I have a heightened sense of justice — I think. I believe in RIGHT and WRONG and I try to live as ethically as possible.
But it was a bit weird how excited I got being part of that drama two years ago. I mean people died and lots of people lost stuff that was super-meaningful and here I was almost embracing the disaster. So I feel a tiny bit ashamed.
At the heart of things is the fact that I love the news so much it was incredible to suddenly be right in the middle of it. Maybe my true calling is a war correspondent.
Anyway, shame or no shame, here is what happened two years ago today.
On the day before — the Monday — I had the day off and I dragged myself out of the house into the pouring rain outside and did a slowish 30kms in that wet misery and then got home and tried to entertain the cat who had been house-bound for days and was going nuts. She would look at me like all this precipitation was MY fault. Why are punishing me?
That afternoon Mel posted a youtube video on Facebook of cars floating down a Toowoomba street and I initially thought it was either old footage or some kinda prank. But then it sunk-in that something had happened up there. And soon the story got darker and darker. What had happened up there and in the plains below was just incredibly surreal. Like science fiction.
I had ridden around Toowoomba in 2010 and had got a feeling for what a bowl that city is — with the heart of the town right at the bottom of “the bowl”. Nothing gives you a better sense of the topography of a place other than riding (or walking).
On Tuesday morning I was back at work, but my usual route along the river bikepath was cut off by flood water. First there was water over the road at Roy Street which was traffic-able but then I was forced to go the long way to work via the bridge at St Lucia.
At the office things were tense. I was soaked and had no dry clothes to change into, having used them up after last week’s commute. As I sat there so sodden in front of my computer I looked up the news and it was just all just continual flood coverage complete with dire warnings.
Outside the rain just got worse and worse and from our first storey window it was comical watching people trying to cross or walk down the road outside with the cars spewing up head-high waves of water onto the footpath every few seconds.
After the news that West End, the suburb next to us, was being evacuated — at about 10:30 it just filtered around the office that there would be a shut down and we would all be sent home.
I thought this was ridiculous. Surely a total overreaction.
In the days preceding the Mayor of Brisbane — Campbell Newman — had done his best to instil panic in the populace. I had actually witnessed him doing a press conference on the partially flooded river walk outside the Art Gallery the week before. I looked at him thinking he was grandstanding and trying to seem as important as possible. Douchecanoe.
Dee made me rescue her car from the GOMA carpark — she had driven to work that day to avoid the rain — which she heard was about to be flooded. As I did so I saw these big trucks parked outside with pumps at the ready. So with my bike stuffed into the back seat area we attempted to drive home. At various points we were turned back by too much water over the road, but then we found a spot that wasn’t quite as deep and we held our breath as we drove through that watery dip and to our delight we made it to the other side.
We had only lived in Auchenflower for about 6 months, but we had grown to love and know the place. And that was a love piled on top of the love and romance I already felt for our new home having lived here as a small child. I had spent ages in the State Library, or on Trove or just on google — reading as much about our suburb as I could. And naturally I had spent a great deal of time on the bike exploring the place. One of the things that fascinated me in that research was an article posted on the Auchenflower Residents Association page about our “Hidden Creeks” and it was about how the natural watercourses of our area were now drained up or turned into a rather pathetic concreted canal.
And then I remembered how Torwood Street (Torwood being the early name for this suburb) was always getting flooded during high tides. I never witnessed these floods but would ride home on the dry road swinging around these signs saying “WATER OVER ROAD” and wondering what the fuss was about.
On that trip home Coronation Drive was stuffed with traffic. Park Road was a car park and we were forced to find a less well-known route. It occurred to me that panic was descending on the city.
We stopped the car when we knew we had an unobstructed trip home (from flood water) and bought some expensive supplies from the foodstop and some essential booze from chalk and cheese.
At home we had some lunch and around 2pm we had donned some pathetic wet weather clothes and set out to see what was happening. I was still a bit incredulous of all this drama so I directed us for Torwood Street half-thinking this was all the drama we would see and tomorrow everything would be back to normal.
What greeted us was a little bit worse than I had imagined. Torwood was way under water and its two side streets were full about halfway down. We wandered over to Milton road, our shoes now thoroughly soaked, and it was choked with traffic — and the people inside the cars looked desperate. So we headed for the Baroona Road shops. The IGA was packed. Even from outside we could see the shelves were starting to look quite bare. Inside we saw all the bread and fresh food was completely gone. It was now we appreciated the sense of sheer panic everywhere.
Heading home we were confronted with Haig Road totally underwater. I started reassessing things. But that didn’t stop me being a douchecanoe at the antique shop.
Inside the owner and her daughters were stiacking all their stock into a big horribly complex tower at the centre of the room. I thought this was extreme. Surely this area was immune and this was just another example of that crazy panic that the city was going nuts for. I insensitively asked if I could take a picture and she said “yes” but not exactly without giving me a hint of the feeling I was a vulture praying on human misery.
I am so sorry. That was so fucking terrible of me.
Before I could think about it enough I had taken the photo and was trudging back home. Dee’s boots were ruined and my laces had broken and we thought we were hard done by. But cause we are all bourgeoise — we changed into other shoes and headed out again, this time towards the Brisbane River. Instinctively I knew what turned out to be the only route there: over the Auchenflower train station overpass. When we got there it was late in the afternoon but now Coronation Drive was virtually dead when normally it would be rotten with car-traffic. We could have crawled across. On the river edge there were a lot of other people rubber-necking.
The River was now so much bigger and flowing so fast and making a lot of racket. On top of that it was stuffed with flotsam and jetsam. I saw a pontoon float by but just had to assume that was what it was. Up at the Regatta Hotel I saw for the first time in my life genuine “sandbagging”. My brain was starting to appreciate that things might be a bit more serious than I had so casually assumed a few hours before.
News helicopters were always overhead for the next week
Back at home after another detour through flood we were glued to the news and I attempted to take things seriously. I did an assessment of food stocks. We had plenty of cat food and enough to survive comfortably for a week or two. And hearing that fresh water might be a problem we filled a few water bottles up too and even filled up the bath tub.
Then the news was saying the power would be cut at 7am.
At 6:45am I awoke and realised Dee was up already. “I wanna see the news before the power is cut!” she said. “Totally”, I thought. But then the “power cut notice” was extended to 9am so I decided to go explore on my bike.
Upon exiting the front door the first thing I noticed was the amount of cars tearing up our street. It was like a freeway all of a sudden. An old dude was walking up so I asked him about it and he said it was because Haig Road was cut off so the cars were just looking for another way through.
In my head i thought the flooded section was just that section near the park on Haig Road we had seen yesterday. But then as I rode down as soon as I turned left off our street I was forced to stop.
The road ahead was completely flooded and it all centered around that little antique shop I had visited the afternoon before and had so stupidly dismissed their actions as panicked. Now the water was almost up to their awning. I realised that pristine stock I had seen just a few hours before was destroyed and that desperate pile of furniture was not an inspired measure of preparedness but under-inspired, under-reaction. And of course that is no fault of theirs.
So I doubled back and around to Thomas street and arrived at the old strangler fig where the situation was almost surreal. In both directions the flooding was extreme. I went up Howard and down Agars and saw the destruction at Rosalie village. Water, water and more. Despondent workers/owners of shops were wading across that mailaise carrying stock from flooded shops to cars. For the second time in my life I saw sandbags in use, but here they were mostly useless.