On this date, five years ago, I was woken at 3am. Sirens were blaring down the road as the carpark of the local shopping centre was filling up with water. We’d spent the entire day before preparing for flooding, but there was a part of my brain telling me it wasn’t going to actually happen. This very early, and honestly scary, wake-up was proof that it was. Mum and I gathered the last of our things that we needed to (most we had already moved upstairs to our second level, hopefully well out of the flood zone if it happened to inundate our bottom floor) and left.
I remember being in tears, driving away from our house, because I sincerely had no idea what we’d be coming back to. I didn’t know if I would come back to a muddy water-filled cesspool, where so much of my house may have been damaged. So we drove out of our street, where the water was already lapping at our wheels.
We headed over to my mum’s boyfriend’s house, and tried to sleep for another couple of hours, unsuccessfully. Eventually we just got back up and walked back down to near our house, watching as the water slowly swallowed up the street in front of us. It didn’t come quickly – there was no raging water, no powerful waves, just a slowly creeping tide, advancing towards us.
By lunchtime that day, the water was halfway up our street, meaning it had risen at least two meters within six hours. We were told that high tide wouldn’t be till about three the following morning, so we were still in a state of questioning whether everything would be okay or not for us. Houses of people we knew had already gone under, and their possessions lost and ruined.
Luckily for us, the flood didn’t reach any higher than this point. Another 50 centimetres, and our house would’ve likely been under. We were lucky, oh so lucky. Unfortunately the daycare centre where I worked part-time was not so lucky. Late the next day, the flood waters left as slowly as they came, and we went into the daycare centre to survey the damage. It was awful. I walked through and cried, I simply couldn’t help myself.
The worst part for me was walking into the nursery sleep room, where all the cots were usually lined up in a row, waiting for sleeping babies to fill them. I walked in that day, and the cots were all on their sides, muddy and broken. We were met at the door by crates of blocks, floated down from the kindy room at the other end of the centre, by toys and furniture strewn about and holes in many of the walls. Who knew water could do so much damage.
The parts of the neighbourhood that were inundated by the flood had gone a nasty shade of grey-brown, mud left behind to spoil everything in sight. I don’t write this to wallow in the awfulness of those days, but rather to reflect, and remember the positivity that grew. Our community banded together to clean out houses and workplaces alike. We were the mud army, accomplishing what might have taken weeks, in just a few days. There was this sense of togetherness, that the horrible event had somehow tied us together. That Aussie camaraderie shines through, even in the darkest of days.
There were long standing repercussions, aside from the physical leftovers of the rising water. I had nightmares for weeks, and my anxiety flared up like you wouldn’t believe. I was almost twenty, but slept on a mattress on the floor beside my mother’s bed for almost a week – not yet happy enough to sleep in a space of my own. But times heals, and eventually we move past it. Five years on, houses are rebuilt and there are people who will not recall the damage. But there will still be people with scars from that day – physical, emotional, mental scars – and for those people, I write this post. I have not forgotten. I will not forget. You and I, we are survivors.