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Diary from the eye of the flood


Brisbane flood lapping at the doorIt began for Brisbane on a wet, rainy Monday as a wall of water tore through Toowoomba to the west of the capital. There were forecasts that Brisbane may experience flooding so immediately we went into preparation mode.

According to predictions based on earlier floods the ground floor of my house was going to be inundated, so all our worldies were brought upstairs; we filled buckets and tubs with clean drinking water; bought matches, candles, and batteries; replaced our gas cylinder ... and waited.

It rained.

On Tuesday morning something interesting started to happen. People started nattering to each other and telling their stories. Down came the usual reservations and people conversed freely. I wrote the following on my Facebook page:

Camaraderie among the tinned baked beans and bottled water

I was only pontificating just yesterday to my two daughters, about a calamity bringing communities closer together. It was interesting in the supermarket this morning. I wish I had had a recording device to go around and interview everyone, because they were all chatting to their neighbours in the long queues. Swapping stories, news, gossip. Listening to all the conversations around me actually made the time in the long queue go very fast. Now why can't we all be so chatty and have so much fun normally? Hmmmmm.

People who had lived close to each other for years suddenly got talking and offering to help each other in preparation for the inundation ahead. 'Have you heard?' 'What are you expecting?' 'Are you ready?' 'Were you flooded last time?' 'Are you insured?'

The power went off in anticipation of the deluge on Wednesday morning ... and we waited. And while we waited we talked to our neighbours over the fence.

And it rained.

The predictions were for early flooding of the lower lying areas in the morning and a rising tide throughout Wednesday with the first peak in the late afternoon. It became apparent that if we didn't get my oldest daughter to the airport early (for a midnight flight to Europe) then she could be stranded. We bundled her on to a train, bid her a hasty farewell and went back to our preparations.

The highest peak would be at 4am on Thursday, we were told. Expect the worst. And we did.

And still it rained.

At 4am on Thursday a huddle of men could be seen not far from our house tentatively creeping forwards, their torches sweeping the dark ground in front of them. Where was the flood? How far had it gone? They started chatting to their neighbours. They were okay, they had avoided the worst. But those unfortunates just over there, they were gone.

We were in the eye of the flood. Surrounded by water but sitting high and dry. We awoke to a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning — the first sunshine in what felt like days — and an eerie silence. All the local dogs were silent, the birds were silent, there were no trains or traffic. Just silence. Over the airwaves we heard Anna Bligh dubbing it the 'blue sky flood' — very apt.

We had no real idea of what had been happening all around us other than what we could glean from local radio. It quickly became clear that we were in the calm centre amid complete chaos.

In fact, at first, we didn't believe anything much had happened.

Then we heard our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in her monotone drone: she was sending helicopters. All of Australia was behind us. Troops were coming. Food was coming. Help was coming.

I am sure we were all relieved to hear it, but she didn't exactly inspire us, or fill us with confidence!

And we heard Queensland State Premier Anna Bligh: Anna who had been so on-the-nose with the electorate in previous weeks and months was suddenly given her moment to shine.

A tired and emotional Anna outlined to Queenslanders exactly what was happening and how she and the government were going about it. There is no doubt Queenslanders at that moment rallied behind her. It could mean victory for her at the next state election, depending on how she handles the recovery post flood.

And Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman emerged from the slime smelling of roses. The next term is surely his for the taking if he wants it.

And the neighbourhood talked some more. About how Julia, Anna and Campbell were handling it all. And the straw poll was unanimous. Anna and Campbell: ten out of ten. And Julia? Julia who?

Then the phone calls started. Were we okay? Had we flooded? We got on our bikes to survey the scene. We walked the dog, and we talked to the neighbours.

With no power there was no work to be done, no housework or cooking, no computers, no TV, no games. With the roads blocked there was nowhere to drive to. Everyone who was lucky enough to have stayed dry in our neighbourhood was out and about. And everyone was talking.

As the day wore on people lit barbeques, invited over the neighbours and drank the last of the chilled champagne that had been saved for just such a rainy day.

In those few hours an immense bank of good will, or social capital, was built up.

And it would be needed. Because the very next day all these neighbours were walking over to their new friends and offering a helping hand along with a mop and bucket.

Every scrap of this social capital is going to be spent in the big clean up ahead. But at least we all now know our neighbours! 

Susan PriorSusan Prior is a freelance editor and writer. She is the former editor of On Line Opinion and is now studying for a post graduate qualification in Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Queensland. She blogs at My Cup of Tea - where she has more flood images - and Woolpack Tapestry.

Topic tags: Susan Prior, Queensland Flood, Anna Bligh, Campbell Newman, Brisbane, Julia GIllard



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Existing comments

Thank you Susan for sharing not only your experience, also your appreciation of Anna and Campbell. Certainly their concern and action came through on TV

Joan | 17 January 2011  

Thank you Sue and everyone for the willing hands. It's not light work but an overwhelming task that magically became manageable because of friends, neighbours and total strangers whose generosity is immeasurable.

Ros Davis | 17 January 2011  

How did you chill the champagne?

Greig Williams | 17 January 2011  

Hi Greig,
On the day they were drinking the champers it was still chilled from the fridge, even though the power had been cut. I managed to keep my milk cold in my freezer until the power came back on three days later! However, today I threw out all the food in there. It had defrosted too much and there was only so much food I could cook up after we regained power.

Susan Prior | 17 January 2011  

The assessment of Julia Gillard strikes me as being very harsh. While it is true that she has not carried the media waves like Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman, any person with a semblance of understanding of how our federal system of government works would appreciate that this was not her role.

Bligh and Newman command the majority of agencies providing frontline services in emergency, rescue and recovery. Gillard has mobilised the Defence force on a large scale and provided the commander for the recovery efforts. When taken with the huge financial support the Commonwealth will know doubt make to the reconstruction, what else could she nudge into the media to do?

She has been on the ground in the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane meeting real people and lending them an ear and a shoulder.

The truth is all incumbent governments have handled themselves well to date in this emergency, they have been a credit to Australian democracy in both an operational and philosophical sense. However Gillard does not need to face the people until 2013 and both Bligh and Newman have significant hurdles to overcome in February and March 2012 respectively when their media management of the flood crisis will be a distant memory.

Tom Cranitch | 17 January 2011  

How can a writer be so nasty about the PM.? Perhaps if it had been John Howard with his hugs he would have scored 10/10 too. By the way I saw Campbell Newman on TV and all he said was that he wanted an Enquiry. That's great. Can the enquirer ask him how his Council allowed developments on flood prone areas. Everyone who lived through the 1974 floods knew those areas. I lost a house full of furniture and a lifetime of possessions in that flood so I speak from experience.

Hoss | 17 January 2011  

After just reading Michael Mullins article, and now Susan Prior's, is Eureka St into porn also?

Michael Gravener | 17 January 2011  

Pity to see mean comments on the prime minister, She is after all putting the big things in train Military ,extra police,funds etc and knew her place was behind Anna Bligh and was not grandstanding It was lovely to see two women showing their compassion no matter what their accent .It is disappointing to read Susan,s mean spirited criticism

Maureen Stewart | 17 January 2011  

Hi Greig, On the day they were drinking the champers it was still chilled from the fridge, even though the power had been cut. I managed to keep my milk cold in my freezer until the power came back on three days later! However, today I threw out all the food in there. It had defrosted too much and there was only so much food I could cook up after we regained power.

Susan Prior | 17 January 2011  

Agree with Maureen, Hoss and Tom - the mean harshness of references to Julia Gillard was quite unnecessary, Susan and detracted from your reflections. I notice that our main newspaper here in Brisbane,now that it cannot relentlessly denigrate Anna Bligh as it has done since she was elected, is now having a go at Julia instead. Her measured voice and sincere manner and presence throughout the immediate crisis, taking her rightful place behind our Qld people, was very reassuring. Just a few minutes ago I heard her on the ABC offering more help to Qld.I have no scepticism regarding her sincerity and ability to deliver. Also,don't forget she is also currently dealing with other serious floods throughout Australia.

Mary Long | 18 January 2011  

Interesting piece but comments on JULIA were meanspirited.

Phil Smith | 19 January 2011  

Australians do well in a crisis. They also look after each other. Susan depicted this spirit well. Pity this is not extended to "the Other". Empathy seems to dry up when it is not one of "us". Why is this?

pamela | 21 January 2011  

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