Floods bring out Aussie spirit

December 02, 2017

News journalist Barclay White's old suburb in Brisbane took a while to get back to normal.

As the rain continues to fall across Victoria, my mind drifted back to the 2011 Queensland floods.

I was living just a hundred metres away from the Brisbane River when it broke its banks and entire streets were subsumed by the rising waters.

At the time I was a student at Queensland University of Technology in the city and I was living in a share house in the north side of the river.

Before the water peaked we had gotten word that this was going to be big.

But it was in the middle of a hot Queensland summer and it seemed hard to believe that the peaceful river just down the road from our house would quickly take over the streets.

I remember the weather being dry as the flood news hit and part of me believed it was all a bit of hype.

And like many uni students on their holidays, I had a lot of free time, not a lot of cash and an over-confident sense of bravado that ‘‘everything would just be right’’.

I noticed a few of our neighbours packing up their cars and heading for higher ground before the worst hit.

I had no car and no family living in Brisbane so my options were limited.

Then the panic set in.

It was before the waters rose, but gradually the crowds at the local supermarket grew and grew.

As people saw the crowds, people feared there would soon be no food left and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Police were guarding the entrance to the nearest Woolies and would only let in 10 people at a time.

Water, milk, bread and meat were the first to go as people panic-bought everything during a couple of hours.

The panic started in the morning and by 1pm the Woolies was closed. Out of stock. If you missed out, it would have been a hungry couple of days.

When public transport was cancelled I realised how serious it was. I stayed at home and waited for the waters to peak.

Gradually I realised how serious it was. And there was a strange sense of uselessness.

The water was going to rise, but there was nothing you could do about it except sit down, wait and pass the time.

The water peaked on January 13, 2011. About 20000 homes were inundated with water, and many of those were the leafy riverside houses favoured by uni students like myself.

My house was fine, but if I lived a hundred metres down the road I would have been homeless.

The unforgiving waters gutted many of the distinctive ‘Queenslander’ type houses that would have been 60 or 70 years old.

Thousands of people needed to find new places to live.

The chaos was scattered. As a hilly city, the difference between total devastation and total avoidance could be just a hundred metres.

As the waters receded the national interest in our state faded, but more real problems began. Thousands of homes, apartments and units in the city were unliveable.

Across the state 38 people died and six people went missing.

Businesses were destroyed. Some were closed for months. Some never reopened.

The Drift Restaurant, an iconic riverside eatery on the water literally drifted away down the river as the waters peaked.

But if there was a single positive to come from the horrible ordeal it was how it brought the town together.

The clean up was massive after the flood waters receded and hundreds of people gave up their free time just to make the streets look liveable again.

Years later, people from Brisbane will still talk about where they were when the waters peaked.

I don’t know what will happen across Victoria this weekend. But one thing is for sure, Aussies come together and help each other when it is needed.

Barclay White is a journalist at The News.

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