One of our past passengers, Alison Hobbs, wrote about her experiences of the terrible recent flooding in Queensland. Below is her story.
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Whilst trying to make some sense of the jumbled, random things that are unexpectedly strong memories I realised that my experience can best be described in physical senses. At a time of heightened emotion and drama the basic sights and sounds are the things that I will remember. Each one of these little snippets on its own is an indelible memory that I will keep with me forever:
The sound of anxiety. Lying in bed at home in a hot, airless room knowing that in the powerless dark outside the insidious water was creeping up to its 4am peak. The sounds of people constantly coming up and down our street to look at the creek, the drone of helicopters hovering overheard, the sirens wailing interminably and the roar of plane after plane-load of army personnel, police and supplies coming in before the airport closed.
The complete absence of bird song. It was a little while before I realised that they were gone - not one to be seen or heard anywhere. It was not until Saturday afternoon that an occasional bird ventured into song or flight. I thought this was some kind of myth, but it really is true – the birds do disappear in a disaster. Even the TV news reporters noted their return on Sunday.
The surreal sights that have no place in my city. Driving down ordinary suburban roads that are covered in inches of slippery, gooey mud is bizarre enough but then having to negotiate random objects that just appear – a skip here, a pontoon there, a mud-filled car or two ‘parked’ at crazy angles. The sight of army trucks on Brisbane’s roads: traffic directions being given from a man in khaki, a cheery wave as a patrolling army ambulance passes by. Seeing tons and tons of people’s mud-soaked personal belongings lining the street into the distance, while in front of you dead fish litter the lawn. Hundreds upon hundreds of cars descending on the toxic streets as an army of clean-up volunteers appeared, armed with nothing more than brooms and good will. Having a helicopter overhead and then minutes later seeing the images it captured on the TV as presenters discuss your suburb andyour streets – actually being the news as well as seeing the news.
The smell of the mud. I don’t think I will ever forget the stink of the mud as long as I live. It is indelibly associated with feelings of anguish and horror, but also pride and camaraderie. As each day passes the amount of mud gets less, but the smell gets even stronger as it mingles with the rotting food and debris under the tropical sun.
The taste of turkey. After the power went off it was a case of eat it or lose it. During the chaos we dined not on fast-food and scraps as you might imagine but best quality steak and turkey. The slowly defrosting turkey had done a great job of keeping other things cold in our esky but there were cries of “Oh no, you can’t let a turkey go to waste!” when the power returned. In a joint effort with the neighbours, after an exhausting day shovelling mud, and washing, washing, washing we sat down to a joyous full roast turkey dinner. The taste of Christmas is now going to be forever mingled with the memories of this flood for me and the others at that table.
The touch of a hand. In a scene that was repeated over and over, a hand would be placed on another’s arm or shoulder: “Are you okay?” or “What can I do to help?” Strangers, friends and family were united in a universal concern for each other’s welfare that is often dreamt of, but rarely witnessed.
The front-line volunteers were soon backed up by numerous organisations – setting up marquees wherever they were needed, keeping us going by handing out sausages, sunscreen, insect repellent – whatever you needed to physically keep going someone was willing to just give it to you – no questions asked.
The feelings of shock, horror and helplessness but also pride and determination. The emotion of it all is quite overwhelming at times. Strange things can set you off – hearing Prince Charles talking about us, here in Brisbane, was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Some things are almost too much to bear and nobody is unaffected – they published the faces of the dead on the front page of the Sunday paper.