog than her only Son,” I opine. We exchange goodbyes, with assurances from me everything will be fine.
My friend Rod arrives with a shovel and conspicuous energy. He wants to help sandbag my garage door and move everything up and out of harm’s way. ”Go away.” I say, tiredness causing petulance. ”I’m not moving anything out of the garage. If flood waters should get that high, the whole of New Farm is under”. Never-the-less I find myself shovelling sand into plastic bags as the sun burns the back of my neck. So I help him load his car with bulging sand bags. He is off to help another mate in Bulimba, a far more appreciative recipient of his boundless energy and helpfulness than I.
That night after a solitary dinner of smoked salmon and chocolate, I fall into a fitful sleep. During the night I’m woken by my neighbours’ hushed conversations. They keep vigil, watching the floodwaters steadily rise. I return to the embrace of Morpheus comforted by the knowledge, should Armageddon arrive, they will sound the alarm.
Wednesday, 5.00 am.
It’s begun! I make my way to New Farm Park. The Brisbane River, usually placid, is now a raging torrent, fast and furious. It’s boundaries, new and unfamiliar, made all the more frightening for that. I see a child’s wooden cubby-house, looking very much like a house boat, sweep past; along with parts of pontoons and garden furniture. Water bubbles up though the storm drains like a fountain and the corner of Sydney and Brunswick streets are soon submerged under cafe au lait coloured water. The sunshine is promising a new day and a beautiful one at that, an incongruity really, as we wait in trepidation for the devastation of flood water that will follow.
The village is deserted and I’m at a loss at what do for coffee. I try the French Patisserie. It’s open but in the short time it takes to buy coffee and a pastry, Brunswick street has become a lake. People gather to marvel. An atmosphere that is almost party-like, prevails.
At home in Lower Bowen Terrace, I find my neighbours worriedly observing the water frothing from the storm water drain at the back of our garden. It inches forward with slow determination. The festive atmosphere gives way to concern, at least for the elderly. They have been here before in ’74 and respect absolutely, the power of an old foe: the Brisbane River in full flood.
I stand with a group of my neighbours and watch as the water continues to steadily rise. The back garden resembles a billabong. While looking bizarrely picturesque, the smell would suggest raw effluent is now part of the soupy mix of river silt and rotting vegetation. Number 7’s garage is under water and the flood inexorably makes its way into the garage of Number 6 . Peak tide has come and the muddy water is now inching towards Number 5. I’m Number 3 and further up the hill. Surely it won’t reach that far! The ultimate flood height predicted to be a further 1.5 meters higher than it is now, and to arrive at 4.00am tomorrow. I begin to regret my cavalier refusal of sandbags and Rod’s help.
The power is cut. I face a night without lights and no electricity to recharge my mobile. A text arrives from Hebe, ”Darling! How fare you? Join me I’m at Tina’s on her pontoon.. bring something to drink … you’ll know everyone” A party in progress it would seem. I text back, “No thank you … a little too like, Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns for me..but in this case while Brisbane sinks”. Hebe’s response, “Get a grip Darling…why so priggish? … nothing to do now except wait .. and appreciate the value of good champers “.
Thursday 3.30 am
I wake disorientated, a different bed and an unfamiliar room. I’d decided, in the absence of my essential utilities, to spend the night at Rod’s house. He’s conveniently fled the city! Unable to sleep, I get dressed. A sense of urgency prevails. I want to get back to New Farm. Had the flood reach it’s predicted zenith? As I approach the city, I become aware of the stench, a horrible cocktail of earth, rotting vegetation and the unmistakable stink of effluent. Slowly I make my way down Lower Bowen Terrace. As I turn into my drive, the car lights arc downward, illuminating the drive and the encroaching flood water. Had my little house been spared? Yes! Yes it had! My relief almost palpable.
The peak of danger has arrived. And passed with equal anticlimax; at least as far as my humble abode is concerned. I am movingly conscious that others will not be similarly unscathed.
I answer my mobile and the voice on the other end is Hebe’s: ”Darling, the Riverwalk gone!
”Gone? What do you mean it’s gone? Don’t tell me they actually blew it up!” my gut tight with disbelief and, most surprisingly, grief, I loved that Riverwalk. I’m not alone.
”No Darling the river was just too strong for it and it just broke up. A great piece of it is being manoeuvred out to sea by a brave tug boat Captain as we speak”.
”Oh Hebe thats the end of it then. They will never build it again” I say despondently. “Darling don’t be sad. Of course it will be rebuilt,” says Hebe ever the optimist.’ “Campbell has no choice but to rebuild. The whole success of those bloody useless hire bikes depend on it. No-one will tackle that hill travelling into the city, especially on those clunkers!”
- What to do before, during, and after a flood (smartsign.com)