Sunday, January 16, 2011

Flood Ramblings

I have cried for a total of five minutes this entire tragedy. Only when I could not locate a dear friend for over 24 hours, I broke down and sobbed. Why can't I help them? I asked my husband. He just held me in the park and rocked me until I calmed down and smiled at the baby birds coming down to eat all the worms. Then I stood, brushed myself off, and kept looking.

I have danced a total of two hundred minutes this entire tragedy. I have listene to stupid music I always hated - bopping mindless crap and I have danced. I have swung my hips, I have smiled. My husband and I have gotten even closer, if that were possible. We danced every night we got home. We went out to eat and he ordered cake, which I would normally chide him for, but this time I told the waitress, "Bring him anything he wants! Boy has earned it!" He got icecream too.

There's more jokes than tears here. More smiles than frowns. There is a lot of looks of disbelief; first at the horror then at the kindness. The faces change so drastically in those few minutes of awareness. You watch their expressions change and you know, you know right then that they won't forget this sight - they will take this with them and they will be humbled. They look down for they cannot take the whole picture in any longer. Daring to cast their eyes slightly higher in search of the first tool they can find, they grab and they work - they work until their hands fucking bleed - because the sight of their cracked broken hands is more pleasurable than the sight of the town should they look up from their task. Nobody looks up for more than a couple seconds - it's too much. It's a lot of information and most of us just simply can't process it.

Today is day #5 for me, day #7 for the victims. I feel like an ass writing about my feelings because I am not hurt - I am not destroyed. I lost no friends, I lost no family, I lost no home - I am one of the happy lucky people. My feelings are not tragic. My feelings are not important. I can barely take photos of the places I come near because doing so just feels like show boating mockery. This is someone's home, you don't show the world how it's destroyed.

But I do - people need to see - see what it is they need to fix. So much work - can you see? So much. Please, come help. Bring shovels, pitchforks, hoses, strength, heart and love. There is nothing you can't bring. C'mon Aussies, Australia needs you.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Australian

The Australian

They came in droves to help the state

They came with bread and milk to wait

Until the water receeded back

So their hands with work they could crack

From mud and silt and rising tide

Queenslanders came from far and wide

They toiled and slaved and wiped their brow

Leaned on a broom and wondered how

All this could happen to the people around

Oh well, they said, we'll rebuild this town!

One man grabbed everything he had

And gave it away, not even sad

At the loss, the pain or even the houses

Nobody complained, they just hugged their spouses

So glad you're alive, they said out loud

It was what wasn't said that made us proud

With many hands they did the work

This was a job they would not shirk

For they were tall and they were strong

And they were Australian, all along

Among the backs of women and men

Came the relief in groups of a hundred and ten

Nobody cried for they knew not how

They just toiled and soiled and worked the plough

Deep in the mud as far as they could go

Wasn't a question, wasn't for show

They rebuilt this town from the bottom to the top

Until it was done, they did not stop

For when we hurt and when we're blue

We know we're Aussie, through and through.

-Elizabeth Costello

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Queensland Floods - Thoughts

I might make this private, I don't know yet.

My thoughts are muddled, I don't know what to think. Driving around the morning searching for yet another missing persons house hoping to see the roof and being unable. The only vantage point I could get was blocked off to me by police, who wouldn't even let me near the area to see. I came back to my husband, who I had dropped off to help the neighbourhood of Goodna as I did my search.

Together we cleaned. And cleaned. You are not prepared to see the inside - you're never prepared. The outside is bad enough - everything is brown up to a certain height, and then it's normal. It's like a moment of Kansas with Oz just floating above it. As I started washing things I started realizing they weren't dead. Trees were vibrant and green once given a little rinse; grass was long and bright once washed.

The inside, however, is shocking. Fallen ceilings look nothing like you think they will. Ceiling insulation swells and gets heavy and drops onto the ground in thick heavy sheets. Sheets that break apart easily but are so heavy individually. The insulation is completely indiscernable from mud. The entire house looks like it's covered in six inches of mud while it's just thick wet soggy ceiling materials.

Some things are just absolutely surreal. Bathrooms with part of the door on the toilet and the rest in the ceiling. Somehow, stainless steel tells the truth and while a steel teapot may be filled with mud, it's shininess stands out like a beacon in all the filth.

The things that survive surprise you. Large heavy objects completely distroyed while entire cabinents full of expensive bone china survive - every last piece. I gave two different women from two different home their entire tea sets.

The things on roofs surprise you - a fridge, a bench, an entire table still set for dinner somehow managed to make it onto a roof - cutlery, candlesticks and everything. 3 out of the 4 chairs managed to join it as well. You go up to all the neighbours and ask them politely, "Do you know who's couch is on #16's roof?" Nobody does.

The jokes make things easier. A man picked up a filthy telephone from the wreckage and says to me, "Hold the phone!" At some point I am raking rubbish out of the house and he says to me, "Give me more shit!" I reply, "Honey, I'm a woman, I can give you shit!" and he replies once more, "Well this'll be the only time a man takes your shit!" My husband shouts from another room, "I agree!" and I reply to him, "When did I say you could have an opinion!?" It continues like this for nearly the entire day. Jokes about installing full-size windows and waterfront property abound.

I have renewed faith in humanity. Neighbours help neighbours. Strangers feed and bandage strangers. A woman cried as she told me how she went to a shop to buy shoes and the shop said she could have anything she wanted, anything at all. She only took the shoes she came in for and even then, she could barely take them. Nobody denies help - nobody. They think about it for a second sometimes and you can tell it's out of natural reaction but they pause... they know their natural reaction in this situation won't help them at all - socially polite nuances of denying help are gone. Yes, help. Please, start here. Or here.

The thing is, each tiny little thing you do is an experience all in it's own - it's not all an experience. So when people ask you how you went, you really don't know how to answer. This part was excellent. This part was okay. This part was horrible. This part I pretended I didn't see. This part I can never forget I saw. All together? I don't know... it just was. It just was what it was.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Think I see Kangaroo up ahead....

When my husband and I spend time together, we like to do it in Mount Tamborine - the resort mountain area we went to when we rekindled our love at the ever-popular Escarpment Resort. On a popular Sunday when the spring festival was on, we saw an old bushman singing bush songs by a campfire. He sung a song that would stick into my newly Australian brain and never leave - Tenterfield Saddler.

Tenterfield Saddler is an old bush song, once made famous in Boy from Oz. It's pretty much reflective of it's title but has a good beat and that soft wonderful bush music type of trance you fall into when you hear a deep voice sing it to a banjo or a fingered guitar.

The song has stuck with me this last year as being something I like to hum when I'm feeling particularly Australian. I even play my CD containing it from time to time. I know all the words. One day while driving to pick something up I notice a sign - Tenterfield is only 220km away! In Australian distances, this is not far at all.
Yesterday my husband says to me, "Are we going to Tenterfield today?" knowing full well I really want to go - just to see a saddler. A four hour drive (turns out, it is through some of the worst roads in the mountains you will ever encounter) just to complete an old bush song in my eyes instead of in my imagination.

Well of course we're gonna go to Tenterfield today!

So we packed up the car and we went.

Tenterfield itself is a small town, filled with incredibly friendly people. I was quite surprised at how quickly you can pull a story from a local. They are proud and happy and willing to lend a hand. First on the list was food and second was the Saddler.

There's a real saddler next to the old one - which is filled with handcrafted leather goods made from local cattlery. Real Tenterfield leather made by the new Tenterfield Saddler. Oddly enough the real and new one doesn't have chicken killing cones. But I digress.
Now I'm sure you're wondering what all these photos have to do with Tenterfield. You see, there's this tiny little offroad that points with a brown sign to a place called "Thunderbolt's Hideout." Brown signs in Australia are almost always tourist routes, and we were tourists that day. Not ready to finish my adventure, I decided to traverse the old windy soggy roads to discover what, exactly, Thunderbolt's Hideout was.

Now my husband had heard of Thunderbolt but being a foreigner, I had not. So I was really surprised and, well, so was he. His knowledge of Thunderbolt was entirely from a line of MACK trucks designed by Mack for Australia's Bicentennial. My husband's boss once owned as his last Bicentennial (out of the 16 there are, his boss has owned 5) the Thunderbolt truck. Each of these trucks is worth between 800,000 and 2 mil, the latter being, of course, the Ned Kelly truck.

So here is the beginning of it all. Little brown wooden signs which give the impression of simplicity and commonality only to be met with grandeur and amazement. The signs are almost a deterrant; why would you want to go somewhere so modestly signed?

The bushwalk (which I use lightly as the rains had more than made the place a gorgeous rainforest with hundreds of waterfalls) was incredible. Jumping over gushing rivers which we later discovered were infested with leeches, we ended up at one of the most beautiful rock formations in the world. With many places to hide, it's no wonder this is where Thunderbolt chose to keep himself in most of his time.