My friend lives in Graceville, one of the hardest hit suburbs in Brisbane, and they got away with what they call ‘lucky.’ Only knee deep through the lower level of their home meanwhile the gym directly next door was totaled. The entire floor of destroyed cardio equipment lined up in the vacant lot next store ready for the tip, but not before an insurance inspection. The downstairs child care area which was once a ‘happy place’ is now just an open space of slimy, muddy tiles and surrounded by piles of rubbish that could be seen through the glass windows.
As I started writing this post the news came on and while I am ready to review the heartbreaking scene that is in Brisbane, photos of a destroyed Grantham and Lockyer Valley appear on TV, “how do I possibly start my review on Brisbane when Grantham is just destroyed?” The pictures of Brisbane that quickly follow put me back on track.
Today I was going to don my heels and head to Magic Millions but instead I traded in my heels and curls for gumboots and a hat.
We left mighty early with gumboots in hand and stopped at Bunnings to purchase gloves, where the lovely checkout chick charged us only $1- for $10 leather gloves… I wish I had purchased a tonne of them at that price! I thought 2 pairs would be more than enough… oh how naive I was.
Our friend was right, she did get off lucky in comparison with flood marks on neighboring houses at the roof line (of 2 level houses). Graceville Ave was already choccers with people at 8.30am so off we head two streets away to help a lady who had to literally wade her 6 children up the street as the flood waters rose; she had no time to save possessions. As we walked up the street I was in shock… piles of rubbish, no not rubbish – people’s possessions heaped on the curbside, literally taller than I am, at least 3m deep and as long as the eye could see. The lady we went to visit was not ready for us to enter her destroyed home to assist. As I peeked through the front door of the house (that they took 3 years to build and only moved into last year) all I could see was framing in the subfloor, the ceiling just hanging and missing, and holes in the walls and a pile of muddy mess to the left which was the “keep” pile. I have no idea how she was going to clean these possessions but I guess when you have a family of 8 and a destroyed house you need to keep what you can. In headed 2 men who were there to stabilise the ceiling, and they weren’t taking no for an answer, so off we went to help anyone else.
We only made it as far as across the road and were welcomed into someone’s mud strewn home with the words “come on in girls!” in which we responded by stepping through muddy ‘grass’, up the stairs and into a home full of strange volunteers. Our first task was to “chuck out” the entire kitchen. The stuff on the bench top was mostly slime covered plastic containers and odds and ends, but as we opened the cupboards and draws out poured bucket loads of muddy water. In no time we had left our emotions at the door and emptied the entire kitchen. “Should we move onto another house and give our assistance of speedy possession removal to one of the hundreds of inundated homes in the street?” we kindly asked ‘The Boss!” with which the home owner, Cathy, who I now feel like I have a strange connection with, responded “No my bedroom needs emptying if you would still like to help?” Now leaving your emotions at the door when you are removing someone’s pots and pans is, for want of a better word, easy. BUT it is IMPOSSIBLE to leave your emotions behind when you are requested to remove someone’s boxes of personal possessions from their bedroom. Boxes of letters and collectors coins were amongst the items I could not possibly be responsible for dumping on the street, even if they were waterlogged and illegible. We were on the second level of the home and I could not reach high enough into the cupboards to pull down water soaked blankets and buckets that were too heavy to carry on my own. I have no idea how the water possible was this high!
As we removed the last of Cathy’s possessions a group of young men came in to help demolish and carry the heavy stuff and that was our cue to move on. It was almost like unspoken jobs were given to us and when our job was done we moved on. Reading this back it sounds a little senseless but how could we be emotional when the home owner was as bubbly as a popped bottle of Moet on New Years Eve!
The second mission of the day saw us return to Graceville Ave which was a strange cross between the congested entry to Dreamworld on the first week of summer holidays and a demolition zone come tip. We headed into what we knew was an 85 year old lady’s house who was still in hospital. Her grandson rejected our offer to help but we couldn’t help but see they needed it, we stood there for a few seconds then another bloke said if we wanted to get grubby we could head around the back and help clean out the lower level. So off we went, this time almost wading through calf high, thick, sticky and STENCHING mud! I remember thinking “don’t tip toe through this like a girl, you have gum boots on and you are here to help!” And with that thought I strongly walked around the back until I was almost winded by an invisible wall of stink! The smell was sickening (and the mud was still wet, it will be horrific in a few days time with this 30degree heat!) Imagine the worst smelling horse and cow shed at the Ekka and times it by 20 – that was the smell. But I think I must have a good ability at blocking smells because before I knew it we were covered in mud, the smell only hitting us in occasional wafts. Another 5-6 helpers joined us and were carrying the woman’s late husband’s tools out the back whilst dodging flood water that was pouring from the ceiling above. We honestly didn’t think we could help clean up this thick mess but with all the helpers before we knew it (I’m talking maybe 1/2 hr) we had emptied the lower level and we could see the floor that was now ready for the guernie. I have no idea how this poor family would have done this on their own.
By now it was midday and cars were at gridlock in the street. Most of the houses were emptied on the curbside but the issue now was the mud and slush. The curbside rubbish needed to be removed so the mud could be pushed out onto the road, but what we thought were sightseers, were blocking up the road and homeowners were almost at tears because they were being hindered from progressing with their cleanup. Later we discovered that the main road was blocked and diverting hundreds of cars down Graceville Ave, logistically the clean up efforts are huge but this traffic diversion was to cause havoc for the afternoon I am sure.
We headed back to the home base and decided it would be best to leave for now and let the home owners get some traffic control under way.
The armies of people that were geared up ready to help anyone that would welcome them was just unbelievable. As we neared the motorway I saw the earth movers had started loading the contents of Graceville’s homes into trucks, gee I hope they made it to Graceville Ave and surrounding streets today.
I am glad I helped, I wish I had stayed longer. Cathy shed tears when she found out we had come from the southside just to help and although our little contribution felt as small as a needle in a haystack, I times that by all the other thousands of people in Brisbane helping and I know have made a difference. I am proud to have thrown myself into the tragedy I managed to escape to help bring a slither of light to those in need.
I only got a few snaps because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to take photos, these were people’s lives literally on the street and I had to respect the heartbreak they must be going through. The few snaps I did get will follow but unless you have assisted in the clean up, I don’t think pictures can ever describe the tragic scenes that now line our once beautiful Brisbane streets.