January 2011 and the floods that had engulfed town after town and city after city in the North and Central East and Central West of Queensland suddenly hit the South East with ferocious flash floods in Toowoomba and in the rich farming land of the Lockyer Valley; forty and sixty minutes drive from the capital city of Brisbane and my pretty, riverside suburb of Jindalee.
The ferocity of the near floods had killed many people in the Lockyer Valley which lay beneath The Range. The flood waters from the Bremer River were rising in the nearby city of Ipswich.
The Wivenhoe Dam had been built with a view to mitigating flooding post 1974 and had recently been increased in flood mitigation capacity It was now almost brim full after being woefully low during the drought years. The controlled Wivenhoe releases of water to the Brisbane River could act as shock absorbers in regulating flow to the Brisbane, but could do nothing about the waters from the Lockyer and Bremer Rivers which lay below its walls and also fed into Brisbane River. The Brisbane River ran past our house at less than a 100 metres distance.
Unknown to us on the Monday the brim full capacity of this great dam also led to some possible scenarios that could dwarf any natural disaster to be-fall Australia since European settlement.
The local library in which I work was not open on Mondays so the family and I went to look at the great waters of the nearby Brisbane River; hopeful that this flood would not be as bad as 1974 which had almost reached the ceilings in the house in which we now lived. There was no indication to us at that time that the flood would be that bad. Our house would surely not be too badly affected.
By Tuesday morning it was obvious that the flood on the Brisbane River would be a pretty big one but nothing to indicate that our house would be in danger. There were some confusing figures as to how many
metres the River would rise in the city of Brisbane with figures like 4 metres quoted, but up-stream near our house this would equate to 16 metres, not that we really heard how many metres it was likely to rise to near our house. There was no broadcast of any necessity to evacuate our house.
So on the Tuesday morning being the devoted public servant, borrowing some devotion to duty from my late father, pictured here in a rather haunted post-war picture and also rather accurately in a mid-war picture I headed for work at the nearby library.
My dear wife Quyen was driving the limo and my 18 month old son and and nine year old in the back. Quyen had been drowned in a bomb crater filled with water when a child in Viet Nam but had been rescued by a boy called Quyet whose name our youngest son now bears.
As we drove up the incline towards the Mt Ommaney Library we looked to
our left to the local golf course which was to my great surprise a great lake of water. This lake was to my irrational mind in an area of ground above the level of our dear little house. "F xxxark!! Fxxxxxaahhrk!" I expleted when I saw this great body of water.
Oh well I'd better at least show up to work. I'll say I would be going home to see what I could do about saving my house's contents from the impending flood.
For about five hours I found myself at the library. Grimly I swore and swallowed as I fielded calls from people who were looking for Nora Roberts' texts for which they had forgotten the inglorious title. The temper flayed a little as I placated the rage and indignation of patrons who had incurred fines of some few cents. I was, of course, the ever pleasant, helpful almost charming gentleman. But on this day I certainly could not be accused of being "unnecessarily cheerful", as my father had once rather taciturnly observed a waitress to be .
I had the feeling that I was in the grip of a disastrous situation and realised that the thing was about a disaster is that one has no control over the situation. The news rolled in that the flood was going to be a pretty bad one. The council flood maps online went down; people at work decided to go home and look after their houses. Reports from library patrons told us of sites now under water. I was stuck at work, the wife had the limo. One of the patrons of the library who I deemed as one of the new friends I had made at the library had studied at Duntroon Military Academy in Canberra while I was studying at the nearby College of Knowledge and the ANU some thirty odd years before. We would often share jokes about our different political and historical perspectives all those years ago and he said he would check on my house and see what was happening. Interestingly another of my friends from the library was another character who would have seen life from a different perspective from my lucky, bourgeois self as a young man. He now found himself going grey as a senior sergeant of police.
Finally my boss, for whom I shared the joy of being a reader of his short stories, to whom I suggested wicked allusions to Lucifer which his publisher rejected, gave me a lift home only to find access from Jindalee to one of the city's major highways cut by the flood water.
"Pack your bags as if you are going to Vietnam! And we'll start to put things up higher in the house!" I told the wife and kids. My niece Josephine, a medical researcher from the Streptococcus Lab at the Qld Institute of Medical Research had arrived at the house. My brother Peter who as a youth had imagined himself the re-incarnation of St Francis of Assissi and who lived on the highest piece of ground in central Brisbane Red Hill couldn't get through.
My boss, Robert, from the library said I could store things at the library if I needed. Josephine's husband Luke who had grown up on a sheep and cattle property in Muttaburra in Central western Queensland, home of the Muttaburrasaurus, also arrived at the house with his ute. The rain continued to fall. We started packing. Josephine made decisions about things that needed to be saved. The strong little baby Albert squirmed in my arms.