On the morning of Friday I played golf with Dad. It was a pleasant morning, and the weather, which over the previous month had been inclement by Toowoomba standards, held off, making for an enjoyable walk. In the afternoon, it began to rain.
All through Christmas day the rain continued, never thundering down in the way to which I had become accustomed growing up in the tropics, but unrelenting nonetheless. Boxing day was, if anything, more inclement, with the rain at times increasing in intensity. I love the rain, but come the 27th, I was becoming itchy with being trapped inside. I have the tendency while visiting my parents towards the sendentary lifestyle, reading books, watching cricket (a function of the times of year at which I tend to visit), and tapping away on my computer (the latter a vice not specific to Toowoomba, it has to be said).
By the afternoon of the 27th, though, the rain had eased, and we ventured out to inspect the consequences. Gowrie Creek was brown and angry and running at speed, but did not seem to have broken its banks, or at least not with consequence for drivers. Further out towards Meringandan, the waters encroached further and further onto the roads, until we turned around as the rain began to fall.
Later in the day, we headed west, out towards Biddeston, along roads flanked by natural gutters awash with rushing brown water, bursting out to flow across the road every few hundred meters in its rush to find lower ground. After a while we stopped at a what had once been a small creek, that had exploded into a great sea of water, more than a hundred metres across. The bridge, guarded by a police car, had a great roaring brown race of water rushing under it, emerging out the other side in great waves that wrapped viciously around a hapless telephone pole. There was an old four-wheel drive in the middle of the torrent, washed half of the road and pinned against a railing, clearly abandoned.
Two days later, and under the bright sun and brisk wind that I have always associated with Toowoomba, we headed out for another drive, starting along the same route. The water was gone, the impromptu creeks that had appeared were gone. The evidence of the flood was there, though, in the crevasses carved by the water, in the crops laid down by the rush and covered in with silt and debris. The wide and raging creek had receded to its more habitual 4m width, although water still rushed through. For hundreds of meters beyond, one could see the debris and distressed crops where the water had spread, but it was still hard to believe that less than 48 hours earlier it had been a rushing lake.
We drove on, down to Brookstead. We had hoped to see the mighty Condamine in full force, but we were stopped several kilometres short, behind a Victorian family towing a car, and a barrier blocking further access. After a few minutes a police car pulled up, and told us that the bridge was out, and that they were stopping traffic at Brookstead to prevent further damage to the road. I have to say I was disappointed. I have always heard of these great Queensland rivers - Condamine, Bulloo, Paroo, Coopers Creek - that terrorise the west as they alternate between trickling or even buried rivers during droughts, and great rushing, sprawling inland seas that isolate and inundate towns during floods, but I haven't seen them, or if I have it has been at their most unspectacular. It would have been nice to see one of the giants at its most angry, even just to say I've seen it.
So, thwarted, we turned and drove back. Like wandering tourists we picked small backroads to wend our way back north-east, driving through fields of cotton and grain sorghum showing the recent layers of silt and debris, the silt at times stacked in strata like slate. Out in the fields the water still rushed along beside the road, giving a lie to the impression of the land being flat. Every now and then we would slow, as the sunlit mirages floating on the road refused to give way to approach, and revealed themselves as swathes of water moving across the road. Once we sent Mum out as a scout to test the depth of a 50m stretch of water, but she walked across it Jesus-like, and never got more than ankle-deep. So we pressed on, past a field of sunflowers, not staring up gleefully at the sun, but gazing mournfully down at the gathered silt at their feet, and their dying lower leaves.
They say that the floods were the worst for some time. It is with a little guilt that I say that I enjoyed them - I feel reinvigorated in my Australianness having seen in flood lands that 2 years ago I saw in drought. I know, though, full well, that the reason for my enjoyment was that I saw them only as a spectator. Others were not so lucky, including in some ways, people I know. I can only hope that when the time comes for me to confront one of Australia's great natural disasters, I can show the fortitude and resourcefulness that they have.