Fri 14 Jan 2011

All proceeds to the Premier's Flood Relief Appeal. To donate directly, phone 1800 219 028 or visit

Welcome ladies and gentlemen (fanfare please!) to the Brisbane Flood Tour! Children under 5 not admitted. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage!

Ashamedly, it felt like that at times. But more on that later.

Being not only a passionate photographer, but a passionate photographer of severe weather, I was torn in two about taking photos of this event. I was very keen, but the last thing I wanted was to be a hindrance to those working so hard to help those in need.

Actually, while we're on it, let's get this out of the way now. There are many who have lost so much. My heart genuinely goes out them. Any issues I might have, pale into laughable insignificance in comparison. (Remembering that from time to time helps me to readjust my focus and my perspective.) I hate that that's how it is, but that's how it is. I can only describe my own experience and the following falls within that context. Thank you, moving on.

Well, yesterday morning I'm afraid my curiosity got the better of me. But I still intended to be mindful of others.

My first task to that end was to rise early. After just 2.5hrs sleep, rising early didn't seem like such a hot idea. One self-inflicted kick up the hole later, and I was on my way, arriving at Kangaroo Pt around 6am. A crowd was already gathering, adding to the usual stream of joggers and poodles.

A regular crowd shuffled from viewing location to viewing location, like we were on a bus tour. I kept running into the same people, whose ideas I clearly shared of starting at point A, hugging the waterline, and seeing how far I could go. At times, I felt like a sick tourist, almost treating the flood as a caged animal to ooh and ahh over (if only we could cage it). Shockingly, I found myself wandering down a street... nup, no water down that one... next one. It had become a show. A curiosity. Without the constant feed of images and stories of heartbreak, or the warnings of worse to come, or the dreaded announcements by our country's leaders, it was just me and the flood. With no immediate threat, there was no danger. Just a once-in-a-thirty-seven-year freak show of nature to watch, and to marvel at, and to contemplate.

Then I'd be yanked back to reality by a worried looking man on a mobile phone, asking me respectfully if I could please take my photo of his sandbagged building from a little further away. I snuck off ashamed and photoless.

After a constant feed of drama and catastrophe on TV and radio for the last three days, walking the actual streets was another world. Because of the power cuts and business closures, the city centre was eerily quiet. Narry a sound was heard besides the respectfully subdued whispers, the occasional generator and the TV choppers, which were so continuous as to almost cancel themselves out. Kind of like when you fly. And when you're close enough, the perpetual rushing of water from a raging river that has come to reclaim some of her land.

Besides the obvious inundation, the speed of the river is difficult to communicate, even on TV. I'd been watching it from the comfort of my lounge-room for days but was still surprised when I saw it with my own eyes. I then appreciated that the news commentators have the almost impossible task of communicating the unpredictable nature of the river's fury. Who'd have thought that out-of-control boats would be floating downstream, or that a restaurant would be ripped from the bank smashing into bridges on its way out, or a 300 tonne section of walkway, which was heavy enough to prompt authorities to close the Gateway Bridge, concerned for its structural integrity in the event of a collision? I walked quite a distance today, if I do say so myself, but even after hearing of powercuts in the CBD, and of fine sunny weather expected, I took one bottle of water with me, not realising until later that I would not be able to buy food and drink in the city. A pathetically tiny example, but an example all the same.

Once something is occurring, it's usually possible to mentally put a handle on it. What I hadn't considered was the seemingly limitless scope of what might happen, and consequently, why it's important to not get too close. Did anyone consider for a second that a simple rise in water level might snap an entire restaurant from its moorings and send it hurtling towards who-knows-what?

If I learned anything it's that while there may be a number of elements we can predict from this unfolding disaster, there are many that we cannot. You don't know what you don't know.

Finally, while spectating may not be helpful, curiosity is not only a perfectly normal human reaction to such a rare and bizarre occurrence, but a thoroughly expected one. No-one likes a rubber-necker, because no-one is willing to admit they are one. Today's onlookers covered a very wide demographic, hopefully illustrating that humans never lose their curiosity. As was observed on more than one occasion, "you don't see this every day," and one can hardly be blamed for wanting to witness it in person. These photos will one day be shown to thousands of grandkids. I wasn't going to broach this again, but of course, I am afforded the luxury of this contemplation because I have a warm bed to sleep in. Many do not.

These images represent just some of the area around the CBD and Kangaroo Pt. This scenario is repeated in so many suburbs, and in many cases so much worse, and so much more personal. According to the Courier Mail web site, nearly 26,000 homes and business have flooded with another 3,000 in Ipswich. Not to mention all the Queensland towns that have been not only affected, but completely destroyed. Flooding is now also occurring in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. While the water level in Brisbane may not have reached the 1974 height, the national scale of this disaster is unprecedented.

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All photos and video taken between 6am and 1:30pm on Thu 13 Jan 2011.