January 12, 2011

The flood, day 2

High tide was at about 3am. As soon as my eyes opened a couple of hours later, I wondered if, when I raised the blind, I'd see water in Waterline Crescent Park. But no. And we had sunshine at last. Instantly spirit-lifting, despite the dire threat we were under.

While we still had power, I washed (clothes and hair) and cooked – so we will have soup (leek and potato) and sausages that we can eat cold while camping in our bedroom. Every time we went upstairs, we carried something else to higher ground.

We walked to the river for the first time today at about midday. The normally almost deserted neighbouring roads were heaving with spectators – in cars, on bikes and on foot. I took the comparison photograph (see also, further below).

We walked to the end of the jetty, from where there was a much better view of the swirling, rapidly outgoing flood water in the middle of the river. Near the bank the tide was moving water upstream – I'd never seen that phenomenon before. We watched a tug battling its way towards the city. Progress was painfully slow, and at times the vessel looked as if, were it to veer slightly to right or left of head-on to the flow, it would capsize. All the time it was dodging debris – which by now included boats, whole pontoons (one complete with bench, below), tree trunks and a miscellany of large objects. Why was the tug struggling in the middle, we wondered, instead of hitching a ride on the tide by the banks? A fellow spectator ventured his opinion that it was looking for bodies washed down from the Lockyer Valley or Toowoomba. The tug was soon joined by a police launch so maybe he was right, if more than a little macabre.

The route of an old creek – normally dry and grassy and close to our local children's playground, complete with brand-new shade sails, and dog off-leash area – which we cross to get to Oxford Street (Bulimba central) via the river walkway, had reverted to its former glory.

From the jetty, we looked back towards where we live and where we walk. The water appeared voluminous. From the path, we could virtually see it rising before our eyes.

Shortly after we returned to the house we lost power. This was a bitter blow. I had expected it much later in the day, if not tomorrow. I hadn't blended the soup, goddamit. Or made a big flask of tea. Or finished this post. There was no warning either. ABC Brisbane have been brilliant at reporting anything and everything as it has developed since tuesday. Surely the energy company could have called them to warn the residents of Bulimba and Hawthorne half an hour beforehand. The water was not rising that quickly. This was not the last time I would curse Energex. We still had gas, however.

With help from neighbours – and the guy trying to sell our house – we managed to get the big, heavy stuff – washing machine, fridge-freezer, dining table and two sofas – upstairs. Everything was now safely above the 5.5-metre level predicted (at Brisbane City gauge) for the high tides at 4am and 4pm thursday.

Exercise room
Guest bathroom
Single spare room
The next high tide today was around 3 to 3.30pm. Off we went to have another look. The water lapped almost gently over the footpath.

And yet another comparison photograph (and roughly the same view, taken 24 hours previously, below it).

At about 6pm, I suggested we take beers to the river – our third watch of the day. There was a beautiful sunset developing and a convivial atmosphere among fellow gatherers and neighbours. Based on recent revisions to the predicted high-tide levels for thursday by the Bureau of Meteorology and our own observations over the last few hours, my friend bravely revised his estimate of what might happen to our ground floor, and pronounced that it would not be flooded. We drank to that. But at the same time, if we'd been helpless before in the watery face of nature's force, then there lingered an overwhelming feeling of inevitability about what would happen, or not.

A ray of hope for Brisbane?

Doubtless the stress and the beer were having an effect, but I suddenly felt enormously protective of my adopted city and its mighty river. My christmas visit to Melbourne, which included promenading along that city's much less imposing Yarra River, only served to emphasise that the Brisbane River is this city. Strong words of encouragement from ABC Brisbane's rather bizarrely named daytime presenters (Madonna King and Kelly Higgins-Devine), Queensland's Premier Anna Bligh and Mayor Campbell Newman still rang in my ears. Whatever destruction and tragedy befalls this 'New World City', the people of Brisbane will rebuild... and doubtless live to witness more flooding in future.

And still the debris came down in the twilight.

We returned home for a fine supper of leek and potato soup followed by escalopes – thanks to gas and matches. It was early to bed, of course. We couldn't read by tea-light. And we were dog tired from lugging. Most of our neighbours, a lot of them with young children and therefore needing hot water and the like, had moved out, so it was quiet, and dark. I slept like one of the logs careening downriver and completely missed the 4am highwater.

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