Whilst it’s true to say that in the early days of the current floods in Australia, we were hundreds of miles away …. all that changed last week!

I know that the situation in Brisbane, Queensland and the tragic deaths of 20 people have been reported worldwide, but locally the knock-on effects have been quite severe.    Due to the tremendous amount of rain that fell not only here, but especially on inland areas, the rivers and creeks have been swollen much beyond their usual levels. 

The Clarence River which flows through Grafton is an extensive East Coast drainage with many tributaries of differing size. Apart from the Murray River, it is the largest river in mainland Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The Clarence River’s basin is, together with the very similarly-sized Hawkesbury, Australia’s largest Pacific watershed south of Bundaberg.

The extremely intense rainfalls that typify the North Coast mean, however, that major floods can temporarily raise the flow of the Clarence to levels equivalent to some of the largest rivers in the world….and that’s what happened last week.

During the course of 24 hours, the level of the Clarence River rose to 7.7 metres above normal and, considering that the levee wall protecting the city of Grafton is set at 8 metres ….it was touch and go!

When I took the photographs as the water was at it’s peak, the river was very fast flowing – it was reported that a volume of water ‘equivalent to that in Sydney Harbour’ was flowing down the Clarence River every hour.  Trees, bales of hay, branches, logs and other debris were rushing by, as the river coursed under Grafton Bridge towards the sea.

Some lower lying areas, including Ulmarra where we spent Christmas Day with Kay and Des, were completely flooded.  The residents had first received an Evacuation warning, to be prepared to leave their homes at a few hours notice, and finally the Evacuation Order was given for them to leave.  Curiously, residents are still given the option as to whether they wanted to leave or not, and as Kay and Des have been in this situation before, they chose to stay.  Fortunately, even though the level of the river flooded over many parts of the Pacific Highway (including at Ulmarra), the water stopped short of entering their house.  Thank God!

I’ve attached some photographs that I took down near the levee wall at the end of Prince Street, Grafton, and I’ve also attached some photos that Kay and Des sent me to show the extent of the flooding around their house.  You can see the sandbags have done their job!

The effects of 7.7 metres of additional water in the river can be clearly seen in the before and after photos attached.  Can you see all the seaweed and debris stuck high in the trees?  And the lamp-post that was almost completely submerged under the water near to the marker level at 7.7m?  What about the SES rescue boat floating high up on the slip road?  Ironically, the submerged building is the rowing club!

Aren’t they incredible photographs? 

We were very lucky.

The following is an extract from an email I have received from a friend who lives in Brisbane.  Her son, is a pilot for the Virgin Blue  airline, whose house was completely underwater at that time.

“He hasn’t been able to get near to look at his home and anyway, he’s using his two remaining days off to do volunteer flying of food and fodder drops to the country areas.

It was amazing to see that 55 thousand volunteers turned up in Brisbane on Saturday and Sunday to help out with the clean up – I didn’t know there were so many brooms in Queensland!”

During similar disasters in other countries, many people have turned to looting by this time.   What is so amazing about this disaster is the spirit of the Australian people.  Total strangers turning up and working tirelessly for other people they have never met before …. and when they have finished there, they go on to do the same next door.

The ordinary men and women of Australia are showing the world how we should behave when disaster strikes, by helping our fellow man.   

People of Australia …. I salute you!