There have been numerous Aussie floods in my life-time, although I’ve never been in one. However, I’ve never before seen so much of Australia under water at the same time: 3/4s of Queensland, a good chunk of New South Wales, 1/3 of Victoria, the north-east corner of Tasmania, the Riverland and South-East (Coonawarra) of South Australia, and Western Australia just before Christmas. Even Broken Hill, out in the middle of the desert, has had flash-flooding! (If you’ve ever been there, you’d understand my astonishment.) I’ve been having flashbacks to Costner’s Water World. Lord help us when the snow in the Northern Hemisphere finally melts. I just hope gravity doesn’t suck it all down here.
When I heard the harrowing stories of children being ripped from their parents’ arms; people sitting on cars as they rush downstream, and complete houses being swept away, I found myself overwhelmed with anguish for complete strangers. Several times I heard the comment that watching the TV coverage of the floods was similar to watching the 9/11 footage. That’s true. There was that same sense of communal grief and horror, and desire to help.
I am so proud of my fellow Aussies in the way they’ve responded to the disaster. So many put themselves at risk to save others. Complete strangers from the high ground went into the flooded area to help people evacuate. Volunteers lined up with gum-boots on, carrying buckets and shovels, keen to help clean-up. Tow-truck drivers, without anyone asking them to, spent days pulling out buried cars. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters drove in from other cities, to offer their expertise… I could go on and on.
Our leaders have been outstanding in the way they’ve been a calm and compassionate presence: 2-hourly updates from an exhausted state premier; visits to evacuation centres and flooded streets by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition; federal Members of Parliament wading through flood-waters to help families save precious belongings… Everyone chipping in together to help out their mates and strangers in need. Most impressive was the immediate response of the State Emergency Service, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the police, the military, churches and community groups. Efficient, effective, empathetic and simply fabulous.
In the midst of life’s darkest hours we can still find things to be thankful for: benevolent and effective government, loving family and friends, the kindness of strangers… These floods have shown us that our society is still a strong, healthy, generous and compassionate community. (For a while there I had my doubts.) And, when all is taken from us, in one enormous whoosh of water, we rediscover that love, family and friendship are the only treasures worth hanging on to.
So, give your loved ones a hug and a kiss today, and tell them how precious they are.