Girl on the Ground: Queensland Flood Diary
Ipswich girl Ellen-Maree Elliot recounts the past three days.
It’s 8.59am. I’ve been on hold for ten minutes trying to find out if it’s safe to go to work. Inside, I'm a small, hysterical child.
“Hello, this is Dave, how can I help you?”
“Uh, hi. I work in Riverlink, across the river. Is it safe to cross the bridge? I’m working ten ‘til six,” I say to my phone-answering hero, Dave.
“The river’s peaking at 12.7 metres this afternoon and then it will go back down. It won’t go over the bridge. You’ll be fine getting to work,” says Dave.
“Oh,” I say. “Thanks.”
I put on my orange spray jacket and walk to work. There’s slight flooding on the roads closest to the river. I take a photo. I’ll put it on Twitter later.
It’s eleven o’clock. Everything in the shopping centre is closed except Woolies and Coles. Angela Vanderborght walks past me with a fully stocked shopping trolley, complete with young child. She’s worried about getting cut off.
“We’ve just now come to get some stuff in case we don’t get back into town for a couple of days,” she says.
My photo is old news. The flood peaks change every five seconds. Nonetheless, the truth is clear: Ipswich is going under. Tonight. Brisbane will join us within 24 hours.
Messages fly from Brisbane to Ipswich to Toowoomba to Chelmer to Graceville to Pullenvale to Goodna to the Darling Downs to Bundaberg to Melbourne to Dalby to Perth to Adelaide to Darwin to Byron. Everywhere our family and friends are scattered across this sunburnt, sodden country; love is being sent.
“Hi, is Margaret, there? This is Phil, her cousin. I heard about what happened in Toowoomba yesterday. Is her Mum alright?”
“Sorry,” I tell Phil, “Mum’s just gone to work. But she was talking to Grandma before she left. She’s fine.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear,” says Phil.
“I mean, her downstairs rumpus room’s been flooded and the SES have sandbagged her house. But she’s safe and she’s got enough food to keep her going,” I add.
“Oh,” says Phil, “That’s still good.”
“Yeah, it is,” I say.
“Well, tell your Mum her cousin Phil called. Tell her we’re thinking of Joan.”
“I will,” I promise.
There’s good news: the floods peaked at 19.7 metres. Lower than expected. But my city’s CBD is a lake. I can’t believe it. I walked through it yesterday.
I facestalk my friends. They're fine. But it’s hard to respond to updates like this:
All packed up just waiting to be evacuated. What a shitty feeling.
I get a text from Brisbane:
The news has me believing you are on the roof of your house killing time by watching cattle and the entirety of Queensland’s 2010 crop float by…
I laugh. Maybe I shouldn’t. I reply:
I’m safe. We live in one of the highest areas of Ipswich and we have power. We’re lucky. I’m worried about you. You live in Windsor, right?
I donate to the Appeal. I fill in a volunteer form. I watch the news.
Anna Bligh tells me a story of a family in a white car. The youngest boy is alive. The mother and the eldest boy are not.
I wander about the house, listening to music.
The Brisbane River breaks its banks and engulfs QUT’s home campus. My university. I try to enrol in some units, but the website is down.
I’m glued to the television, the telephone and Twitter. I develop a devotion to Anna Bligh. I download Tetris to my phone. I need something to do with my hands.
It’s three in the afternoon. I’m sick of the news telling me what my city looks like. I get dressed, grab my bag and walk out the gate.
It’s a 20-minute walk to the CBD. The day is a stunner. Blue skies, yellow sunshine glinting off green leaves, birds literally singing.
I’m sick to my stomach.
The water is almost gone, but the stink remains. The shops look fine. The windows are dirty; I expected smashed glass.
I peer through the muddy windows of Hogsbreath Cafe. Wires, piping and insulation dangle through gaping holes in the ceiling; sauce bottles, menus and furniture lie strewn across the shop. All of it coated in thick, smelly mud.
But around me, people clean up. Traffic controllers direct vehicles through roads closed mere hours before. News crews are running out of dramatic vision. This is the beginning of a long, hard slog.
I sit on a low brick fence outside a Church in the centre of Ipswich. It’s warm and comfortable.
I think of a book called Little Mother Meg. Meg is married to Alan, a successful young doctor. They have a beautiful house, servants, and a buggy. But Alan loses his sight. They spend all their money curing him, lose their house, and fall into debt. But they have each other and a baby. They buy a little house, where Alan will practise…
I hear the clatter of debris as it’s tossed into bins; the scratch of hard bristle brooms on muddy floors; the beeping of trucks as they take away rubbish.
It’s going to take weeks, months, years. It’s going to cost billions. It’s going to be one of the hardest things my community has ever done. Little steps.
“There's the first note of the battle," Alan said, when, the second day after their arrival, the clang of tools reached them to tell that the highly-polished brass plate was being fastened to the front door of their home, housing his surgery.
"Hasn't it got a triumphant sound?" Meg answered.
Other posts by Ellen-Maree:
Girl Talk: For the love of Dove
Girl Talk: Forgive but forget me not
Ellen-Maree @ Girl With a Satchel