Soaked to my Senses May 01 2015

Sometimes with all the dreadful things happening in the world I wonder why we keep having children. What future are we offering them? What hope do they have? What will become of them and their generation on this mad-cap planet? Don’t get me started on middle of the night nightmares about future terrors awaiting my tribe, of the things lurking in the dark to undo all their loveliness. And then I shake myself and seek a little perspective and realise there has always been awful things, wars and disease and disaster. You laugh it off and think ‘they’ll be alright, that stuff happens to other people, in other places, at other times’.

However, this month disaster wasn’t on the other side of the world. For us it wasn’t even the other side of the country. It was the other side of the river. The other side of the road. The other side of our little valley. In fact it was our whole valley.

Somehow here we are at the end of April. Two thirds of the way through Autumn. And for the last week the little valley we live in and live off has been much more than two thirds under water.

A week ago we received more rain in 24 hours than we received in all of summer. It belted down non-stop. Lashing the region with gale force winds and pounding electrical storms. Some looked up and cursed, but many were too busy looking down, watching as the rivers and creeks, gullies and gutters swirled and surged and rose and rose and swallowed up everything in its path.

Tragically several lives in our community were lost. Many, many other families lost property, pets and livestock. Nearly everyone lost power. Virtually everyone lost all communication. No phones, No internet. And not just our little village, but hundreds of thousands of people were impacted. We could hear the emergency broadcasts on the radio. But we couldn’t tell them we were ok. And worse, others couldn’t say they weren’t okay.

The toll to local infrastructure is huge, tar peeled off roads like lids off cans, whole bridges are gone, trees snapped like match sticks, often collecting homes and powerlines on their way down. Businesses and livelihoods have been buried under metres of mud. Emergency crews from all over the country swooped down on the region to sure up sandbag battlements, rescue people and pets from rising waters and ferry necessary supplies to stranded communities all over the valley. Power, water and telecommunication teams fixed all manner of things, slowly reconnecting the region street by street, house by house. The clean up will be gigantic, shared between professionals and volunteers: those with know-how and those with willing hands.

The personal and emotional tolls are harder to heal. And will no doubt take longer. It certainly wasn’t the first flood and it won’t be the last. But it moved differently, too fast, catching people unaware, inundating properties and places water had never normally reached.

And so many were stuck. Some at home, many not.

At first we were stuck. Our livestock too were stuck, often on little islands surrounded by a surging sea of brown water. Neighbours cut fences to let them through, the State Emergency Service even pushed some along in boats to swim them to safety. A few are missing. But in the scheme of things we have been very lucky. There are tales of ponies found stuck high in trees and rescued by cranes. Of cattle landing on the second storey of houses. And of many smaller animals that didn’t stand a chance.

We evacuated our pigs as the river lapped at their home. We stood soggy sheep back up as they bogged down in the mud. We found nearly all our chooks after cyclonic wind threw their coop across the paddock like a discarded chip packet in the breeze. And we marvelled and shuddered at the power of Mother Nature.

Then we had no power. No ‘kids telly’. No oven. No fridge. No running water. No lights. No one did. But we all did our best. Camp oven casseroles and cheese toasties on the fire, so many games of cards, and using the bird bath as a child-bath as my cooped up kids constantly rolled in the mud, forgetting time and time again we couldn’t shower them off at the end of their gleeful frolicking.

We didn’t sit for hours scrolling social media. We socialised with neighbours, checking on each other and making sure everyone was safe, relatively dry and had something to eat. People pitched in cleaning up properties, clearing the roads of fallen trees and flattened fences, even repairing a few local potholes knowing authorities had much bigger things to be worrying about.

As a journalist it was nothing short of surreal to watch the nation’s media scrum zip into our valley and set to work finding stories of survival, relaying horrific pictures of destruction around the world and declaring the whole area ‘a disaster zone’. I always thought if one day a big story broke in my own backyard I would rush to the forefront, grab the microphone and be back in the game. Yet this time round I couldn’t even make a phone call.

And to be honest my heart wasn’t with the pack anyway. I was happy to let them find the lead, scribe away and capture all the chaos. I was too busy trying to work out how to puree the pumpkin soup I had made on the lounge room fireplace when I couldn’t use the blender. When power did return I baked batches of biscuits to thank the many people who had helped protect and repair our property, and the volunteers like the SES and Rural Fire Service who risked everything for everyone else.

And as for the kids? They coped. They learned life goes on even without a night light, an afternoon movie or freezer full of icy poles. They got some amazing perspective on really how good our life is. They played in the mud. A lot. They learned people are so, so, so much more important than possessions. And even though we were disconnected from the rest of the world, as a small community and as a family we reconnected.

So often we all yearn for a gap in routine, want to sleep through an alarm or just stay in and not meet our ‘responsibilities’. We cry out for a chance to break the cycle and just kick back with the kids and be at home together, dreaming of a ‘holiday from reality’. It never happens. But then it did, and then surprisingly all we all wanted was a return to normality, get the kids back to school and their friends, and get the farm and our community back into shape.

So maybe it’s be careful what we wish for. Or maybe it’s be happy that the worst of times brings out the best in people. Or maybe it’s just being. I don’t want to be flippant at all with the trauma that has happened and still lies ahead for so many people we know and love. Possibly this blog isn’t the forum for this piece, given I normally waffle on with random musings on motherhood, but our little corner of the globe has been dealt a rough hand and I just wanted to share that, and without pandering on too much I just needed to remind myself of what and who is really important in life.

So hugs and big hearts all round, I apologise for the tardy post, but it seems surreal after promising here just last month to disconnect more to reconnect, nature in one way forced my hand. And it has reminded me that while stuff and sentiments are lovely and wonderful (goodness knows I have been delighted to see parcels and post return to my letterbox and emails return to my inbox), it is the stuffing of people and places that really gets you through.

PS In the state of emergency the kids clearly chose their own outfits....