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Queensland flooding and heartbreaking Australian weather

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With flash flooding washing away at least nine poor souls in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, the Queensland floods have taken an unforeseen and tragic turn. Queenslanders brace themselves for further disaster. David Donovan discusses floods and heartbreaking Australian weather.

Picture on Brisbane Courier-Mail website 11/1/11


THERE IS A beleaguered and worn-out feel to the state. It has been raining now for months. The sun is a dim and distant memory. The usual cheerful and chirpy dispositions of people from the place once known as the Sunshine State have been gradually worn away. We wait in apprehension for the next downpour; the next calamity.

Where I am now – in Surfers Paradise – mould, mildew and declining tourism are the major worries. In many other parts of the state people fear for their homes, livelihoods and now, sadly, even their lives.

Places that I don't recall ever seeing flooding – like Toowoomba, Esk and the Lockyer Valley – have had houses and residents washed away. At least nine have died, including – tragically – four children. As I watch Sky News at 3pm, reports suggest authorities are still searching for 66 people. We feel for the families and hope beyond hope that the rest will be found alive and well—our hearts go out to them. The video below shows the Toowoomba flooding and the ferocity of their "inland tsunami". These events are  unprecedented; no-one can remember anything like this happening before.

Youtube video of Toowoomba flash flood. Click on picture to access the video.[/caption]

And now major flooding is due to hit the capital, Brisbane, over the next few days. The massive Wivenhoe Dam is about to dump a titanic bucket over the city. The CBD has been evacuated and residents of low-lying suburbs have been told to head for higher ground. Ipswich is also waiting for a certain flood event. They say this Brisbane flood will exceed the disastrous 1974 flood levels. The state holds its breath, ready for another dunking—maybe the worst yet.

Rockhampton floods

One of the first parts of the state to face inundation was Rockhampton, my birthplace and second home. The lower parts of Rockhampton lie on a flood plain. On its south and western side it is surrounded by a swampy lagoon. The River running through it, the Fitzroy, has one of the largest flows of any river in the country. And, by my recollection, this is Rockhampton's fifth major flood since 1983. People in Rockhampton are quite accustomed to floods, the houses are built to cope with them and the flood waters rise slowly, filtering through the Fitzroy Basin river system before eventually arriving at the Rock and then drifting out to sea. This probably explains the number of boats possessed by people from flooded Depot Hill along with their stoic demeanour on the evening news. Flooding, for them, is just a regular feature of their lives.

This does not get away from the fact that having your house inundated with filthy floodwater is a ghastly experience no matter how many times it happens to you.

[caption id="attachment_3295" align="alignright" width="300"] Fitzroy River basin


I grew up on a cattle and farming property called 'Burkan', located on the Mackenzie River – one of the rivers feeding into the Fitzroy – about 100 miles as the crow flies due west from Rockhampton. Flooding was a part of life and, indeed, essential for the black soil plains that make the Mackenzie River valley one of the richest grain farming regions in the land.

In 1988, the river rose so high that the flood extended under our 'Queenslander'. It carried away everything under the house, equipment from our sheds, killed the garden and left a silty oily mess in its wake that stank beyond description. Afterwards, there was nothing else to do but put on a brave face and clean up. It was an horrendous and disgusting task.

Of course, floods may not always be such gloomy affairs on the land, especially if the damage is minor and it breaks a long drought. In less serious floods, my father Gordon would take the opportunity to pump up the dinghy and take us for jaunts around the flooded paddocks.

In the 1983 floods, in fact, Dad decided to go one step further. He enlisted the help of one of his mates who owned a large tinny, they prepared provisions, and then they sailed together up the flooded rivers all the way to Rockhampton—the only time the trip was possible and maybe the only time it had ever been done. It was a dangerous and foolish thing to do, no doubt, but Dad had an adventurous streak a mile wide—as wide, indeed, as the Mackenzie River in full flood.

1983 was not a dangerous flood. The rain we have seen in Queensland this summer, though, is outside of anyone's experience. Maybe it is a once in a century event, maybe it is even rarer than that. If the long-range weather forecasters are right when they say we will see another three months of rain, then you have to wonder—how much of the state will be above the waterline come April 2011?

Many may not remember this, but only just over a year ago we were in the grip of a crushing drought that threatened the water supplies of this state's major cities. Since then we have received about ten years rain in just one year; once the rain stops, how long will it be before it rains again?

This is Australia, after all. Nothing is for certain when it comes to the weather.

Here is a poem by my father – a bush poet of local renown – written in 1968, that talks in a lighthearted way way talks about the vagaries of the capricious Australian weather.

Boiled hen

You will all remember the Dingo folk
Who prayed for rain that day;
To clear the land of smoke and smell
And cover the land with grass.
The Lord send down the rain okay,
But it came too jolly fast.

The Isaaks was a banker,
The Mack' was in full flood.
Every little gully was a rushin'
Brown and yellow mud.
The water was everywhere
Really all about,
And gone were all the cattle
That had survived the five year drought.

The graziers were ruined,
They moved to near and far.
Harold Park is now a shearers cook
He's camped out on the Darr.
Holt Hutton had to sell his plane
And bought a fishing boat.
Stewart Mack' now runs a dairy.
"Is it true he's milking goat?"

Bob Bauman melted all his eights
And made a great big vat.
Then collected up the carcasses
And boiled them down to fat.
And with Bob's ingenuity, he canned
The bloomin' lot, called it boiled hen!
Now sells it on the Asian market
Per gross a million yen.

Some folk they turned to riches,
Though most turned very poor.
But they say the flats back on the Mack
Are now greener than before.  
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