It was only just a week back that I said to Karyn that we really could do with some rain. I had been tapping on our empty tanks in the hope that some water may have appeared out of the ether. The plants in our lovely garden were as limp as rag dolls and the once lovely green lawn was as dry as an old boot.
The first cyclone of the season appeared in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was only a category one, and not expected to do much damage. It actually just heralded the beginning of the traditional wet season in the North and was expected to pass over the cape, cross the coast line and then head harmlessly out to sea. By the way, the “harmless out to sea” bit is for land dwellers only. Sailors in the path of cyclones take very little comfort when the weather bureau use these terms. If you think that being in the path of a cyclone on land is bad, just try it sometime on the water.
All cyclones are given names, and this one was called Oswald. Phillip Adams is one of my favourite journalists and his ‘late Night Live’ program on Radio National is a standout. He also writes for “The Australian” newspaper, and in an article on Naming Rights on February 19, 2011, he states the following:
Though the practice of naming our cyclones has only been “official” for 48 years, it’s been done since the late 19th century – thanks to a Queensland meteorologist who began with classical names then got into a spot of bother for naming them after politicians. I’d like to see this tradition renewed. By calling a cyclone Julia or Tony, you could guarantee it would run out of puff.) –
Given that Julia has just announced what will be the longest election campaign in history, I can only live in hope. By the way, we used to only name cyclones after females, but in the age of equity we now take turns. Isn’t that nice!
So, Oswald was supposed to pass “harmlessly” out to sea. It didn’t. It decided to head down the coast, and while it was no longer technically a cyclone, no one could predict the destruction that would follow. Houses were not blown away by the wind, they were just washed away by the water. Bundaberg was the worst and over 1000 people were plucked from their roof tops by helicopter as the Burnett River took a diversion through the Northern part of the community. I watched in disbelief as the river just swept up everything in its path.
Communities both large and small toppled like dominos and Brisbane was in the firing line. But how could this be? We have only just recovered from the last one two years ago and this is only supposed to happen every forty years, or maybe even one hundred years. It’s not fair.
The Premier, ‘Can Do’ Campbell Newman tried to emulate his predecessor, Anna Bligh who was sensational during the last flood crisis. He appeared in front of the cameras with regular monotony and tried to assure the Queensland population that he was in charge of the government and was here to help. But like a true small government conservative, most of the emphasis was on encouraging the public to dig deep into their pockets to donate to the flood appeal and then get out there and lend a hand.
Last time, in January 2011, we had very little warning of the degree of possible destruction and I made an early decision to pack up everything on the lower part of our humble abode and move it to the second level. The house had apparently been flooded in 1974, and it wasn’t supposed to happen again. The newly constructed Wivanhoe Dam would do the trick. Wrong. We had 1.7 metres of the Brisbane River divert through our property. It was not a great time.
This time, we had the early warning technology via the local council website which gave the estimated flood level in every residence in possible danger. Amazing stuff. The prediction was that we would be clear by 1.9 metres from the lowest point in our property. We would be safe. But, could we trust the technology? Karyn and I made the decision that we would not move anything and hope that the technology was correct. Our neighbors on both sides did not agree. One even went to the trouble of removing all of their furniture and some of their fixtures and loaded the lot onto a truck. I even heard of one owner close by who ripped out his whole kitchen and doors.
In the end, it did not happen. Most of Brisbane was spared. The popular term is that we had all dodged a bullet. But the emotional damage was done. You could see it on the faces of all who had been in the firing line. Paul Pissale is the mayor of Ipswich, just south west of Brisbane. I have known him for over thirty years. He is the most positive, exuberant person I have ever met and he loves his Ipswich and all who live there. That is why he is the most popular mayor in Australia and wins in a landslide every election. This time, he nearly lost it. You could see the tears in his eyes and the croak in his voice as the exhaustion took its toll. Thankfully, Ipswich largely dodged a bullet as well.
But there were those who were not so fortunate. Oswald continued on its path of destruction all the way down the coast of New South Wales. For many it became just a repeat of an annual event and I have to wonder how they have the tenacity to get up every time they get knocked down. I thought for a moment that there may be some good come out of Oswald and that it would continue far enough to put out all the bush fires in Victoria. No such luck. Oswald headed out to sea as it crossed over the border.
Now, there are those who abide on the high ground and “tut tut” at the unfortunates who live on a flood plain. They pontificate about the stupidity of it all and include the local authority who gave planning approval in the first place. The first houses in our area were built in the 1950’s and the last flood to venture in these parts had been in 1895. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Since 1895, we’ve had a major flood in 1974 and then 2011 and now 2013. Something is happening to the weather. The climate change deniers think it is a left wing plot and many of the conservative politicians agree. This suits big oil and big mining and fund the negative campaign through people such as the Koch brothers in the US who are prepared to spend millions in order to protect their billions.
Many of the unfortunates have no choice. No-one would buy their property and they are stuck. They are the poor ones and can’t afford the insurance. Others choose to live by the water and love it. They say that their quality of life far outweighs the short time that they actually have to live in the water. They are the wealthy ones and are insured to the hilt.
The blame game has already started. After the pasting they received following the last flood, the Insurance companies are fighting back. Their representative body is blaming local government for not doing enough flood mitigation. Others blame the State Government and the flood engineers for letting too much water out of the dams. Or is it not enough water? I get confused. No one has blamed Julia yet, but I am sure that it won’t be long.
By chance, my good friend Dr Don Ardell, just sent me a quote by Louis Pasteur. Apparently it was Pasteur who made the famous observation that “chance favors the prepared mind.” And of course, this is what all this talk of Oswald comes down to – chance and the randomness of nature. Those who are prepared fare better than those who are not. But what does “prepared” mean, when it comes to a cyclone and a flood? A few sand bags? Shift all the furniture? Lift the house up on stilts? Or go and live somewhere else?
Speaking of going, will Karyn and I go or stay? That has yet to be decided. Though I know one thing for sure – the emotional strain on everyone has just gone up a notch. I think that we now understand a little bit as to what it must be like to live in Christchurch, New Zealand. When will the next one come?
And spare a thought for those who live in Rockhampton, Central Queensland. Oswald passed through there a week ago and the Fitzroy River is still rising. They have yet to see the worst.
Oh and by the way, just in case you were wondering, the water tanks are full, the grass is green and the garden revived. I suppose Oswald did contribute something positive after all!