Of flood and fire and famine

Toowoomba floodLike just about every Australian and many of our friends around the world, I’ve been watching the images of flood in Queensland, at once shocked, horrified and in awe of the events. Whole towns evacuated not once but three times – and yes, the people had cleaned up twice already. An inland Tsunami roared through a town without a river; cars were tossed like corks, shipping containers, pontoons – even a hundred metres or more of walkway being shepherded down the river by a barge so it wouldn’t demolish anything in its path. In Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city, thousands of homes were flooded. In some cases, all you could see in the aerial photos was roofs above the water.

It’s been going on for months now, after a thirteen year drought. At first the rain poured down on the arid inland plains and the vast river systems started once again to flow. The Diamantina and Coopers Creek and others don’t flow to the sea – they drain into the normally dry salt pan, Lake Eyre. The water spreads and soaks in and the farmers rejoice. The land has been given its life’s blood. But at a cost. Whole towns were evacuated, roads cut, stock and crops lost.

Plenty of rivers do flow to the sea and fill their banks and spread and inundate man’s creations, uncaring. The footage is violent and terrifying and deadly; the stuff of nightmare. And wonderful, vivid scenes for the writer. And yes, I’m one of those and some of those things I’ve witnessed at second hand may well make an appearance in a future book. After all, ‘Die a Dry Death’ was littered with things I’ve seen, places I’ve been. But the things that will live on in my memory are the human stories. There are too many, far too many to mention, so I’ll just give a few.

The old couple, probably in their eighties, dishevelled and muddy. She carried a little dog under each arm and held the leash of a third. Her husband carried two more. They’d been given half an hour to get out and took what was most precious to them.

The face of the man who ran the garage at Helidon (I think) in the Lockyer Valley. The wall of water that hit Toowoomba, that inland tsunami, poured down off the high ground of the ranges there, scouring everything in its path. This man managed to scramble onto the roof of his business and watched, helpless, not sure if his own family was safe, as houses, whole houses torn from their stumps, sailed past. He could hear people, kids, inside, yelling for help. That man’s face will haunt me.

So, too, will the face of the Channel 7 helicopter pilot. This man has flown a news chopper for years and he’s seen it all. But in the Lockyer Valley he flew over a little white sedan which had been swept into the torrent. A man, a woman and a child had climbed through the windows onto the roof. All the pilot could do was call for help. He had no equipment, no trained personnel to carry out a rescue. He ferried people from one swollen bank to the other in an attempt to get help to them but by the time he got back the car had disappeared. You could almost see the ‘what if’ in his eyes, ‘what more could I have done? The answer is nothing but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a hard time persuading himself.

That’s what Greta van der Rol, author, will take from these floods; the people stories. Australia will survive. It always has; the country lurches from one ‘climate’ crisis to the next. As I write, drought continues on the South West coast, while the North West town of Carnarvon had to be evacuated due to (at first welcome) flooding of the Gascoyne River. Let us not forget, too, that only two years ago Victoria was devastated by bushfire. But it has always been so. That’s Australia.

Dorothea McKellar wrote this poem in 1911. We all learnt it at school and it bears remembering:

My Country

by Dorothea McKellar
(1885–1968)

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies –
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops,
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

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About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 13 January 2011, in Life and things, On writing, Research. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A fitting tribute, Greta. Tragedy must always have a face and a voice.

  2. I’m so sorry for the devestation the people of Australia have had to face. My prayers and thoughts remain with them.

  3. This brought tears to my eyes, especial the story about the man who couldn’t rescue the family stuck in the car. I bet he has trouble sleeping.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Janice~

    • The woman and her son were rescued further downstream. The man is missing. But yes, Janice, what you thought was what I thought. There are so many other stories – the guy who got his sister up on the roof, went back for his parents and they were gone, swept away. The found the bodies 2km downstream. There were people in some of those cars tumbled down the streets. It’s not just here, of course. New Orleans, Haiti, Indonesia, Thailand…

      I gotta get back to editing.

  4. Good post, Greta. You vividly detailed what you’re seeing and brought the images to us. I have a friend that lives there. That last I heard she was staying with friends and was safe but that was a couple of days ago. I’m hoping things are still ok, for them at least. In the states, we watched in horror the same type of thing you are watching with Katrina and we have massive flooding up and down the Mississippi every few years, but it’s never something that is easy to witness or think about. I hope you and your family remain safe. Beautiful poem, by the way.
    Laura

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