Written for BA (Hons) Journalism Falmouth Navigator
Life in the heart of Australia is a dream for many. With golden beaches, endless blue skies, and temperatures to thrive in, life down under seems perfect. However for the Gaunt family, their lives were turned upside down when South Eastern Australian experienced the worst natural disaster recorded.
After a significant amount of rain between December 2010 and January 2011, three-quarters of Queensland were declared a disaster zone after rising water levels left more than twenty towns cut off by flooded waters. Triggered by Australia’s wettest summer on record, the rain left six river systems unable to cope as a result of the ongoing waterfall. More than 200,000 people were affected, many were evacuated, and a total of 18 people died as a result.
Among those trying to escape Australia’s flooding were the Gaunt Family, Bet, 65, and Ron, 70, who had both emigrated to Australia at a young age in the hope of a better lifestyle. With a family scattered amongst the suburbs of Brisbane, the Gaunts share a tight-knit relationship. One month on Bet recalls the events that have shaken the state of Queensland.
“I had never seen anything like it,” she recalls, “the rain just kept coming down, towns had started to become flooded and residents couldn’t return to their homes. There was a massive flood appeal to raise money for victims.
“Farmers were also in real trouble. They had been producing their first good bunch of crops since the drought, and then suddenly they had been lost. I felt heartache for everyone concerned. I knew this wasn’t going to be good for our economy.”
Causing damage to Australia’s economic state, shoppers down under can now expect to see soaring prices of fruit and vegetables for the next six months, as local farmers estimate losses of more than $800 million following the Queensland flooding. With more than 80 per cent of crops wiped out, and prices already at a record high of $6 for a kilo of bananas, wholesalers are expecting the price to double to $12 over the next fortnight.
As weather reports suggested Queensland would see rain for a further eight days, the rising water levels showed no signs of slowing down. With towns on the outskirts already facing flooding problems and a forecast that was not promising, hope for the Gaunt family to stay dry was becoming slimmer.
“It was like a scene from Noah’s Ark, but I was praying none of the family would get caught up in the disaster. It was so far so good for us all, but pure hell for so many people. We had all prayed for rain but we didn’t expect this much,” Bet said.
Moving closer to the city, reports emerged of the first Queensland death. Jordon Rice,13, was one of 18 to lose their lives in the floods. After swept away in a flash flood in Toowoomba, Jordan told rescuers to save his younger brother first, 10-year-old Blake. His mother, Donna Rice also died at the scene. Jordan’s bravery has been hailed throughout Australia, along with thousands of tributes pouring in from around the world describing him as a ‘true little hero’ and ‘an angel in disguise’. His brother, 16-year-old Kyle also paid his respects praising Jordan as a shy boy who would do anything for his family.
Bet recalls: “Waking up the next morning, I recall turning on the news and watching footage of the devastating floods that hit a town not far from where we lived. Hearing at least two people had died as they were unable to get out-of-the-way of a river of water that swamped the town with no warning was so sad.”
The town of Toowoomba was just 64 miles from the Gaunt family, and the water had swept through cars, houses and took people with it. In that area eight people were confirmed dead and 72 missing in the floods. Footage of people clinging onto the roofs of their homes all night because helicopters couldn’t get in until the morning were aired. Warnings the Brisbane river and Creeks could bring huge amounts of water into a radius of four miles from the Gaunts were also broadcast on Australian news.
A Noah’s Ark Experience
Living in a suburb just 14km from the City Bet recalls facing a similar situation, yet on scale that was far less disastrous than the 2011 flooding. After an exceptionally wet spring, most of Queensland’s river systems were nearing capacity, she recalls. After becoming hit by Cyclone Wanda which lead to 16 deaths and 8,000 homeless, river systems were pushed to the limits causing floods that peaked a scale of 22ft.
Bet said: “Water came up to our back fence, all the houses below us were flooded and some had water over their roofs. We helped evacuate and clean out their homes and stored furniture and other household items for residents affected.
“It was four in the morning, and I was woken up by our daughter ringing to say our granddaughter and her partner had been packing up their house since the early hours of the morning as the water at the nearby creek was rising rapidly. The only place they thought they could store everything was in our home so the question was would we take them in. Of course, the answer was a quick yes. We didn’t go back to sleep, but instead myself and Ron started clearing our front lounge, and garage for their arrival.”
Fortunately for the Gaunts, the water did not enter Bet’s granddaughter’s home, missing them by three inches. Houses on either side of them however had water through them, and their roads were cut off.
After the worse of the weather was behind them, Queensland’s clean up mission begun. With more than 75 per cent of the area affected, the infrastructure was in a catastrophic state that had been described as similar to post World War II conditions. Both the government and local communities all across southern Australia were needed in force.
“The floods really did bring the local community together. We were impressed by the way both our Federal and Sate Governments as well as local councils, and public services handled the whole situation. They battled on despite their own personal lives being disrupted and affected by the floods.”
“We all feel very lucky and blessed but it’s going to take a long time for Queensland to recover. The response from people is amazing and very encouraging. The latest figure released showed 5,000 volunteers went out over the first weekend after the flooding to help clean up homes and streets.”
“There have been a few very hot and dry days recently which has helped to dry out most of the water. I stop and think about what so many people are experiencing. However the Australian spirit remains high, and life down under goes on.”