Danger Ranger Diaries #3 - When the Humble dingy becomes Noah's Ark
I know we were all desperate for rain during and following the 2019-2020 fire season, but I think we may have overachieved with the rain dances people. Yoga is a safer option. Or even a good old fashioned interpretative dance. Less rain inducing and definitely popular in this neck of the woods.
I’m thinking that in the future, perhaps we need to wait until Noah has made himself available again because much as I respect the humble dingy, even the fishing-obsessed northern rivers region didn’t quite have enough to cover things. Admittedly they were literally life savers, and most beloved by the commercial tv networks who do enjoy touring emergencies and disaster areas without proper supervision.
Though in all seriousness, everything still feels very surreal. I haven’t yet accidentally driven to my old unit in Lismore on the way through from work, but I know it will happen. The water got to 1.5 metres high in my unit, there is nothing there but a gutted shell and a pile of that which couldn’t be salvaged. Even still, habits die hard. I think the only thing stopping me are the sobering scenes as you reach the edge of Lismore where you drive along streets lined with piles of people’s belongings that continue to be sorted and removed weeks after the floods.
In a new daily ritual, ADF personnel separate the white goods and stack the mattresses then excavators and dozers scoop up the remainder of people’s lives and dump them into large trucks and giant skip bins. Intermittent piles are left, cordoned off when there is fear of asbestos or toxic substances. The same for sunken and leaning houses, not to mention those completely relocated. It’s now a depressingly simple waste removal exercise. They’ve ceased to be personal belongings for all but those who once owned them. I know I can’t be there when they remove my pitiful pile. I’m okay, but that would be one emotional step too far for this little Ranger.
I now have a 3hr round trip to work each day so I’m ripping through the podcasts and audio books, but as soon as I hit Lismore I turn it off. My brain can’t focus on driving, listening and dealing with the mix of emotions I get when I travel through my former community. Because it really is just that. Former, was, previous, before, not now. Instantly, literally overnight. As much as Goonellabah and a few small pockets down the hill were okay, the rest is just…well, done/gone/empty. At least for many, many weeks to come. It almost feels like attending a wake when you drive through. So yes, podcast off, respectful silence and some sober reflection – at least I was safe, at least I’m only a renter, at least I was insured, at least a few of my things survived. Most were not so lucky.
Some of my immediate colleagues were hit by the floods way harder than me. Hearing them talk about being rescued from their roofs, watching their beloved animals drown in front of their eyes or walking away with only the clothes on their backs, their dogs, and their phone. I am so, so, so lucky. I have nothing to complain about. I only lost things and memories, not lives and loved ones, the two legged and the four.
I want to take this opportunity to speak also about my colleague’s family members and friends. In such small communities, many are local SES, RFS and ADF Reserve personnel. Many were in the middle of the search and rescue operations. They knew their houses were going under and continued to help others. They knew their colleagues, friends and families’ lives were at risk and they continued to do their roles. They copped abuse from scared, angry people, had tv cameras shoved in their faces and continued to do what was expected. These are not stories for the media, as much as live footage was broadcast to the world from those benevolent media helicopters. They are community stories. They are the foundation for rebuilding these regional communities. I am blessed to know and work with many such amazingly strong and wonderfully positive people who can experience such disasters, be they floods or fire, and continue to get up every morning and, not only get on with things, but continue to help and support others.
More personally, I’d first and foremost like to thank my wonderful Dad who dropped everything to rush down from Brisbane as soon as the water surrounding my families neighbourhood finally went down. I was stuck in Melbourne unable to get a flight home so he came to the rescue. He juggled early morning meetings with trawling through the mess of furniture and things strewn around my little unit by the flood waters. He piled boxes of heavy sodden belongings into the family scooby-do van (we have Great Danes, and yes a bright green scooby-do van) and unloaded them at the other end into my grandparents garage which eventually looked more like tsunami aftermath than a garage. He did this countless times a day, all in the still pouring rain. He even tried to separate out those things he knew I would be most upset about losing and using every outdoor covered area set about creating a makeshift market bazaar of semi-sodden-trying-to-try-things…on-lines.
I also want to thank my amazing Ranger family who came in force to lend my Dad a hand and even helped the poor little old lady living next door who lacked such a formidable labour force. Matt Wiseman, Allan Goodwin, Steve King and Richard Greenhill – you’re absolute legends, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
…that said, there really are no secrets anymore. I mean, what can you hide from colleagues who’ve helped clean out your bathroom, bedroom and entire house of every single item. Without you present. Yeah, just dwell on that mortifying thought for a moment! And to add insult to injury, my Dad and my colleagues met each other, without me there, with ample space and time to talk and even share stories. When I messaged my Dad in anticipation of said unsupervised conversation, stating he was not to believe anything they said, his delayed reply was –“They got a couple of stories out of me – couldn’t help it.” What exactly is that supposed to mean?! No wonder I drunk so much wine in Melbourne!
Which brings me to a very important thank you – my best mate. She and her family where the poor buggers hosting me in Melbourne and watching on with equal horror as the news revealed the extent of the floods and my new reality. My trip was meant to be a proper holiday on the coast with my best mate, great food and wonderful wine as a short break before the final four-month push leading into the expedition. It was still a great catch up with my best mate, but the stress and anxiety of what was happening at home did not make for restful sleep or great conversation. What should have been fun and gossip filled meal outings where more often interrupted with phone calls from home or spent organising what I should buy in Melbourne given what I had likely lost at home. So even though she will say it is unnecessary to say thank you, it isn’t, you deserve a massive thank you for stepping up as a true best mate when I needed you most. Who else is going to know that at such a time there is nothing like beach walks, trashy tv and chocolate to make everything okay…or at least you can pretend everything is okay anyway!
Given this exceptionally long post, the expedition updates from the trip to Melbourne will now take the form of Instagram posts (thank gosh I hear you all say, at least it limits word count!) so look out for these over the next week. So too will come more info on how you can help and get involved with the expedition.
As for work, well let’s just say that such volumes of rain and deep volcanic soils on steep slopes makes for less than passable roads. Fingers crossed the forecast heavy rains in the next couple of days are on the conservative side of the forecast. Take care out there everyone, and may I suggest putting your most beloved items on the TOP shelf, just in case.