Editor's columnRobin Copeland

Land of drought and flooding rains

The Queensland floods crisis will long be remembered as one of the nation’s biggest natural disasters. The stories and images surrounding the tragic event are etched in our memories.
The rescue effort that produced so many acts of courage and persistence and the army of volunteers who descended on Brisbane and SE Queensland should restore our faith in humanity.
Like the tug boat skipper who averted a catastrophe by steering a 300-tonne piece of debris clear of Brisbane’s Gateway Bridges. The massive spans that cross the river near the airport on one side and the seaport on the other, had to be closed due to concerns the runaway structure would crash into the bridge supports (not dissimilar to SS Lake Illawarra bringing down Hobart’s Bridge in January 1975).
Praise was heaped on tug boat master Doug Hislop leading Premier Bligh to dub Mavis “the little tug that could”. One of many from all over the state who had done remarkable things, Hislop played down his new status. “We weren’t trying to be heroes. We were just trying to do what we had to do.”
Apart from shock at the death and devastation, there is another reason why the Queensland floods have so moved Australia. It’s to do with how much our lives are tied up in where we live and what we own and how awful it would be to lose everything.
For many, our life’s financial capital is represented in our homes. When all that is lost, as has occurred to literally tens of thousands since Christmas, there is first heartache and despair.
Then, when the adrenaline wears off and sober reflection begins, there will also be a desire to blame.
Evidence of poor planning, and the failure to heed valid calls for caution backed by hard science, has been exposed everywhere from the capital’s central business district to the suburbs and towns that surround it.
Equally exposed has been the fragility of infrastructure critical to the function of our society. Railway lines, roads and bridges have been washed away. The airport at Rockhampton was drowned. Even the Port of Brisbane was closed for over a week.
It will not be enough to simply rebuild. We must finally commit to being smart about how and where we build and accept that there are limits.
Meanwhile, the reaction of the community as the crisis hit evoked differing emotions. Even as people looked at the devastation of their own homes they continued to support others. And as in many grave situations, humour relieves tension.
One world weary couple in a local pub were watching the river rise. Wandering down to the water’s edge now lapping the verandah, hubbie dips his toe in the water. Mum laconically shouts after him, “Fer chrissakes darl … now’s not the time to take a bath!”
Robin Copeland