As a native Queenslander watching the floods from my home in Melbourne, I have been thinking a lot about how the last big floods shaped my life and how they might shape those involved in the clean-up at the moment.
I remember standing on our front porch in Graceville that Saturday afternoon in 1974 watching the water rise in the side street opposite. At 6.30pm we decided it was time to act. The water had reached the second step so we carried some of our furniture up the street. It was quite unnerving to see our personal effects displayed for all to see. We stayed with friends that weekend and a truck picked up the furniture.
After the flood peak Dad sailed down the street in a tinny, ducking his head beneath the power lines to reach the gable at the front of the house. He paddled around the back to look in the windows and try and find a way into the house, without success. I remember seeing him later sitting with his face in his hands, sobbing. At that point it all seemed too much, impossible to surmount.
A few days later we were back in the house, shovelling the mud, sifting through our thoroughly muddied belongings, surveying our losses. I’ll never forget the smell.
The markers of the floods remained a part of our lives. The water left mud stains on my mother’s rolling pin, and it is still in my kitchen drawer today - a frequent reminder. One of the chairs in my home in Melbourne still displays flecks of ‘flood mud’. Somehow I like to keep them there.
Our house had to be gutted and rebuilt after three days lying under water. The walls had been gouged by floating furniture, the ceilings bowed by tons of water. But it surely survived. My family lived in it for another eight years. And last week it went under again, not so far this time but it got a battering.
Today’s media have a way of depicting the devastation with such realism. The footage we have seen is compelling and visceral. We’ve all watched the water raging along streets, climbing up walls, making its way into any soft or solid object it encounters. We’ve seen the terrifying force of it as it tossed cars around like bath toys and smashed houses against each other in a tumble of sticks and rubble. People everywhere have returned to their homes, like my father, hoping to salvage something. Many will have moments when it seems all too much to bear.
My son Tim is a plasterer who lives in Graceville. He rang me the other day from a clean-up site. ‘I’m covered in mud, Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ve just pulled out the walls I put into a lady’s house a few months back. She went right under. And someone just gave me a chicken wrap! There’s hundreds of people helping. It’s amazing!’
In some ways I’m pleased my Gen Y son has experienced all this chaos. In the clean-up, we learn a bit more about the value of our ‘things’, and consider what other things are worth valuing. My son is a thoughtful young man but I think he has started to notice more, to feel what his neighbours feel. It has to be good for him.
Nature has a way of knocking out our arrogance and teaching us humility. It also teaches us how to care and how to survive. I suspect lately many of us have learned a thing or two about ourselves as well as the power of this world we live in. Let’s hope it has all been worthwhile.
Anne Doyle is the Marketing Manager at Jesuit Communications.
Photo from Flickr.