A month ago, I enjoyed a work Christmas lunch at an up-market jetty restaurant overlooking the Brisbane River. And then, at the height of Brisbane’s floods, I watched in fascination as the jetty housing its outdoor restaurant, floated down the Brisbane River, collided with a bridge and sunk. Ironically, it was called Drift.
Stranded in our own little outlying semi-rural suburb, we could only watch in horror and disbelief as we saw footage of familiar stomping grounds swamped by water. Friends phoned to say they were leaving their home with the water lapping window sills. In another picturesque upmarket suburb, two more friends and their families had left their homes with one saying water was expected to reach roof height. The South African couple were renting the property but as many in the suburb, submerged in the 1974 floods, were unable to get flood insurance. They managed to remove a few items including treasured paintings, a washing machine and fridge but feared the worst.
As newcomers to the country, we bought our very first home in this suburb. We believed it was the perfect environment in which to settle – and it was. Close to an excellent local school and kindergarten the area was an exclusive little enclave in the bend of the Brisbane River.
There is one entry into the low lying suburb, green fields housing a pony club hugs one side of the road and on the other, are gum trees grown for feeding koalas at the world-famous Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (which also experienced some flooding) further up the road.
Jacaranda trees border the roads and a beautiful park is a central feature, complete with a lake where my children delighted in feeding ducks and our golden retriever enjoyed chasing them. It was the sort of suburb where children still played in the streets and there was a sense of community I have not encountered since.
Yet old timers steered clear of this suburb as they remembered the devastation of the 1974 floods where the entire area was submerged. We were told our double storey home came off comparatively well with the upper level remaining intact. We heard these stories but they were more folklore than reality. It was simply unthinkable that it could happen again. In any case, we were told the inland Wivenhoe Dam had since been built and that would certainly prevent a repeat of the former devastation.
Prices soared – entry level for the privilege of living in this exclusive pocket was around the $600,000 mark. It seemed untouchable. And then the unimaginable happened. Days of torrential rain filled up Wivenhoe Dam until it reached 190 percent capacity. The sluice gates were opened and the deluge of water was heading to Brisbane.
So disbelieving were some homeowners that their homes could possibly be swamped, that many were caught unawares. They were warned by more knowing neighbours their homes were about to go under but they simply could not fathom it would happen to them. At the tail end of the Christmas school holidays, many other families were away. They returned to a scene reminiscent of an apocalyptic movie. Million dollar homes were swallowed by a brown, swampy mass of muddy water.
Further along from the river entire streets were submerged. Water had apparently bubbled up from man holes and inundated low lying areas. Miraculously others a mere metre or so higher, were spared.
The aftermath was devastating, the cleanup insurmountable, yet the sense of community that so attracted us to the area many years ago, was as strong as ever.
As a friend said, give it five years and people will start to forget once more.
Only time will tell.
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