Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drought and flooding rain...

There is only one subject that I can write about today. I am sure that at home there is only one subject dominating everyone's thoughts and conversations - the terrible flooding that has inundated Queensland and parts of Northern New South Wales. There isn't very much I can add, from my garret here in merely-drizzly London, to the deluge of news stories that has been keeping pace with the deluge of rain.

Dorothea Mackellar
At this stage, with the waters yet to peak in Brisbane and a trail of destruction and loss of life behind the wall of water, Australians must be asking themselves if they still agree with Dorothea Mackellar, the young 'bush poet' who wrote the iconic verses in 1904 when she was 19 years old, living in London, and feeling homesick. Not that I'm drawing any parallels here...

The recent rains broke an equally dreadful ten year drought. Dorothea refers to both drought and floods in her paen to Australia, in the verse that most Australian school children - at least until my generation - were taught to repeat:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
When news of the floods in outback and northern Queensland first began to reach the news, I was fairly relaxed - at last the dreadful drought, so devastating to so many rural families, had broken. I read comments from farmers saying things like 'we really needed a good flood'. As Dorothea put it:
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.

Friends in Europe asked how things were going, since there were reports of an area 'as big as France and Germany combined' being under flood. But also reports that 'hundreds' had been evacuated, prompting one Europe-based friend to comment that it must be a fairly sparsely populated area. In the early days, this was true. Small communities and remote farms were affected, but coping. The papers carried photos of country pubs with water to the windowsills, and happy patrons still drinking their beer. This was not so much a flood as a broken drought.

Then the waters began to reach the coastal plain and the more populated areas. Things began to seem more serious, but at least no lives had been lost. Now, a week or so later, not only have the waters devastated inland cities like Towoomba, causing loss of life, they have even reached the state capital Brisbane, a city of two million people. Roads are cut, electricity is out in many areas, anywhere near a river is under threat, and the flood waters may not yet have peaked in the Brisbane CBD. Over 70 people are missing. Twelve lives have been lost, and tragic stories are emerging. The latest news can be read on Sydney Morning Herald online (the source of images used here).

On a personal note, my parents are out there somewhere, on high ground, I hope. The news is that they are not near a river or threatened area (about an hour north of Brisbane), although the roads around them are blocked or impassable, so it is a good thing they stocked up on food a few days ago. I have heard with relief that they do have an electricity supply.

Today I saw television images of the floods while I was at the gym (being television-less at home, this was the first I had seen). As we watched in awe, Dan said to me 'what caused this?' I looked at him. 'Rain.' True, but perhaps not the whole story. Meteorologists are blaming La NiƱa weather patterns (check this report).

I've just checked the latest news from the Courier Mail, Brisbane's main newspaper, and it is cautiously reporting that the worst may have past:
Police said the river had peaked early this morning but the Bureau of Meteorology was more cautious, saying only that it was holding steady at 4.45 metres at 6.30am (AEST) in the CBD...Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said authorities remained on high alert despite the Brisbane River peaking lower than anticipated. "There is still a very dangerous situation and we have thousands of people who are waking this morning to the total devastation of either their home, their businesses," she told ABC Radio."This is still a very anxious time." Blue sky, no rain, and slightly lower river levels was some "good news after a lot of time without it".
My Facebook friends have been posting news stories and links to support pages and donation sites.Here are a few:

Donate to the flood relief appeal
Amateur videos of flood experiences
Missing man
Lives lost in Towoomba
Facebook Cause Page

It won't mean much to Brisbane residents, as they wait weeks to return to houses wrecked by water and mud, but Dorothea reminds us that rain means the end of drought:

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.

We might also pause to be grateful that Australia is a favoured country that has the resources to respond in crises like this. In recent days, while the rain has been coming down in Queensland, more than 230 people have died in towns near Rio de Janeiro as heavy rains continue to cause flooding and mudslides in south-eastern Brazil. BBC News

Sentimental as she may be, I'll leave the final words to Dorothea, and send good wishes to all those affected by the Queensland floods.

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.


  1. We have a later portrait of Dorothea at the library (it was on the wall for a while but back in storage now):
    From the Pictures Branch this morning: "Two photographers from whom we regularly purchase are busy documenting the Queensland floods, so we should add some good material to the collection".
    It may be 'good material' but we could do without the cause of this material.

  2. Reduced trains - no citycats or ferries. Wicked cancelled at theatre and water up to Museum and Goma. Not sure if it has gone in. CBD under. Anna says it is the worst natural disaster ever with 11,9000 homes in Brisbane under water and another 14,500 affected. Next peak is this aftenoon at 4pm. South Bank is covered of course with the river at 4.96m and power out there.13 deaths reported today & 70 still missing & grave fears held for 15 of those. We were fine if we didn't go out Monday and Tuesday. I have never known it to thunder and rain for twelve hours straight. We didn't even try to go to Burpengary and heard yesterday tht Old Bay Road (which was the way you came) was impassable. There is a very poorly constructed drain there which floods regularly.Burpengary Creek is the only one in our area and that flooded but was down yesterday. We went out yesterday and did all we had to do but it was a bit stressfull when the clouds returned and vert HOT.Other days it was mainly humid. I have spent a bit of time wiping mildew from things - especially stamp books!!! This is day 21 since the rains started in Qld and Rockhampton is still under with the Bruce Highway cut. There ie s cyclone predicted for Australia Day. We will just have to pray that doesn't eventuate
    Today we have the Home Help Lady and this afternoon will go for coffee so all good here.
    Dorothy (Mum) 13 Jan 2011