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Diary from the eye of the flood

It began for Brisbane on a wet, rainy Monday as a wall of water tore through Toowoomba to the west of the capital.

There were forecasts that Brisbane may experience flooding so immediately we went into preparation mode.

According to predictions based on earlier floods the ground floor of my house was going to be inundated, so all our worldies were brought upstairs; we filled buckets and tubs with clean drinking water; bought matches, candles, and batteries; replaced our gas cylinder … and waited.

It rained.

On Tuesday morning something interesting started to happen. People started nattering to each other and telling their stories.

Down came the usual reservations and people conversed freely.

I wrote the following on my Facebook page:

Camaraderie among the tinned baked beans and bottled water.

I was only pontificating just yesterday to my two daughters, about a calamity bringing communities closer together. It was interesting in the supermarket this morning. I wish I had had a recording device to go around and interview everyone, because they were all chatting to their neighbours in the long queues. Swapping stories, news, gossip. Listening to all the conversations around me actually made the time in the long queue go very fast. Now why can’t we all be so chatty and have so much fun normally? Hmmmmm.

People who had lived close to each other for years suddenly got talking and offering to help each other in preparation for the inundation ahead.

‘Have you heard?’ ‘What are you expecting?’ ‘Are you ready?’ ‘Were you flooded last time?’ ‘Are you insured?’

The power went off in anticipation of the deluge on Wednesday morning … and we waited.

And while we waited we talked to our neighbours over the fence.

And it rained.

The predictions were for early flooding of the lower lying areas in the morning and a rising tide throughout Wednesday with the first peak in the late afternoon.

It became apparent that if we didn’t get my oldest daughter to the airport early (for a midnight flight to Europe) then she could be stranded.

We bundled her on to a train, bid her a hasty farewell and went back to our preparations.

The highest peak would be at 4am on Thursday, we were told. Expect the worst. And we did.

And still it rained.

At 4am on Thursday a huddle of men could be seen not far from our house tentatively creeping forwards, their torches sweeping the dark ground in front of them.

Where was the flood? How far had it gone? They started chatting to their neighbours. They were okay, they had avoided the worst.

But those unfortunates just over there, they were gone.

We were in the eye of the flood. Surrounded by water but sitting high and dry.

We awoke to a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning — the first sunshine in what felt like days — and an eerie silence.

All the local dogs were silent, the birds were silent, there were no trains or traffic.

Just silence.

Over the airwaves we heard Anna Bligh dubbing it the ‘blue sky flood’ — very apt.

We had no real idea of what had been happening all around us other than what we could glean from local radio.

It quickly became clear that we were in the calm centre amid complete chaos.

In fact, at first, we didn’t believe anything much had happened.

Then we heard our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in her monotone drone: she was sending helicopters. All of Australia was behind us. Troops were coming. Food was coming. Help was coming.

I am sure we were all relieved to hear it, but she didn’t exactly inspire us, or fill us with confidence!

And we heard Queensland State Premier Anna Bligh: Anna who had been so on-the-nose with the electorate in previous weeks and months was suddenly given her moment to shine.

A tired and emotional Anna outlined to Queenslanders exactly what was happening and how she and the government were going about it.

There is no doubt Queenslanders at that moment rallied behind her. It could mean victory for her at the next state election, depending on how she handles the recovery post flood.

And Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman emerged from the slime smelling of roses. The next term is surely his for the taking if he wants it.

And the neighbourhood talked some more. About how Julia, Anna and Campbell were handling it all. And the straw poll was unanimous. Anna and Campbell: ten out of ten. And Julia? Julia who?

Then the phone calls started. Were we okay? Had we flooded? We got on our bikes to survey the scene.

We walked the dog, and we talked to the neighbours.

With no power there was no work to be done, no housework or cooking, no computers, no TV, no games.

With the roads blocked there was nowhere to drive to.

Everyone who was lucky enough to have stayed dry in our neighbourhood was out and about.

And everyone was talking.

As the day wore on people lit barbeques, invited over the neighbours and drank the last of the chilled champagne that had been saved for just such a rainy day.

In those few hours an immense bank of good will, or social capital, was built up.

And it would be needed.

Because the very next day all these neighbours were walking over to their new friends and offering a helping hand along with a mop and bucket.

Every scrap of this social capital is going to be spent in the big clean up ahead.

But at least we all now know our neighbours!