12 January 2011

hell or high water

Inner Brisbane, January 29, 1974. Bruce Postle/The Age
I wasn't quite sure how to start this post. It's been a while and I'm out of rhythm here. But today feels quite surreal. So I'll go with that. 

Went to work this morning after having yesterday off - sick all weekend with throat lurgie that migrated to chest. Anyway. Woke up nauseous but optimistic so K (now in lurgie-dom too) dropped me in. We'd been shocked last night to see images of the devastation in Toowoomba. Early reports were saying the floodwaters were headed for Brisbane and these would coincide with a king tide. It wasn't talked up, but K had picked up some stuff from the stupid-market and fuelled the car. At work I was whisked into a meeting straight off the bat. But after that, everything seemed to grind to a halt. It was all flood talk, people checking the news, calling family, wondering whether to leave. News reports were now saying the flooding would rival that of the mythical 1974 floods.

A colleague walked by my desk and recalled a photograph from the '74 floods of someone diving into the water from an awning at the old Festival Hall, where high rise apartments now stand in its place. 'Festival Towers' are just round the corner from my work. 

Albert Street, CBD, January 1974.
Copyright State Library of Queensland, author unknown

Our executive director came round several times telling people to leave if they needed to. I encouraged my team to leave and made sure everyone was OK to get home. Just after lunch, I left, worried that if I stayed it might be difficult to get home, which is across the river. I'd already seen photos on the ABC news site of the river encroaching on Davies Park at West End, just down the road from us. 

I was one of the last to go. It was eerie outside, the middle of the day but like peak hour with everyone heading home. Traffic was banked up. People were running. Rain fell from low grey skies - as it has for several weeks months. I wondered whether I'd get home my usual way, across the Goodwill pedestrian bridge. I always walk, even in the rain. (My pack-cover and wet shoes have become normal.) Anyway, the busway on the southside had closed at 12pm. K came to meet me, as he usually does. We walked along the river in the Botanical gardens. There's a looped boardwalk out through the mangroves there we often take on the way home. It was underwater. Surreal.

The Goodwill bridge was fine and gave us a birdseye view of the now very high and fast-flowing river. Full of debris. Gangways to floating CityCat pontoons were angled upward to meet the river, instead of their usual downwards tilt. The pontoons were at the very top of the pylons. We wondered what would happen to the pontoons as the river continued to rise beyond the pylons. I've since heard people say they've seen pontoons unloosed and flowing down the river.

At home we hovered over our computers, where K was streaming some tap to a police scanner. I thought Twitter might explode and cursed people jamming up the qldfloods hashtag. Tweets were running so fast as to be an illegible blur on TweetDeck. Anna Bligh held her first press conference at 3pm. I fell in hero-love. She was calm, in control and sympathetic. Clearly teary, even. Twitter subsequently went mad again in praise of Premier.

Tonight we helped K's brother's girlfriend and her sister move their furniture and stuff to the top floor of their townhouse. They (and their poor little spooked kitty) are staying at K's brother's place which is probably one of the highest points in Brisbane. Leaving their place it was odd to see people still sitting inside neighbouring townhouses watching TV. Everyone in their street had been warned to move cars etc to higher ground! People are strange.

So tonight we are fine but feel kind of useless. I heard that 75 percent of Queensland is underwater. Our place is safe and will continue to be so - high on the hill. Everything is damp as it has been for days and we have garbage bags over a window that doesn't shut properly. But we have water in jerry cans and non-perishable food. And internet connections, for now.

I have no idea whether I'll be able to get to work tomorrow. I suspect it's not such a good idea.

All is eerily quiet. For now.