Today, we are departing somewhat from the timeline of what has happened in our lives as intrepid globe-trotters.
There is a reason for this. Two years ago today, devastating flood waters hit Queensland, causing damage to property, essential services, livelihoods and in some cases, injury and death.
Today, having been without proper rain for months, we find ourselves grateful that the bush fires which have raged in our district all week have claimed no lives or homes.
I stood in my garden this morning looking at the plumes of smoke belching from the bush fire in the next suburb. Darkness fell over the neighbourhood in the eerie way it does in a total eclipse.
This is life in Australia, a land of extremes.
This blog post is written in acknowledgement of the fortitude and bravery of the Australian people when faced with adversity. I am also writing in honour of all those brave souls who have risked life and limb to ensure the safety of others – who are often strangers to them – in the dangerous conditions that Australia sends its people now and again.
I often jokingly say that a toddler in the sky is in charge of the weather and time controls here. I believe there are big buttons marked ‘Day’, ‘Night’, ‘Rain’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Wind’ up there that some unseen being presses at random, because there are no half-measures here.
Daylight ends abruptly, almost like nature’s Angry Dad just switched the light off and proclaimed: “Do you KNOW how much it costs to light this place? Turn the bloody lights off!” And that’s that, literally seconds from daylight to total darkness.
It’s the same in the mornings, except this time it’s nature’s Angry Morning Mum, barging into your bedroom and flinging open the curtains to blind you with sunlight, declaring ‘Get up! You’ve been in bed long enough now, the day’s half gone!’ Angry Morning Mum Is accompanied by a cacophony of whooping, shrieking, giggling, raucous birds outside whose volume is permanently set to ‘Deafening’.
There are no lie-ins to be had in Australia.
When it rains, it doesn’t start gently with a smattering of delicate raindrops.
It’s often a total deluge, preceded by no clouds or any kind of the usual clues. Sometimes, the Angry Weather Toddler will fling a few truckloads of hail in with it as well, with stones large enough to grace any gin and tonic. Or bigger, if you’re really unlucky. Unless you have incredibly large gin glasses, of course.
Two minutes later and the sun is beating down on you so quickly that you’re not sure whether your reddened limbs are the result of hailstone damage or sunstroke.
Twenty four months ago, I set off to work in my car. It was raining heavily, but Angry Weather Toddler had not yet woken and was not throwing any unwelcome meteorological surprises our way.
Half an hour later, upon reaching the train station, an enormous clap of thunder shook my car like a rag doll, and then the storm really came.
I had only just started my job at the time, and any thoughts of going home just because of some rather inclement weather seemed to me to imply I was a lily-livered milksop. So I ran the seven seconds from the car park to the platform, never once questioning why the car park was almost completely free of cars.
When I arrived at work, I looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower fully clothed. I was utterly drenched.
My manager took one look at me and asked me why I was there. ‘Your district is on high alert for flooding, you need to go back home straight away,” she said.
I was incredulous; it was a bit of rain, what could possibly happen? However, taking her advice – as a born and bred Queenslander – seemed to be the sensible option, and so I left and caught the train back home.
As the train travelled back through the stations I had been through not half an hour before, I was filled with mounting trepidation. This was clearly no ordinary storm.
The rain beat down relentlessly, lashing across the windows of the carriage. The sky was black and forbidding, and for the first time, I noticed that the waters were rising on the land surrounding the train tracks.
I began to panic just a little, realising that my phone battery was dangerously low. Cursing myself inwardly for not charging it the previous evening, I decided to preserve what little battery remained by sending a quick text to my husband and switching it off.
The flood waters had taken hold quickly, and I felt sick as we clattered along the railway track and I caught sight of the school field alongside the train track. Thirty minutes ago on the journey to work, it had a puddle or two here and there. I realised with horror that now, barely visible above the water levels, were the circular tops of the speed limit signs.
I virtually flew off the train and into my car, the rain still hammering down on top of the roof. I switched my phone on to see a text from my husband telling me that only one road home was now open. Rivers had burst their banks and cars were being washed away like toys. He was coming home from work too, straight away.
I sent one final text before my phone battery died, telling him that I would take his advice and come home via the road he recommended.
I wanted to cry. There was no one there to reassure me, I had never in my life driven in conditions so bad that I could barely see the road through the windscreen.
‘Stop it,’ I scolded myself. ‘ ‘Pull yourself together and just drive home.’
I drove at a snail’s pace for safety’s sake even though every fibre of my being willed me to go faster and get home to my kids, who were fast asleep at home on school holidays.
My heart was hammering against my chest as I came up to the junction where I had to decide whether to follow my husband’s advice. Did I use a route I didn’t know well, or continue along the usual road in the hope that it might still be open for a few minutes more?
I indicated left to take the road my husband had heard was the only one still passable. And then, for some reason I still can’t really fathom, I changed my mind right at the last second.
I decided I would follow the small amount of cars in the queue headed for my familiar way home. It was the best decision I could have made.
As I edged along the road with the other nervous commuters, wondering if we might get turned back, brake lights began to illuminate in front of us. The river had indeed burst its banks and the water was rapidly rising ahead.
I did a quick calculation in my head to decide whether to turn back or keep going: where was the water reaching on cars like mine coming the other way?
I saw cars smaller than mine heading towards me and decided to just plough ahead and hope someone was watching over me. The car chugged along through the water, which by now was almost to the top of my wheels by my estimation and continuing to swell.
It seemed like an age before I realised we had got through. A few cars behind me, I could see the police had now decided the road could no longer be considered safe, and they began to set up their roadblocks and turn people back.
I drove on in silence. I reached home at the same time as my frantic husband, who had driven to the road he thought I would be travelling on. He had been sick with worry to find out that the road had already been closed, and the police could not allow him through to look for me.
‘I have never been so glad to see you,’ he said as he rushed through the door. ‘I came to look for you, they wouldn’t let me through…’ I could see genuine fear and relief in his eyes.
‘Aren’t you glad I never listen to you now?’ I asked in a much wobblier voice than I intended.
We laughed then, despite ourselves and the danger of the weather outside.
The kids awoke to the sound of our voices, thankfully oblivious to what was going on outside in the world around them.
I was home, I was safe, we were together.
I was beyond grateful.