Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brown River Rising

Splash! Johno and I cycled hard into the dip in the road, crashing through the water, then churning our now invisible legs laboriously. Sweat dripped down and off of my face, being engulfed by the mass of brown that lay beneath. Johno had a slight advantage until we began to rise again, and I moved up a gear, cutting down his space, pedalling for my life, and emerging cleanly from the water, victorious. It really doesn't get much better than this; adventure, companionship, physical effort and competition all in one.
Looking back to where Johno had just emerged, I was pulled out of my childish joy and into the existential reality of our current situation. On either side of the submerged road that I had just raced down were people's homes; inundated by atleast a metre and a half of water. These were just a few of the many thousands in Brisbane.
And to think that just the day before...

I awoke sluggishly, deciding not to run as a result of my post-race fatigue. After eating, reading, and lethargically dragging myself from the couch to the toilet and vice-versa, I found myself considering two possibilities. Should I just have a lazy one at home and try to recover (after all, my left soleus was still suspiciously sore), or should I go down to Chelmer/Graceville to see how bad this so-called natural disaster is?
Reluctantly, and with no confidence in the wisdom of my decision, I packed my backpack and cycled down to Mogill Road. Turning left, as I had done so many times, I cruised down this usually-busy throughfare that was now lifeless. After cresting a small hill and dropping into a dip, I glanced to the right, casually surveying the suburb as normal.
Whoah. I threw on the brakes and stopped at the side of the road, my eyes fixated on what lay past the curb. A lagoon had all but eaten the Road, playing fields, houses and a small carpark. Stagnant, lifeless and menacing, that body of water remained stubbornly in place; I had expected it to disappear after I blinked a few times.
On I cycled, sprinting into a deadend in the bikeway, engulfed by the flood. I navigated my way through Indooroopilly and eventually over the bridge, seeing the source of the pain. The Brisbane river, with whom I had become so well acquainted in my many hours of canoeing, was not happy. The current flowed maliciously below me, in a series of disorganised whirls, flushes and bursts. I was mystified, amazed, and (somewhat ashamedly) excited. For once, I did not have to seek out adventure; it had come straight to me. I forded an engulfed road, and pedalled up through Laurel Avenue. The trees which line this boulevard gave me that tranquil sense of familiarity, of being at home; however, there were cars everywhere, and people scuttling about busily. I was soon to discover why.
No one was at mum's when I knocked, so I headed down to where I was almost certain she would be; Darian's - on the river. Arriving at her grand abode, I was greeted by about five unfamiliar people, walking through her deserted middle storey and up the stairs.
"What can I take downstairs?" I asked her.
Looking frazzled and exhausted, she replied: "put the pillows in the other room, and take the furniture down-stairs".
I completed my tasks mechanically, and on the final trip down, looked out of the gate down to Darian's backyard. Violent brown current. Merciless liquid lapped against the top of the basement level.
It then dawned on me; Brisbane was flooded.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon crusing around, seeing Zander, Cate, and Charlie; and marvelling at the mass of water that had laid seige to the city. At this point, there was really little else to do. I rode to the beginning of Coronation drive in order to get to work, before encountering a police blockade - day off.
By the time I was heading home, Moggill Road was blocked to motorised traffic, and I shakily cycled over the bloated puddle in my way.

The next morning, I went out for my usual casual 8km jaunt up Mount Cootha. I was sluggish, reaching the top in one of my slowest ever times. From the lookout, the sun shone brightly into my eyes, reflecting its golden presence in Rocklea and Graceville in the distance. These two lakes shimmered contentedly in the early sun, giving little indication that they contained the homes of fellow humans. As I ran down the hill, I stopped periodically, forcing back tears. The weight, the reality of the situation was rising within me, as I realised what this would entail. Obviously, it is not within my value system to invest my sense of identity in any material object. Even though the people who lost their homes had done exactly that, that does not change the amount of pain that would put them in. They have lost part of their self.

I rode to Darian's to survey the mess. Ten centimetres of mud on the ground of the second level; promptly I was recruited to clean out the garage. I had not expected this, but got to it almost straight away. Two fellas from accross the road came to help, and in four hours, we had relegated the mud to the basement level, hosing it and brooming it down the stairs. I was so happy to be helping someone.
I cycled to Zander's, where we sat around chatting for a while, before looking on at the carnage on the end of his road. That was when Johno proved that you could cycle through water up to your shoulders. I had to join him; we went through the dip, up to the island on the other side, then down into the immersed t-intersection at the end of Sandon Street. We turned left and left again, making our way up to the next island. We now faced another impassable dip, so we turned around, and I challenged Johnno to a race.
I went to Cate's where we watched the 'rolling coverage' for a while; then back to mum's house to sleep. As I lay in bed, I guiltily noted that this had been one of the best days of my life. I had run and then helped someone in the morning, chilled with friends around Midday, and then had an adventure and a race in the afternoon. There is not one more thing that I could have asked for today

Relatively early the next morning, I headed to Zander's so that I could help to clean his Grandma's. After breakfast and a bit of messing around, we cycled over. The door creaked open, revealing the interior; paintings were on the wall, couches on the ground, and cutlery on the kitchen bench. Someone was in the midst of living here. Nothing seemed amiss, until one looked down; brown floor; everything was stained. It was eerie, almost post-apocalyptic.
Nevertheless, we got to work, cheerily clearing the place of possessions, before sweeping and hosing the silt out. Five hours later, I took my leave, to fulfill the commitment that I had made to Darian to help at her's in the afternoon.
Entering, I found an army of helpers, forcing the thick mud out of her basement and back into the river. It had been more than a foot deep when they had got in there in the morning. I grabbed a large custom-built silt pusher, and got to it, shoving the sludge down a trench that had been bult to channel it into the river. I was nudging it hard, in an attempt to work off my massive lunch, sweating and groaning as I pulled and pushed. At one point, I felt a sharp object and a jab of pain pierce my foot. Thinking it wasn't serious, I didn't stop or look down for a while, until it started to really throb. Peering down into the inches of mud above this appendage, I saw a small, sickening stream of blood surfacing from below. Not good; but I worked on.
After a while, I became really concerned, so I headed to dry ground to get it cleaned. The whole of the skin layer had been pierced, and what I saw below was the fine mud infiltrating my live flesh. Delighted and disgusted, I raced to my mum's to get it clean. There, I had another huge meal, before sitting around, and eventually deciding to go back to Darian's to see if I could help some more. I hung around and swept water and mud for a bit (with my foot wrapped in two socks and a shoe), then cycling back to Chapel Hill. There, I gave it a much more thorough clean in the bath, losing a relatively large amount of blood (for the size of the wound) in the bath. It was surely not entirely clean, but I had given it a good dose of water and disinfectant, and was confident it would be ok.
So I went out for Indian with the boys, then chilling at the Taringa sharehouse for a while. I committed to an early morning at Lucas' dad's office, and so was keen to get to bed before eleven.
My foot did not get worse overnight, but when I awoke, I seriously debated whether or not I should be getting back in the mud. I made up my mind, and put on my feet a pair of socks, plastic bags, another pair of socks, and some volleys. I thought that I had built an impenetrable defence against the mud.
We got there after much backstreets winding in Lucas' brother's Lancer, to avoid closed roads, and went straight to work. We moved saturated phonebooks and calculators, waterlogged chairs and plastic trays; but the most enjoyable were the desks and cabinets. We kicked them appart, smiling and giggling, and carried them outside.
And then, I felt it. A pain rose slowly and surely in my foot as I continued to shift stuff, and pull up carpet, until it became severe enough that I couldn't walk on it. I loosened my shoelaces to relieve the pressure, and recognised this as a telltale sign of swelling. I started feeling faint, and getting cold tingles. Eventually, I knew that it was time to go. I was embarassed, as Lucas called his dad's attention to me, before being angered by everyone telling me to wash it. No, I thought, I had my chance at washing it, I just need to get to the hospital, have it cleaned properly and take some antibiotics. It wasn't their fault at all, I hadn't made it clear that I had been cut the day before.
One of the friendly employees gave me a lift to the Princess Alexandra, as I realised that my part in the cleanup effort was all but over.
I arrived at the waiting room with no shoes or shirt on (having taken them off on the way over) and covered in mud; but I didn't really feel out of place. I felt sorry for the woman sitting near to me, who was emitting the worst cough I had ever heard, and asked the nurse whether it was advisable to live on the street for six months in her condition.

I was eventually called in to see the nurse, and then the doctor, before being administered with a tetanus shot and an x-ray. As I sat waiting for the doctor to return to clean the wound, I noted the harsh sterility of the hospital, and wished to leave as soon as possible.
She gave me local anaesthetic (after I had, at first, declined, and then folded to her suggestion), and then scrubbed the hell out of it. A miniature hosepipe, attached to a bag of saline fluid, was then shoved deep into my foot, in order to get the remaining dirt out. I felt an odd sensation, but obviously no pain; it was as if I was cheating.
After an unexpectedly long time, it was finished, and I went to the waiting room, where I sat for a while chatting to the other people, looking forward to receiving my antibiotics and getting the hell out of there. Finally, at about 3:30pm, I left, having spent just over four hours within the walls of the Princess Alexandra Hospital. I grabbed a cab, picked some antibiotics up, and just had enough money in my account to pay the driver when I exited on the edge of the city.
It was then a geriatric, vagrant hobble to the train station, and an hour's wait in King George Square before I was able get back to mum's house to round out an eventful few days.
Well, atleast I can now say that I was affected by the 2011 floods.

No comments:

Post a Comment