Perspective: To Grantham, with gratitude
Leaning against a telegraph pole feeling the full strength of the sun, as residents, family and those tethered to the community through its year of aches and pains gathered under the blissful shade of trees, I listened to Lisa Spierling give her raw account of how the flood had taken her livelihood, the family dogs, her home and threatened her family.
"I had my youngest daughter on my back and she kept saying, ‘You won’t let me drown will you, mummy?'," she shared. "I will never forget the look on my son’s eyes as I waded through the water to higher ground. One of them was screaming at me, ‘We will never go back there, don’t you ever make us go back.’"
That's a promise Lisa and her husband Stephen made and kept: like many other families, they will not be returning to Grantham to live, instead seeking safety on higher ground, far away from the horrific memories, on Mount Sylvia to be exact, where they have also taken their commercial cut flowers business. Lisa spoke of stress, sleepless nights, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Admitting to yourself that you are not coping and to ask for help is one of the hardest things I've had to do." She will never again complain about housework, she said, because when you don't have your own home you become grateful for such things.
This is a community that is still very much hurting; a community that had little reason to celebrate the coming of the New Year as we all said, "Three cheers!". Grantham lost 12 people to the floods, a monument erected in their memory. The grief is raw and written on faces hidden beneath akubra hats and sunglasses and brave smiles, though there were live-giving glimpses.
Babies being nursed in arms, a butterfly flying past, possibly one released at the morning's service, and a heavy, sluggish train making its way past as the sun began its forgiving evening descent. Janet Crust, who had been in charge of coordinating the makeshift community centre, thanked the good people who had come to the aid of her town.
While some residual bitterness remains, because nothing will be the same and insurance companies had been unkind and the search and rescue effort had been imperfect, Crust spoke of the generosity of workers from the SES and the police force and the army, as well as the help extended by Lifeline, the local church, generous groups in far-away communities, and the Queensland Government, too, who have helped the weary Grantham to get back on its feet.
A minute's silence observed, we sang "We Are Australian" and the Slim Dusty song "Looking Forward, Looking Back": "Got a long way left to go, making songs from what I know; Making sense of what I've seen, all the love we've had between... There are strange days, full of change on the way, But we'll be fine, unlike some, I'll be leaning forward to see what's coming."
A kindly lady passed me an order of service with a smile and others stood proudly with calm and peaceful expressions on their faces to the back of the gathering, impressed, I think, by the sheer humanity of it all and of the human will, which can overcome the most overwhelming situations.
"You’ve all had your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, the moments when you want to pull back and be alone, or perhaps sit under a tree quietly by yourself to remember love ones whose images are displayed so poignantly here or to gather the strength to keep going forward," said Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley.
As the crowd dispersed and shared afternoon tea, I returned home to the safety of my own home on a hill, two beautiful pictures painted by my nieces waiting for me there, my heart heavy with the thought that for many people in Grantham grief, hurt and anger is a more poignant feeling than peace. I contemplated the words of King David in Psalm 23: 2:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me... I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live."
Girl With a Satchel