Thursday, January 13, 2011

Not a drop to drink: Thoughts for Queensland

He edged the car back into traffic and we headed towards the river, following the bend around to Coronation Drive and down to Toowong, Taringa, Indooroopilly. We crossed the Walter Taylor Bridge to Chelmer, Corinda, Oxley, by which time I had eased myself down so that my cheek rested on the shoulder of the passenger seat. I looked out the window at the world moving past, keeping watch for a ghost in a black, crepey dress and thinking about the first time my father picked me up from school. When he said, “Hey there, bud. You okay to come to work with your old man?” and I said, “Yeah!” - not knowing what to expect, not caring what might come, trusting that all was well with the world.

That's the last paragraph of my short story, 'My Yale and My Harvard', which appeared in the Listener last week. This week, most of the Brisbane suburbs mentioned are underwater.

I lived and worked in Brisbane for three years, most of that time on the banks of the Brisbane River, so the images coming out of there (both through news outlets and friends on facebook) the last few days have been both familiar and otherworldly.

Photo credit: Matt McDermott via Facebook
It was interesting, also, to watch Premier Anna Bligh become choked up at a press conference today. Bligh was Treasurer for part of the time I worked for the State Treasury and she had a reputation for being hard-nosed and no nonsense (admittedly this could describe most Queensland politicians, especially the females who have to play the big boy's game and play it better to get just as far). The irony, of course, is that when I was working for the Government just four years ago they were pumping billions into water: dams, weirs, pipelines, desalination. South East Queensland was bone dry after years of drought (and denial: see my short story 'More Great Solos for Clarinet' for a taste of this).

The drought was all anyone ever talked about when I lived there, never the flood of '74 and definitely not 1896. Having seen the scale of the flooding this time around, I can see why a lot of construction activity in Brisbane in the eighties seemed to neglect the river. Some apartment buildings even face away from the river. This seemed ludicrous to me at the time, but makes more sense now. One wonders how long it will be before they construct another floating promenade.

A small, personal irony is that the original version of 'My Harvard and My Yale' was partly set in Christchurch. Then the earthquake struck in September and the Christchurch parts were jarring, wrong. So the Christchurch stuff was eased out leaving only Brisbane (and a brief mention of Auckland during the America's Cup heyday). Aucklanders: if you see a plague of locusts on the horizon, it's probably my fault.

For now though, the inundated and the dislodged are very much in the thoughts of the safe and dry, even if we can't quite fathom the extent of the disaster.  We will go on, not knowing what to expect, our trust that all is well with the world ever-so-slightly shaken.

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