Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Of Droughts, and Flooding Rains

My heart is breaking this morning.

A few years ago, when Imogen and I lived in Brisbane, just after I left teaching and hit out as a full-time writer, I made my living doing speaking engagments. Most of them were in the areas around Brisbane; little towns like Toogoolawah, Laidley, Toowoomba and numerous others. I got to know the Lockyer Valley and the Warrigal Highway very well indeed.

In the small town of Laidley, I worked with students from the high school - I particularly remember Laidley because one of those students - I won't name her - kept in touch with me for years after my visit; she used to email me when things happened; often big and sometimes awful things - a friend's death, moving away from home. She used to say what a huge impact my visit had on her. Though I never told her this, her sporadic emails helped me understand small town life in Australia from a teenage point of view, and had a real impact on my writing; her voice was utterly authentic and her emails gave me a real sense of the sometimes crushing difficulties that come with being an adolescent in such a small and isolated community. And even though I haven't heard from her for a few years, now, I've always had very fond memories of Laidley and the kids I worked with there.

A couple of years ago I was invited to the 'Voices on the Range' festival in Toowoomba. I spent a lovely week there, living in one of the most beautiful B&B's I've ever seen, and talking to some of the most engaging and enthusiastic audiences of school students that I've ever come across. I also had the time to explore Toowoomba properly - it's the most beautiful little town, perched on top of the Great Dividing Range like a sentinal at the edge of the vast Darling Downs.

This morning I, like so many other Australians, woke to the news that this beautiful part of the country, filled with people I've met, laughed with, worked with and lived with, is facing one of its darkest hours.

When I toured Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, the whole area was in the grip of drought. In a couple of towns, I was advised not to drink the tap water, because the dams were running dry and there was a lot of sediment in the drinking water. The folks who lived there were living their lives under some of the most stringent water restriction laws in the country.

Last year - finally - the drought broke.

And yesterday afternoon, in an example of just how savage and unforgiving this country can be, a storm of such savage intensity that it's been described as an 'inland tsunami' hit Toowoomba; taking lives, destroying homes, and wreaking utter, utter havoc.

After Toowoomba, the waters dropped down the height of the Great Dividing Range, causing rivers and streams to flood in moments; the waters rising 9 or 10 metres above their usual banks, and sweeping away everything before them as they surged down the plain towards Brisbane.

Laidley, was among the towns hit hard. But not the only one.

So today, as families across the plains from Brisbane all the way west to the foothills are battling against the rising waters, my heart is breaking for them. And for my many friends in Brisbane, who are bracing for the now almost inevitable floods as the water makes its way out to sea via the Brisbane River.

Good luck, all of you. You're in my thoughts.

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