Two months ago, Brisbane, in north-eastern Australia, was struck by horrific flash floods. Despite the carnage it wrought, the natural disaster has strengthened the city’s community spirit, writes 20-year-old local resident Steph Carter.
On the 11 January 2011, my city of Brisbane experienced its most severe flood in 35 years.
Following months of unusual rain patterns that lay spoil to the well-intentioned summer plans of backyard cricket and lazy days at the beach, Brisbane residents suddenly found themselves in the middle of a natural disaster.
All the signs had been there. The summer had been an extraordinary one; we watched countless towns around Queensland fall victim to severe and unforgiving floods.
As 75% of the state became a disaster zone, the Australian nation tuned in to hear stories of lost homes and possessions, displacement, destroyed livelihoods and even loss of life in the flash floods of Toowoomba and Lockeyer Valley.
Horrific images of families stranded in floating vehicles amidst an inland sea began to surface. Like a waiting domino, it seemed inevitable that Brisbane would be the next to fall.
On Monday 10 January, the time had come. As water levels quickly rose, commuters were evacuated from office buildings within Brisbane’s central business district, flood warnings came in thick and fast, and the city’s political leaders rallied together in preparation for the city’s greatest challenge in 35 years.
Although the hourly press releases painted a grim picture, one thing remained as indestructible as the swollen Brisbane river; the strength of the Brisbane community.
In what was perhaps a rude twist of irony, Brisbane residents woke on Tuesday 11 January to blazing sunshine and widespread flood devastation. Yet even as numerous people watched their homes go under and as some suburbs became reachable only by army helicopters, the Brisbane community formed a united front.
For one Brisbane resident living in the leafy south-west suburb of Kenmore, it was the strength of local community that helped him accept what had become a surreal set of circumstances.
‘It took a flood like that to bring us all together. Everyone was doing their bit to help out a neighbour’, says Leon Carter.
In this small pocket of Kenmore, an incredible effort was made to assist those who had been evacuated from their flooded homes. Sandwiched between the swollen Brisbane River and a flooded creek, neighbours found themselves stranded together on a temporary island, cut off from the outside world.
Despite the unreal situation, they started a transport service across the flood- waters, using jet-skis and kayaks to ferry volunteers and supplies back and forth.
Several missions were also undertaken to help stranded neighbours transport suitcases and bags across the water, so as not to miss their international flights.
The jet-ski operator, known as Hans by his neighbours, continued to do his bit for the community, even though his factory in another area of Brisbane had been flooded and thousands of dollars of stock had perished. In fact, when the river peaked and all feared for the worst, Hans hosted a neighbourhood BBQ at his house- by candlelight of course, given that all electricity had been cut.
Stories such as this began to emerge from all corners of Brisbane. The clean-up effort was testament to the strength of community in the face of adversity, with thousands of volunteers gearing into action as soon as the waters receded. As the owners of numerous flooded homes claimed, it was not uncommon to have 20 strangers arrive at their homes and without question, offer assistance and support.
Two months later, it is difficult to believe that the muddy and unassuming Brisbane River wreaked havoc over Brisbane city. Aside from closed parks, damaged river -banks and homes still waiting to receive electricity and repairs, all seems normal.
What has changed though has been the bond of community, strengthened by what will probably remain the greatest natural event that Brisbane will face this decade. With the helping hand of a neighbour and the support of a newly reinvigorated community, there seemed to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that ‘she’ll be right mate, she’ll be right’.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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