Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Flood of Memories

You may have heard of the devastating floods that have happened, and are still happening in Queensland. There are many stories about, many ones that make you cry; but also some happy ones amongst the sadness. What is fantastic though is the rallying of the community, and indeed all of Australia. Some 75% of the state of Queensland have been devastated by the floods. For me, my heart goes out to all those effected by the terrible turn of events.

It brings back for me many memories of when my hometown was flooded. I have never taken the moment to write these memories down. I would like to share with you, my story.


Back on Australia Day, Jan 26th 1998; the town I lived in was 3/4 flooded. Tropical cyclone Les caused a depression which made it rain for days on end. It culminated in the worst flooding our town has ever known. The Katherine River, a part of the iconic Katherine Gorge; broke its banks.

An excerpt from Wikipedia:

The Katherine River runs through the north of the town. The river has a history of flooding the town, with documented accounts in 1957, 1974, 1998 (on Australia Day), and 5–7 April 2006.

The 1998 flood devastated the town, and the area was declared a national disaster. The flood resulted from the 300–400 mm of rainwater brought by Cyclone Les that caused the already full Katherine River to rise an additional 21.3 metres. The floodwaters inundated the town and much of the surrounding region, requiring the evacuation of many residents.

(above photo credits to NT News)

I was thirteen, a few months off being 14. I was supposed to start year 9 that week, but it was put off by a short while as you can imagine. We lived for about a week or two in the high school gymnasium (our town only had one!), and then we were able to go back into our home. There was a lot of talk about Katherine going under, but also a lot of complacency. Not many believed it would truly happen. Many times as a youngster when I'd ride my bike to school, I'd see the rising waters swirl dangerously close to the top of the riverbank. Yet, the water never rose beyond the banks although always coming close. I remember hearing talk of the possibility, and it excited me. In my mind, I would be swimming down main street in crystal clear water, in a submerged fantasy. When the flood did happen, there was nothing romantic or at all magical about it.

There had been about a metre of water that came through our home, whilst other houses were completely submerged. The lucky ones were high and dry in Katherine East. The mess that was left behind was horrid. I remember that my family allowed me to stay at my best friend's house for a short while, which was great. Meanwhile the cleaning went on. The day we were being warned of the flooding, I remember putting things up higher. Most of my 'junk' went onto my bed, I thought that would be enough. I lost so many things, but I really can't remember loosing anything that really made me sad. The only exception is that we lost so many photos, and today it is something that I still morn the loss of. So many memories lost... But we do still have a few, some we salvaged and some that made it out dry.
One of the incredulous things I remember is that my dad stayed behind whilst my mother, sister and I went to the higher ground. We worried and fretted about him, and I don't know truly why he did stay behind. But what makes me laugh to this day is the memory that he was playing Tetris on the Nintendo Game Boy whilst the water was swirling about him. I can only imagine the image of the water creeping higher whilst Dad kept himself distracted! The good thing about him staying behind was that he put some more things higher, which helped reduce our losses. He finally allowed himself to be rescued on a boat that took him and the last of my neighbours to safety.

Sadly, 3 lives lost were recorded as a result of the flood. I remember in the time that followed doing our grocery shopping at Woolworths, that had been moved temporarily to the adjacent YMCA. The skating rink was turned into the store, which portable coolrooms keeping the perishables fresh.

(Photo credit to Our Territory)

The response and generosity from the rest of Australia was amazing. I have fond memories of visiting the hall where there were mountains upon mountains of clothing, books and other nick-nacks that had been donated from all over the country. There was the (I'm pretty sure) Alice Springs Girl Guides that sent to our Guide hall thoughtful gift packs they had put together. It was exciting opening the parcels and seeing the sweet and thought-given gifts that were inside. The idea that so many strangers were moved by our experience, and did all they could to help was something that I'll never forget.
With the current tragedy in QLD, I look forward to being able to help in my way, and be able to give back even what small ways I can. It's important to know that even the smallest act of charity can make a huge impression on those in need. We were grateful to the generosity was given to us in hour time of need, and now there is the opportunity to pay it forward.

Thank-you for taking the time to read. I'd be interested to hear anyone else's stories of the time if you have any that you'd like to share?

Insightful further reading is available here, at Our Territory.

For more information on the current QLD floods, visit the website.

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