In the beginning…..

It is exactly 14 days since it all began and it’s all a bit of a haze at the moment.  It is a journey I do no want to take again but perversely I would have not missed it for “quids”.  This experience has changed me it has changed the people around me and it has absolutely confirmed to me that we are a pretty unique species.  I will come back to why the site is called The Red Shoe but in a simple unadorned way I would like to describe in my own words what it is like to go through a flood when you lose all your material posessions but gain a deeper understanding of what its like to live in a community, to have great friends, to make new friends so easily and to have a deeply caring family.  This site is dedicated to those people, its not a site for me its a site for those who helped me and others like me through this tough and emotional time.  I cannot thank you enough and will always be indebted to you.

I now know what it really means to accept help – willingly offered with no conditions.

Feel free to add comments particularly those volunteers who helped a complete stranger in a time of need and remember this is a blog so if you are new to the site start reading under My Posts from the first post  – Day 1,  January 11, 2011.

Alan Cody – January 2011

Chelmer, Queensland

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Post 10 – Out of the Water

It’s nearly two years since my last post.  Not because I have not thought about it but more along the lines of finding the emotional energy to add to what was a very short intense period in my life.  Since those really full on days, life has been a round of planning and “doing” as part of the long road back in rebuilding the house.  Since I have only just moved back in and it is still only partly complete, what I would like to do is add a few final images and words to wrap up this part of my life and move onto the next.  Simple things like sitting on a sofa for the first time in the house or the first water running out of the tap tend to take on more significance that they really should.  The weird thing was two weeks ago preparing the house for the possibility of being flooded again.  This time I knew what to do and what to expect.  Luckily the water did not invade my space but it still had the that insidious habit of creeping into spaces and places that I remember too well.

Lets see where these last posts will take us.

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Post 9 – Day 5 – Chaos

Saturday afternoon and the house was being gutted, not just a simple removal of the filthy contents but the actual fabric of the building.  It was as if we were trying to remove something nasty by stripping off the skin.  It was also very cathartic.  By this stage there was about fifteen volunteers in the house and all energies were directed at removing the now sagging plasterboard.  Since the house had been raised in 1997 the extra metre in height had meant that even though 5 metres of water had washed through the two stories of the house, it did not reach the ceiling on the second floor.  The goal was to remove the walls without damaging the ceiling.  As one volunteer put it who had never removed a wall before, “this was fun”.  I’m not sure I agreed since I had only just put the damm thing up two years previously, but we all appreciated the enthusiasm.  That was one of those details I will always remember, the laughter and the fun.  Amidst that filth we could still laugh.

Saturday 2.23pm

The one thing about plasterboard is that its easy to put up and its easy to pull down but it leaves a real mess when its wet.  You shovel it out rather than carry it.

Saturday 2.38pm

What was once a beautiful home was now becoming a very unattractive shell and

Saturday 2.39pm

what was once in the house was now outside and my pile of rubbish was rapidly catching that of Bryn and Pete and Anita.

Saturday - 3.00pm

By this stage it was becoming increasingly obvious that there was not a lot was going to be salvaged and possessions acquired over a lifetime were reduced to a small pile in the main bedroom.  When I look at it now its a pretty sad sight but I actually don’t miss most of it and its already a fading memory.  Possessions are not that special,  its people that really count.

Saturday 2.59pm

And here are some that really count – some of the volunteers who as strangers came up to the house and offered to help.  What struck me was the number of young women who came to the door and offered their help.  If you are worried about the next generation, don’t be.  I’m sorry I cannot put names to faces but I have most of the names written down and when I’m back in the house, which at this stage looks like early 2012,  there will be some personal invitations to join me in some serious celebrations.

Saturday - 3.28pm

Then it was the kitchens’ turn to be skinned.  Water and chipboard really do not mix and the idea or “moisture resistant” board which is a must for a kitchen seems a little ludicrous under these circumstances. We all commented on how hard it was to remove which made me laugh later when I was talking to the owner of the company who originally installed the kitchen.  His dad Mac, was from the old school and fitted it within a millimetre of its life.  It was there to stay and I have to admit put up a magnificent fight. Sledge hammers and axes had to work pretty hard.  If anybody ever wants a stubborn kitchen just ask me.  I know a man…….

Saturday - 3.29pm

Saturday - 3.33pm

And this is the one picture of myself that probably sums up the whole experience of that day.  I’m not sure what I was thinking or feeling at the time but the image is one of those that capture the essence of a moment in a single frame.  I actually find it hard to look at.

Saturday - 4.00pm

By 5pm most of the volunteers had left, no doubt to spend the night under a shower trying to removed the ultrafine mud that was almost impossible to shift.  What was left was the detritus following a frenetic day.  In many ways it was the start of what is turning out to be a long slow process of recovery.

Saturday - 5.26pm

Saturday - 5.30pm

A surreal calm descended on what was now a beautiful clear summer evening. Every house had its innards dumped unceremoniously on the verge and there was no such thing as privacy anymore.

Saturday - 5.29pm

Saturday - 5.45pm

Out the back the water and the “ooze” were still there but there was still beauty in the ugliness.

Saturday - 5.32pm

Saturday - 5.33pm

And finally the “Saturday” crew, some are missing but I will be eternally grateful for the unselfish support I received on a day I will never forget.  Thank you.

Saturday - 4.20pm

Thats was Saturday the 15th January.

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Post 8 – Day 5 – Chaos

Sometimes you are not prepared for events because you don’t know what to expect.  You have a plan in your mind and then it gets blown away in an instant.  My plan was simple, I didn’t have one.  It’s not as though you have training courses on what to do in a house after a flood.  It’s not a regular event in my life so it’s a one time lesson.  There was ooze that definitely shouldn’t be there and furniture and books that had seen better days so I suppose the general plan is have a look at it and chuck or keep.  Sounds good to me.  You have to have a plan.

Well one short telephone conversation changed that plan.  Bryn rang me about 8.30am on the Saturday morning – day five, “people are in your house throwing stuff out”.  I am not sure even now if the call was a news update or a warning I must ask Bryn next time we catch up.  What was for sure, is that call certainly stuffed my plan.

I had some offers from some friends to come and help look at the house and that’s the only way I can put it since I didn’t know what I should be doing.  I was planning to start cleaning Sunday after putting together people and gear.  Important gear like gloves and brooms and disinfectant and “wellies” and important people like Pete.  More about Pete later but I just needed somebody from my family and Pete was the nearest – well only 1000km away so that’s relatively close.

When Bryn’s call came I was in the local hardware store stocking up, except they had no stock.  No brooms no disinfectant and above all no “wellies” I was obviously way behind in my planning and the shelves had been scraped and scraped again.  All that was left was lurid red waterproof gloves, something you might use to apply hydrochloric acid to stonework or use in a horror movie to add the creepy edge.  And, a sign saying “wellies” due in three days.  Fat lot of good that was, what on earth did they think a sign like that would do, “no wellies” would have been much more useful.

On the phone to Bryn was a bit surreal, people were in my house chucking stuff out and I was not there!  I had no thoughts of outrage or even real concern.  There were just people in “my” house playing with “my” stuff. All I remember thinking is I need to be there to list what gets thrown out for the insurance company.  What a strange line of thought?Why was I concerned for the insurance company’s welfare? I will never understand that thought process given subsequent dealings with the company.

Well the long and short of it was a plea to Bryn to delay the house chuck out before I got there and a hurried visit to the cashier who confirmed no”wellies” no disinfectant and just “wimpy” house brooms – no real mens brooms with tough hairs and rough handles.  I slunk out with four pairs of the lurid “chemical” gloves and an overwhelming desire to get to the house.  That was another plan that went astray that morning since the roads around the shopping centre were now in absolute gridlock. Why is it when you have an overwhelming desire to do something it gets stuffed up?  Everybody was trying to get across the bridge to implement their smart well laid out plans and I was trying to get across with no plan.  I think I should have been given right of way.  Society should look after people with no plans.

Suffice it to say with a bit of “rat running” I was across the bridge and heading down Leybourne an hour later.  One whole hour of frustration.  It’s like trying to get to the airport to catch a flight and every set of traffic lights and every car is seemingly against you.

The street was absolutely chaotic.  The water had gone overnight but the ooze had forgotten to follow and all the road rules were being broken now. Cars nose to nose and tail to nose, double and in some cases triple parked, angle parked and just parked where there was a space. I joined the throng.  People, hundreds, literally hundreds of people all with a plan.

Saturday - 10.36.22am

The place was deserted so Bryn had done his job well but out the back two “mud skippers” were shovelling ooze.  I had no idea who they were but they were in my space helping me.  This was a little unnerving since I am a pretty independent individual and just don’t think of asking for help but here they were helping me.  Actually when I reflect on this they were shovelling ooze from Pete and Anita’s place through a gaping hole in the fence where pickets had been removed so I ended up with lots of friendly ooze on a transient journey down my path.  It was still grey – brown and still overwhelmingly depressing.

Saturday - 10.48.27pm

This was the day I learnt one of the most important lessons of my life.  Something I will never forget and I am really, really glad it happened to me.  As I said at the beginning of this journey

I now know what it really means to accept help – willingly offered with no conditions”.

Not too many people have the opportunity to experience what I experienced over the next week  and  I cannot thank enough those individuals that just walked in off the street to help.  I will always be indebted to you.  Sometimes known as the “mud army” they seem to pop up almost magically – turn around and there was another clutch with broom and gloves in hand “do you want any help”?  More about these fabulous people later.

All I can say about the crew that had been in my house when Bryn rang was that they were stunningly efficient.  By the time I got there all the furniture in the lounge had been relocated to the growing pile out the front on the verge or had been unceremoniously dumped on the back deck.  Many people have asked me since about how I felt about my “stuff” being dumped while I was not there.  To be honest I did not and still do not mind.  These were total strangers that had chosen to help me.  I will always treasure the company I kept over those few days so there was no contest between that very special personal experience and my useless “stuff”.

The kitchen was still looking a little sad to say the least and books that had been hastily put on the bench had doubled in size.

Saturday - 10.48.43am

The apples and oranges were still in the fruit bowl and the Christmas cards were still hanging off the blinds on the window.   It was the detail that was catching my eye again.

Saturday - 10.49.24am

Outside Bryn was way ahead of me as per usual and his pile was growing by the second, plaster and insulation mixed with timber and household goods with a smell that was a cross between a rubbish tip and a sewerage farm.  It was a smell that grew over the next few days and no doubt will trigger some challenging memories in years to come.

Saturday - 10.49.57am

My pile was tiny in comparison but at least the ooze had gone from the driveway to join Anita and Pete’s on the way out my back gate.  I did salvage the wheelbarrow and some other stuff but my control over the situation at that stage was not great and that in itself was disturbing.

Saturday - 10.49.44am

So back to my plan of “keep or chuck”.  By this stage the volunteers were starting to pour into the street and the call “need any help” became the catch cry.  I had to accept that this task was too big and I did need help.  That first “yes” changed me forever and probably has changed so many other people as well.

Saying yes obviously got me away from the camera since it looks like the next image was taken about two hours later in the garage.  That period, like so many was a blur and all I can really remember is people everywhere moving ooze or unrecognisable stuff from one spot to another.  When you are by yourself and there are two levels to a house and multiple rooms, it is impossible to control things so there was stuff that was thrown out that probably should have been saved.  On reflection I really do not care about that stuff anymore it was bits and pieces of a past life and the future is where I want to be.

Back to the garage.

One of the first things I did when I bought the house was to install an automatic door opener.  Great stuff no more hopping in and out of the car.  All wireless and easy.  Well it’s not so easy when there is no power.  I remembered that there was some type of lever that you had to disengage before you could slide the door up.  The problem was access to the garage was through a back door that had “garage stuff” piled up against it, that’s what garages are for – you relegate stuff you don’t want in the house to a lower position in the hierarchy.  I had to kick in the door to what was a black hole with no light and a jumble of ooze covered, relegated stuff that I literally slithered across to reach the door.  Swearing always works and with a few choice words the lock was released and the door opened  – spilling its guts in a cascade onto the drive.  The image below is obviously taken after the contents had been further relegated to a lower position in the household hierarchy but you get the idea that it was not a pleasant place to be.

Saturday - 12.50.33pm

And my plan was working! Stuff was not being chucked but being sorted into jumbled, ooze covered piles.

Saturday - 12.50.55pm

By this stage it was a real competition outside as to who would have the biggest pile of useless things and Pete and Anita had really surged in the last hour.

Saturday - 12.51.22pm

That was Saturday morning and I had no inkling that this was going to be a long, long week.

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Post 7 – Day 4 – The Red Shoe

Friday January the 14th.

I wanted to see my house alone, nobody else just me. It was going to be a very private moment.  This is the house that I personally renovated only 3 years before so it had to be that way.

The radio suggested the water was dropping fast so there were no more excuses.  Since finding the escaped drawers I had accepted that the house was lost, based on the simple logic that these items had been stacked high on the back deck, at least five metres above ground level.  The thoughts that were running through my mind centered on how high the water had gone on the second floor.  This was the builder in me preparing for the repair phase.  Silly, stupid thoughts but if it was less than 1200mm above the floorboards on the upper floor then that was a win. Why?  Well a sheet of wall plaster is 1200mm wide and that would mean the ceiling and the upper half of the wall would be intact.  Maybe “Polyanna” had returned after a good nights sleep but that’s the way I was thinking.

Apprehensive, hopeful, a little bit shaky, I drove back over that still angry river.  The water had dropped in the surrounding streets but in doing so the nasty work of that insidious stuff was revealed.  Down Oxley road past the White Lady funeral parlor, now with dry feet, and right into Leybourne.

There was that ugly house on the right, standing high on four metre stilts with dirty, multi-striped watermarks on its side at least a metre over the floorboards.  The stilts did not help at all and it looked uglier than ever.  Cars nose to tail and nose to nose ignoring the road rules.  In a funny way it was refreshing and more human.  We have too many rules.  People standing in groups hands on chins or cheeks a sign of shocked individuals literally trying to hold themselves together.  Others with shiny buckets and cleaning cloths as if they were washing the car on a Saturday morning, more symbolic than useful.  This didn’t look too bad.

Friday - 11.53am

Past the Sri Lankan shop and onto my house at the junction.  I drove to the top of the drive, well what I thought was the drive since the ground was covered in an ugly brown ooze.  That’s the only way I could describe it, ooze.  There was still a metre of water through the bottom part of the block and Pete and Anita and little Adams house, my house, Bryn’s house and Craig and Belinda’s house seemed united in this ooze. I sat in the car for a few moments trying to absorb it all, resigned to what I would see when I opened the door but not really knowing what that would be.  After all I had never experienced a flood before.

And the house.

Somber, that’s the only word I can think of  to describe the place, lifeless and somber.  It had lost its heart and was no longer a home just a very sad lonely building.  I cannot really convey my feelings with words on a page.  You have to be surrounded by it, enveloped by it overwhelmed by it to really understand the deep, deep sadness of the image in front of me.  And in a very strange way I was detached from it all almost as you might imagine an out of body experience might be.

Friday - 11.59am

I had to wade through calf high water to get to the steps and I’m sure that Billie would not have coped with the water let alone the ooze. I turned and looked over the front garden and that insidious water was like an oily mirror merging with the ooze, everything was a dirty grey-brown.

Friday - 12.00pm

The layered watermarks on the walls of the front porch told a faltering story of stop start movement over the previous two days while in contrast, the floor was covered by a continuous layer of that ooze. Welts on the ceiling a sign of being submerged.

Friday - 12.00.07pm

I sort of expected what I might see but the images that I remember were not of the space as a whole but of the details, like the sedimentary layers on the porch or the welts on the ceiling.

The key in the door that had to be forced.  Why would you have to use a key to experience sadness, doesn’t that come for free?

The TV on the floor at the front door and not where it had been placed on Tuesday, stripes and blots merging on the wall, the hose of the vacuum cleaner and the computer chair fighting off the sofa. And, the clean ceiling.  The water had not reached the ceiling and in a weird way my eye was drawn to the ceiling rather than the chaos that was once the lounge.

Friday - 12.00.46pm

A bit further in and there was my silky oak stool on its back, legs in the air as if at some stage it was too tired to swim any more and had given up. A tea caddy next to a plastic box with no obvious signs of water inside and the ultra shiny surface of the glass coffee table in the middle, covered in a thin layer of ooze.

Friday- 12.01.34pm

Before I show the next picture I want to show you an image of my kitchen taken just over three years before.  I loved my kitchen, it was light and airy with a bit of class but not too uppity and it held many many happy memories of good food, good wine and great friends.

Billie would lie on the floor, always in the way, hoping that a few good bits would escape from the bench.  This was a kitchen not a showroom, the heart of the house warm and inviting.

July - 2007

And here it is a few short years later not classy at all just a clammy white lifeless corpse.

Friday - 12.01.00pm

The fridge had obviously refused to be constrained and had flipped belly and feet up with contents revealed. On its way up it had punched a hole in the ceiling.

There are those computer cables on the bench on the left, the ones that I forgot to take and the fallen wall cabinet containing my nice wine glasses fighting the fridge for floor space.

Friday 12.01.53pm

In the main bedroom the mattress had floated to the ceiling taking one blade of the fan as it did.  A pristine sheet matching the pristine ceiling.

Friday - 12.02.24pm

In the en suite my theory about bath plugs and bedside cabinets had clearly failed and the floor to ceiling tiles were starting to pop off the wall.  So much for a wet area.  A plastic box had wandered in together with a clothes basket and I’m sure the slotted grey container contains my important documents that I should have taken when I left.

Friday - 12.02.26pm

Out the door and into the second bathroom trying not to slip on the floor, a casual glance I knew what to expect now and then through to the second bedroom.

Friday - 12.03.14pm

The bifold doors onto the back deck were open and the bentwood chairs had obviously floated up before settling once more onto the bed while the sofa in the lounge was now blocking the door.  Tide lines on cushions leaving the upper half clean and the lower half stained.  It was that insidious, still water again calmly going about its destructive work not raging like the river just across the road just calmly and methodically changing lives.

Friday - 12.04.28pm

The built in wardrobe was open and the same lamination’s as on the walls were on the hanging clothes.  There were my 1930’s tails I had bought in the U.K some 20 years before.  Blankets and hangers, shirts and carpet, chairs and bed, all layered with ooze.

Friday - 12.04.58pm

My footprints left on carpets, something unexpected indoors.

Friday - 12.05.43pm

Out through the open bifold doors the view matched the melancholy of the house.  Still and lifeless with the water stretching to the other side of the park. A freezer sitting on top of Bryns hot tub shelter and what looked like a mattress floating up against the hedge. Once bright green and yellow and exhuberent it was now a dirty grey-brown with its top struggling to breath.  Everything that had gone under was that dirty grey-brown.

Friday - 12.06.09pm

Next door in Anita and Peter and little Adams house the swimming pool had disappeared and the dirty grey-brown surrounded you even at this height.  It’s hard to comprehend that the water at its peak went over the gutter in this image that’s five to six metres above the ground.  People in boats and canoes pushing and paddling around my rooftop.  I’m glad I cleaned the gutters the week before.

Friday - 12.08.58pm

And the back deck.  The place I loved to sit on a hot summer evening after work with a beer and Billie by my side.  The place where friends came to dinner.  The place only finished eighteen months before.  The place and space that defines life in Queensland.

What had been a pile of clothes and furniture hastily moved that Tuesday had mostly vanished.  The piece that had held the drawers found floating on the waters edge on Richardson street the day before had gone.  The wardrobe and sideboard had simply vanished together with the fridge.  Fridges float really well it appears.  Clothes and shoes and what was once a big heap of everything was now reduced to a few scattered  jumbled items. The Weber still tethered to its bottle, upended.  The wicker chairs still there reluctant to leave their space..

Friday 12.05.53pm

The heavy wooden outdoor table had floated off the deck and was now wedged at the bottom of the stairs and what appeared to be a fitted bottom bedsheet was draped across the top stair.

Friday - 12.05.48pm

At first I could not figure out what the next image was but now its easy to see. It’s a toy elephant that must have been fetched from downstairs and left to its fate.  Seemingly frozen in time with twisted limbs twisted trunk and no eyes to look back at you.

Friday - 12.06.46pm

And finally the red shoe.

In the ugliness of the moment and the space sat this exquisite symbol of defiance and beauty. Proud and upright, vibrant and crimson. It took my breath away.

Friday 12.06pm - The Red Shoe

At its side lay its lifeless pair covered with the grey-brown ooze.

That was my house, not a home anymore just a lifeless melancholic space with a single burning image. The only image I will ever need to trigger deep hidden disturbing memories now fading.

When I look back at the time stamps on these images I was staggered to see that I had only spent a period of just twenty one minutes and twenty nine seconds in the house.  I just wanted to leave – to slough off the dead skin that the house now was.

Out in the street there were more cars and more people all experiencing the same feelings sights and smells. There was Anita and Peter and little Adams house, my house, Bryns house and Belinda and Craigs house standing together abandoned, waiting.

Friday - 12.23.30pm

That was Friday the 14th of January.

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Post 6 – Day 3 – Waiting

Another waiting day but this one was the big one.  The tide had peaked at that “port” at 4am that morning and was not expected to rise any further.  News reports on the radio said it was about a meter less than the 1974 flood so there was hope yet.  Since I am known as “Pollyanna” there was no way that any of the stuff I had thrown up high on the second floor would even have a hint of moisture!

I was up early to walk Billie and it was an absolutely beautiful morning, clear blue skies and not a breath of wind to disturb the motionless fingers of water reflecting and trapping buildings in the surrounding streets.  It seemed to be a recurring theme noiseless, motionless fluid.  Quite beautiful and hauntingly photogenic.

Thursday 6.20am

Separating the real from the unreal was difficult with no clearly defined boundary between the two.

Thursday 6.22am

Thursday 6.23am

Waterview Lodge seemed more appropriate on that morning since this block of apartments appeared to be floating on a mirror and no sign of the park that was now two meters under.

Thursday 6.23.30am

And of course Billie.  Fascinated by, well probably scared of, a left over christmas bauble floating as a lessor partner of two empty beer barrels that had escaped from the nearby bowls club.  The third barrel, spotted on the previous day, was missing so must have got tired of the company it was keeping.

Thursday 6.24am

Walking around the local streets was putting off the inevitable.  At some stage I had to drive over the bridge spanning that river and see what I could see in my street.  Not that I was reluctant, I just assumed I could not get anywhere near the house so there was no point in rushing.

Later that morning Nikki, Angelo and I drove over that bridge and it was only when you saw the river in flood did you really see the contrast with the mirrored water of the adjacent streets.  A racing, turbulent flow with whirlpools that appeared and disappeared across the surface while at the margins it tore against trees that were once high on the bank.

Thursday 8.02am

Thursday 8.06am

Thursday 8.07am

Then there in the middle of the raging mass of water was the third beer barrel, racing to the sea, this was definitely the more adventurous of the three.

Thursday 8.07am

Once over the bridge it became obvious that the water had now spread so that it was impossible to get even close to where my house was located. The White Lady Funeral Parlor marked the exclusion boundary.

Thursday 8.47am

While mum and dad had their own thoughts, their offspring did what kids do and maybe just maybe, thats the beer bottle I threw into that muddy brown water in disgust two days previously.

Thursday 8.56am

Then out of my street – Leybourne – came two bright orange inflatables from Tallebudgera surf life saving club on the Gold Coast. This was my first experience of the “volunteers” that over the next few days changed the way I thought about our community.

Thursday 8.49am

We came back one street and walked up to the Graceville state school which is at one end of the park that my house backs onto.  Small groups of people clustered around the waters edge talking amongst themselves in subdued voices. You could feel the physical urge among them to get closer. From what I could tell most had houses down the street or around the corner, all inaccessible.  We were all united in our alienation.

Thursday 8.56am

Then something odd caught my eye.

Stranded on the waters edge was a set of drawers, one inside another with a third just clinging on.  At first glance I thought it was amusing – somebody’s cupboard drawers had floated away.  Then it hit me like a punch in the stomach, totally unexpected and completely overwhelming.

They were my drawers.  Something normally hidden in a piece of furniture inside a house was now on public display and people were pointing.  Now it was really personal.  It was at that instant my denial vanished and the “pollyanna” in me died.

I knew the house had gone.

Thursday 9.01am

I asked Angelo to take a picture, a hand on a connection to a home that was now lost. Thats not a smile its a grimace from deep within.  Click.  The moment was gone and I knew what I had to do.

I can still feel that punch now as I write this and thats 29 days after the event.  How often in a lifetime do you get such clarity in a single instance?

What added to that moment was just a few feet away.  An orange kids “floatie” identical to the one I had thrown up on the back deck of Craig and Belinda’s place two days earlier.  You know, the family with two kids who were on the Gold Coast when this all started. Belinda with potatoes in hand in the last image before we all left our houses to their fate.

Whether it was the same floatie did not really matter at that stage it was the juxtaposition of my drawers and the floatie, adjacent just like our houses.

Thursday 9.01am

I could not bring myself to grab “my” drawers.  In a very strange way I felt it would be stealing. How can you explain that?

That was Thursday the 13th of January.

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Post 5 – Day 2 – Waiting

When friends or family and especially strangers open their house and welcome you in with no conditions attached, this is when you know you are not alone.  Wednesday really was a blur and I am struggling to remember what happened in a period of suspended animation where you could only accept you were in the middle of events over which you had no control.  I gave up control when I closed my front door the previous evening.

Nikki and Angelo’s house is located in the suburb of St Lucia just a blink of an eye away the from the home I had abandoned with Billie and tenants only a few hours earlier. To add to the blur all power in St Lucia was out so five people and a dog were bumping off each other in a small place with no lights and fragmented communication with the outside world. No power means no television so over the next five days we really did not have a good idea of what was happening around us.  Not that it mattered since it was difficult to sit and passively observe an unfolding drama that you were directly involved with.

The priority the next morning was to find a place for the tenants who had no obvious relatives or local friends.  Not only were they isolated from the surrounding community their only communication with the world appeared to be via the web.  Well no power, a laptop that did not have a functional battery, no internet and no public transport meant a couple that really was isolated and totally dependent on others.  The disturbing message of this individual case is that it is probably becoming increasingly common.

To get them connected to the world meant a trip to a nearby shopping centre to buy a USB modem – well you know what it is, a “stick thing” that you pop in the computer and pass bits and bytes with the “web”.  The shopping centre was strangely quiet almost deserted, with a subdued crowd lining up outside the Woolworths supermarket, allowed in two by two in an almost comical comparison to the biblical Noah’s ark.

Suffice it to say the said “stick thing” was acquired and some supplies purchased from Woolworths ark. On return the tenants were popped into my car, plugged into the cigarette lighter (the computer not the tenants) and left searching the web for all available accommodation.  As luck would have it a room was found and within the hour I had thrown their gear into the car and was driving through nose to tail traffic to another part of the city.

What was truly surreal was that unaffected areas carried on life as though they were on another planet with people enjoying a coffee in roadside cafe’s or walking their dogs, apparently totally detached from the drama unfolding only a few kilometers away.  One image that sticks in my mind was of a man carefully shaping his hedge and throwing the trimmings into a neat  cardboard box.  How is it that such mundane images stick?  Meanwhile as I moved the “web” refugees to a safe place, my hedge was struggling to breath under two meters of still rising water.

This scene ended with me dropping the tenants into a new world they would have to directly engage with.  My impression as I helped carry their possessions inside was of an old weatherboard house with a large living room and two young males, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Beers in hand they were engrossed with a snowy picture on a large flat screen television.  In one corner a drum kit stood guard over the entrance to a sparsely furnished bedroom with a bare double mattress, a shabby single lounge chair, scratched wooden wardrobe and a big table.  A single incandescent globe cast a weak light over this jumble of ill matched furniture.  My “apartment” was definitely superior.

With a twinge of guilt I turned and left my refugees.  On reflection I wonder why I felt guilty at that moment, after all they were adults and I had done all I could to make sure they were safe and had a place to stay.

St Lucia itself is a riverside suburb and that insidious  water had followed me overnight, silently sliding into the surrounding streets.  We were safe but it was a waiting game.  I had mentally given up the lower floor of the house in Chelmer but I was still hoping the upper floor would somehow escape. A walk in the surrounding streets chipped a little off that hope as lower lying areas were now inundated with the same muddy water that had invaded my front yard the previous day.

A few images reflect that receding hope.

Gaily Road St Lucia - Wednesday 3.52pm

The next image in a strange way, joins a single individual with the debris as if they both floated away from the same flooded apartment.

Wednesday 3.56pm

Roads come to abrupt ends and roads usually busy with traffic now only accommodate curious occupants of surrounding apartments.  Their first direct physical connection with the drama that until that morning, had only existed as a series of moving images on television.

Wednesday - 3.59pm

 

Wednesday - 3.58pm

The chair does seem a little incongruous facing away from the stage.

Down at the junction of three roads, a low point has now become a lake isolating buildings, unlit traffic lights and submerged road signs.

Wednesday - 4.06pm

Wednesday - 4.07pm

Wednesday - 4.07pm

Wednesday - 4.08pm

At Jack Cook park the bowls club is two meters under and the little athletics track a little overwatered.  The building in the background is a retirement village which triggers a visual memory of that morning of elderly citizens on the roadside standing in a line with suit cases in hand as if waiting for a bus.  I did think it was odd at the time since there was no bus stop but thought nothing of it on the way to Woolworths ark.  Now I know why.

Wednesday - 4.22pm

Flotsam and jetsam that’s an image that will remain, stuff that was untethered and free to roam without boundaries. Wheelie bins floating on their backs with their mouths wide open, their contents tethered like ducklings to a concerned mother.

Wednesday - 4.17pm

Wednesday - 4.22pm

And finally Billie, with her dinner plate tongue and apparent indifference to it all, more interested in the new smells that were starting to emerge.

Wednesday - 4.27pm

Thats was Wednesday the 12th of January 2011 when “web” refugees were resettled, continuous mobile phone conversations were held and time seem suspended while we waited for the water to peak at the mythical “port”.  Tomorrow would be the day we would know how bad it would really be.  Thursday 4am, high tide.

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Post 4 – Day 1 – Abandoned

Not only was the water impinging on my space, Billie was totally confused by the presence of the stuff on an area she usually inhabits to cool off on a hot day.  She definitely does not like water and was trying to tip toe through the margins as it rose between the brick pavers.  Billie would not leave my side and I could tell she was really disturbed.

Looking for dry ground - 1.58pm

At this point I spotted Bryn trying to collect his canoes to load up and I asked if he would fling one over the fence – the delux version.  I was still running on adrenaline which must switch off the logical parts of your brain since I wanted the experience of paddling down the back path rather than walking.  I gave the camera to Sam, the tenant and paddled out towards the back gate.  I said Billie was disturbed and to prove it she followed me wading through the water with a pleading look on her face ” what on earth are you doing”?

A dumb thing to do but now I can die happy - 2.06pm

Only 6 minutes later the water had now reached the bottom step of the house.  The really insidious nature of the beast was it was so still.  You think of floods in terms of rushing gushing, swirling water.  Nope it was dead still, silently slipping into every crack and crevice and there was nothing you could do about.

Creeping - 2.13pm

There were light hearted moments and spotting some blue fluffy slippers floating over what was the pond, was one of them.  Its these sorts of memories that are still fresh while the nasty little emotional bits seemed to have vanished already.

Slippers - 3.03pm

By this stage the water had reached the top of the step at the back and inside the downstairs flat it was bubbling up through the tiles in the bedroom.  A very strange sight, its not something you expect.  Water through the door or the window but not through a tiled concrete floor. It is insidious.

Its crunch time now - 3.06pm

Now comes the really weird period – when do I go and where do I go?  Having no family in Brisbane I was going to rely on friends to not only accept me and Billie but also two complete strangers and their stuff.  I rang Nikki who was still at work and of course it was fine to lob over why did I even hesitate.

The chaos of the house was overwhelming what up until that morning had been a warm comfortable and very easy place to live had now turned into a movers nightmare.

Bedding and clothes and bits of furniture, cables and kitchen bits all randomly thrown as high as possible.  It was in hope more than anything else.

Oops I forgot to make the bed - 5.36pm

And this was where my thinking space was.  I thought I would be very smart and put the two bedside cabinets in the bath and push in the plug.  The rationale was that if the water was below the level of the lip of the bath these spectacularly cheap cabinets would be saved – hooray!

Granular thinking to save the bedside cabinets - 5.36.48pm

The kitchen was looking particularly sad with monitors and printers up on the upper cabinets, photos of the kids surrounded by stuff hastily thrown on benches.  The bundle of cables should have had my PERSONAL stamp on them since in the rush, I forgot to pack them so now I have a collection of external hard drives and printers that cannot be connected or powered up, where was that check list when I needed it?  I liked my kitchen it had so many happy memories of people hanging around with a glass in hand enjoying themselves and now its gone.

Culinary items did not feature in this kitchen - 5.37.28pm

And finally the living room.  It was a great space where the back wall opened onto the green expanse of the park and the outside was at one with the inside.  What has caught my eye in this picture is the stack of toilet rolls, five of the bloody things neatly stacked on the kitchen bench, how ludicrous is that!

I know this whole episode was gut wrenching but the neatly stacked toilet rolls are over the top - 5.37.42pm

At 5.39pm my garden and the park were at one.  The back fence had gone under and believe it or not those blue slippers were within two meters of when we first spotted them at 3.03pm.  The greenery of the garden was slowly disappearing under a debris filled muddy brown sheen.  It was not fun anymore it was not exciting it was serious.

It's not funny anymore - 5.39pm

The street was crowded with people and cars and that insidious water was now encroaching on the front yard.  This meant that it was at least a meter deep in the garage and that thought never really crossed my mind at the time.  Another case of denial which I think, was a subconscious theme throughout this whole episode.

Cars and people and people and cars moving stuff from A to B - 5.41pm

This was the point at which I decided to get the tenants and Billie out.  Bundled into the car with their gear I only had a 10 minute drive to Nikki and Angelo’s place in St Lucia who welcomed a slightly shell shocked group with open arms.  I seem to vaguely remember carrying out polite conversation but what I really wanted was to dump people and puppies and run.  It was a strange overpowering feeling that I did not want to leave the house and I had to get back.  Maybe it had something to do with not removing any of my stuff from the house at that stage.  I think it was deeper than that.

Back to that creeping water.

I really don’t recollect the return trip but there were cars and people and people and cars and trucks and people all scuttling between each other piled high with useless stuff like mine.  I think a lot of people only just realised that the water was coming and given that we had no official warnings I can understand why.

By the time I got back the evening was closing in fast so it was strange to see lights on in some windows and others where neighbours had left, completely dark.  I had turned the power off when the water first entered the lower floor of the house.  Bryn on the other hand just turned the power circuits off and left the lights live since they were above the water, even downstairs – that was smart thinking.  I wasn’t in that space.

I like the next image, its surreal.  The camera was struggling in the enveloping darkness and it portrays the urgency and the blur of the moment.  Thats Bryn’s dad, a moving transparent body stepping on a path of stones.  A ghost of the 1974 floods moving the same stuff out of the same house.

There is nothing to say - 7.08pm

It was time for me to leave, a last desperate effort to pinch a few more centimetres away from “that” water saw couches go on tables and drawers go on cabinets and chairs on beds and mattresses on sofas, futile I know but just more denial.

The end is close - 7.09pm

7.09.56pm

7.10pm

Its all I can do.  I go out onto the back deck and its ominously beautiful.  The rain has stopped and there is a pink tinge in the sky reflected in “my silent insidious lake”.  I need to saviour this moment.  I grab a beer from the fridge, a chair and with my feet on the table absorb all that envelops me.

7.10.28pm

Thats it.  In my only act of defiance I chuck the empty bottle into the water below.  Stuff you.

A raw moment over in an instant I then packed what I though important but as it turned out was not.  I had no items stamped PERSONAL nothing that said take me, so it was a grab here and a grab there thrown in the car without real thought.  Thats what this insidious water can do to you.

My parting images are both sad and funny, a true reflection of life.  With a last look I said goodbye to the house as I have done with every house I have left.  I paused and then closed the door.  It was dark now and there were only a few cars in the street.  My carefully packed garage was swimming behind the roller door and the house, my house reflected in “that” water. A stairway to a past life.

7.51pm

This picture, Anita and Petes house makes me sad when I look at it.  Lonely and abandoned chairs on the dining table clawing their way up.  Its cute and homely and nobody’s home, not Pete not Anita and not little Adam.

7.58pm

The street is really deserted now just a few tails lights reflected in the water that was now coming from the roadside storm water drains.

7.58.47pm

I said my final images were both sad and funny and here’s the last but one image.  I needed to take a picture of some of the players in this drama and this is it.  While I was stuffing around organising the shot a large fish swam between us, at least something was having fun.

Bryn on the right with his mates and Belinda.  Look closely at Belinda she wanted to be in the photo but she is dazed and look whats in her right hand.  Yes its a bag of potatoes.  Not the kids pictures, her best dress or her crown jewels, its potatoes.  I think this is really fundamental. As a Mum she was thinking of feeding her family, thats what Mums do.  Belinda laughs about this image but I think its one she should treasure.

7.59pm

Thats it, house and street abandoned.  I do not remember the drive to Nikki’s place at all. Maybe that was for the best, my empty mind matched my meagre possessions.

8.10pm

That was Tuesday – 11th January 2011

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