‘Doing right by each other,
Is doing right by the Earth.’
(Trigger warning.) 🧡
The pelting rain on the roof in the last, dark hours of Monday morning the 28th Feb 2022, was one of the most disturbing sounds I’d heard in my life.
Common sense told me the low lands, the high lands, the river banks and catchments (already flooded in the previous weeks) cannot, will not, cope with more water.
The amount of rain falling from the sky was hard to to comprehend.
Water fell so hard it penetrated through the roof of my partner, Nick’s, place. Cascades of mini-waterfalls came through the ceiling and ran down the walls. Dissolving the mud brick into puddles of wet clay on the carpeted floor.
A tiny, shocking reality.
It was 2am. I had turned on the lights for us to stare in horror at the water running down the inside walls of the bedroom when the power went out.
We reached for torches and placed towels and buckets on the floor to mop-up and contain the water, and then got back into bed. Snuggling in close to one another until the sun came up.
I stepped outside at first light, and my feet sunk half an inch into the lawn. The Earth was soaked as if it had turned to liquid.
The rain had eased, but still fell. The sound of the creek raging at the bottom of the property filled the air waves, but not one bird in the surrounding forest sung.
The normal morning activity of bird life was non-existent. No sight or sound of the feathered friends. A tiny, shocking reality.
Nick and I put on raincoats and drove to the bottom of the driveway where we were stopped by an impassable river of water.
Crabbes Creek crosses the bottom of his rental property. On an ordinary day it’s about 2.8 metres at its widest. But this was no ordinary day. The once meandering flow of creek water had exploded into a full force river of over 70metres wide.
A sinking feeling raced down through my body to my feet as I stared at the fast flowing water. We were both gobsmacked.
I’d lived in this area for 25 years. It is a watery, oceanic region where rainforests meet the sea. Creeks, rivers and fresh water lakes cross the region joining together with huge swamp lands in between. This low-lying land is where people live and wild stock roam.
When the creeks and rivers swell on high-tide and the rain falls hard, our towns can flood in literally minutes.
We also have the second highest rainfall in Australia second to the rain forested areas of North Queensland.
I’d experienced floods from seasonal rain and we’d copped the edge of full blown cyclones, and all the consequences that came with it, but this, was not that. This was a new level of Nature’s super power.
Whilst we were on high ground, further down-stream properties had undoubtedly gone under.
Perilous events were unfolding on the other side of this 70 metre wide, watery death trap, but no power, meant no news. My gut turned feeling unprepared and helpless. What ever happened to our battery powered radios?
With no power came zero communication. I had no clue if my caravan home alongside the wetlands at the back of Mullumbimby had been swamped by floodwater. What of my possessions? How would I be if it was all strewn across the banks of the Brunswick River? Or could it have gone out to sea?
No clue of my neighbours in my little community on the land I lived. The property was surrounded by wetlands and creeks. I had no way of finding out. ‘What a fool I am to have built my camp alongside a waterway a year ago.’ I silently chastised myself. ‘I knew better.’
As I stared at the paddock-turned flowing river - my thoughts turned to all the creatures who undoubtedly perished during the night. Something so sad to comprehend, yet I was too dumbfounded to cry.
Suddenly a butterfly appeared and landed on a pink flower close to us. He calmed his wings to still as he drank the flower’s sweet nectar. ‘Where’d he come from?’ I wracked my brain. ‘Did he come out of his cocoon this morning you reckon?’ I said to Nick.
Nick shrugged his shoulders.
‘Where could it have stayed protected from that rain?’ I pursued the question.
‘Deep in a dry hollow,’ Nick said pragmatically. I liked that answer. Caterpillars the hardy, unlikely survivors.
By 2pm that afternoon, the brown floodwater that locked us in at the bottom of the driveway, had turned to bright orange.
‘The water is the colour of an Oompa Loompa!’ our niece declared with glee!
We shared a laugh. It was a relief to feel my sense of humour return. Yet the larger reality was far from funny. The orange clay had turned to liquid telling the story of tonnes of Earth slipped off the hillside upstream. (About 2 acres of the neighbouring property had slipped into the flood.)
Two adult nephews were flooded in with us, as well as my partner’s youngest daughter and niece.
We distracted ourselves by playing board games throughout that day, discussing from time to time our friends and family, and where they lived in proximity to water. We wondered what the chances were of them being in trouble. Ever present was the question. ‘Are they all ‘ok’?
The night rolled on with more board games played under gas lamps, and hot food and cups of tea made on gas stoves pulled out from Nick’s off-grid camper.
With lots of mouths to feed in his family, my partner always has a store of food tucked away in freezers and cupboards. But with 6 of us flooded in, the supplies weren’t going to last too long.
By the following mid-morning the flooded paddock had subsided enough to cross over the causeway, but only in the 4wheel drive.
Just metres from the outer entrance to the property the end section of the next concreted causeway on Crabbes Creek road, was severely damaged.
Locals were gathered to assess the situation.
It was comforting to connect with both the familiar faces and the unfamiliar faces of the people of the valley. We swapped stories of the past 40 hours and united in a common focus to solve the problem at hand: no access out of the valley by road.
A small crew on the opposite side of the causeway had already begun moving the debris with locally owned, Earth moving equipment.
‘Look!’ I pointed to Nick. ‘That’s the bridge!’
Two massive chunks of the concrete causeway had been lifted like sticks by the power of the flood, and lay awkwardly on the other side of the outer creek bank.
The mob on the other side shouted over the roar of the water, sharing news that the next causeway along was also impassable.
They explained with words and gestures that dirt lay piled up sky-high in the centre of the bridge. Dumped there by floodwater.
One of Nick’s nephews, Jharvi, got in and helped for the next few hours to rebuild the road on the first causeway, while Nick and his other nephew, Ki, carried bikes carefully across the part of the bridge that remained in-tacked.
They set off in search of supplies, eventually making it past landslips, heavily damaged roads and blocked causeways to the nearest supermarket 12kms away at Ocean Shores.
Unfortunately it is was shut. Apparently dozens of hungry, dazed and confused people stood outside.
A section of the Ocean Shores shopping centre roof had caved overnight under the weight of the water The hole was above the fruit and veggie section of Coles.
When Nick and Ki returned they reported on what they had seen of the destruction caused from the biggest flood in living memory.
Shop-freezers stuck under bridges, shipping containers lodged into creek-beds and others smack bang in the middle of roads!
Cars turned into pancakes, crushed between the elements of water on rock. Other cars and household items were lodged high-up in trees, relaying the frightening reality of just how high the water had risen at the peak of the flood.
People wondering around shattered by shock. They said that long lines of parked cars and people lined the sides of the highway on the highest hill near Ocean Shores, scrounging the air desperately for any sign of reception on their mobile phones.
Strange scenes of normal life as one knows it turned upside down.
Back home, my step-daughter felt unwell and tested herself for covid. ‘Positive!’ She declared.
Outside I noticed more butterflies appearing. I thought of Uncle Bob who belonged to the caterpillar ancestors in the Central Desert. I thought of his story of transformation, yet felt no resonance at all.
Birds were clearly not their joyous selves, but the butterflies looked as delighted by life as ever.
By the end of the day one local had shifted the sky-high pile of mud off the causeway further down with his own backhoe and re-parked it on the nearest causeway to us in order to recreate that section where the chunks of concrete road had been pushed aside by the flood.
I felt proud to know these country men and women who had the skills and tools to take serious matters into their own hands.
The priority was: access in and out of the valley for all, and they achieved it in a day.
With the road out of Crabbes fixed, the nephews took off in their 4wheel drives home, and Nick and I headed to Mullumbimby to get our niece to her dad.
Understandably she was anxious to see her father and sister, and her home.
‘That big bulge of land saved the house from flooding,’ her dad eagerly told us when we pulled up into his driveway. The ‘bulge of land’ was a large, human-made pile of landfill alongside the Brunswick River in Mullumbimby right across the road from his house. All around his home in Pine Avenue however, other residents weren’t as lucky.
The stories of people rescuing each other began to be told. Roads and streets in town turned to rivers. Anyone who had a ‘tinny’ in their back yard got in it and motored along the rivered roads and streets rescuing scores of people trapped inside their homes, or stuck up on roofs.
Some of the sick, disabled and elderly trapped inside their homes were terrifyingly preparing themselves to die when neighbours came to the rescue.
We drove to another friend’s house nearby.
As soon as I saw her covered in mud with towel underfoot in her lounge room and the signs of mud literally everywhere in her home, I burst into tears.
‘Don’t you start!’ she scolded. ‘You’ll make me cry again and I’ve cried a fucking river of tears already with my neighbour.
I mopped my face and swallowed me tears. ‘How can we help?’ I asked.
‘Alcohol!’ She cried.
Yep. We could do that. Or at least we could try.
Driving through Mullum the clean up had begun.
Unfathomable amounts of ruined household items, backyard items, business items, class-room items, school yard items, factory items, storage items, farm-yard items all starting to pile-up.
Destined for landfill.
The last bottle shop we tried in Brunswick Heads was open. It was nearly 5pm. A minute after we walked in the young woman serving at the counter had a full-blown melt down.
‘Don’t come in!’ she yelled out desperately at the customers about to walk in the door. ‘And the rest of you get out! Get out! I’ve been here all day on my own. I can’t do this anymore. I want to go home!’
Nick grabbed a carton of beer, I laid down the right amount of cash, said ‘so sorry’ to her, and hurried out to head back to Mullum to deliver the ‘medicine’ to our mate.
All the key-card facilities everywhere were out. No petrol, no food without cash.
‘Cash is king in the apocalypse,’ the words my brother said years back came to mind. Maybe they had sunk in? I had a stash of cash.
Then we travelled to the back of Mullumbimby to check on my camp.
Unbelievable. Although the ground was soaked all around, my camp was high and dry.
The wetlands surrounding my home had handled the extreme excess of surplus water. But close by, Mullum and Yankee Creek had been flooded in an unprecedented way.
I felt lucky and guilty at the same time. It turns out that it’s not until the water course of a valley are filled to sublime overflow, that the higher mounds of ground really emerge. My camp and the entire property where I live is indeed on higher ground. Just lucky.
Then I went to check on neighbours. Not so lucky.
I waded through what was left of causeways at the end of the valley, safe enough to cross on foot, but impassable by vehicle.
As I drew closer to the top of the valley at the base of the Koonyum range, I become more and more disturbed by what I saw.
The cuttings, the roads, the yards, the houses, the sheds, the trees, the creeks, the barns, high fences, gates and bridges, blown apart by the force of the water.
Frightened by what looked like a demolition had taken place, I sought out my old neighbours. They were in terrible shock.
One neighbour was just so angry. ‘I’m so pissed off, ‘ she simply repeated while shaking her head.
Some houses would have to be completely rebuilt including the old home I once owned.
Again there was very little to do except tell my friends I would be back to help when I was cleared of the virus.
It felt very unnatural NOT to be with all the people of my community helping from that point on.
All of us who were flooded in together at Crabbes Creek got sick.
During the next 7 days in isolation at my camp, the sickness crept in but thankfully only in a mild way. Still, I had no other choice, but to be alone.
To be still.
And feel the reality of being terrified of what Nature is truly capable of. And what more is Nature capable of?
The most counter-intuitive response was ‘stay still and rest’ in the midst of a National State of Emergency.
A few days later I called my friend from Kakadu. Mardarnyia was born on the land in another time, in another Earth orientated culture. One that lived ‘right’ according to Natural Law.
‘Is it the Rainbow serpent who floods the land when people are doing wrong by each other?’ I asked Mardarnyia.
He replied, ‘Mother Nature’s angry. We’re not listening.’ ……………
The terrible flood on the far north coast of NSW both shattered and united our community. We did ‘right’ by each other in so many ways putting months of differences aside about whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate and getting on with the massive clean-up and repair.
Unfortunately a year later, many people’s lives have not been put back together. Still waiting for insurance assessments. Still waiting for government to buy back what is left of their property. Still waiting for a new place to live. Still waiting for the healing that comes when one gets the chance to settle again and be still.
Whether or not we all continue to hold one another’s hands, stick together, be good to each other, look out for each other and listen together more deeply to the needs of the Earth, only time will tell.