Last week I was in Brisbane, with my family. I grew up in south-east Queensland, a stones throw from the Brisbane River in the western suburb of Riverhills.
So as the rain fell, and the water smashed its way through Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley and into Ipswich and Brisbane in such devastating fashion, we were there watching on, trying to make sense of it all.
In a strange way, though Brisbane is home, it’s also not. We moved from Brisbane itself nearly 13 years ago now, so it’s been a while since we lived there.
Nontheless, like millions of others we were awestruck by the water, the damage, destruction and loss of life (notwithstanding the almost hidden story of over 600 deaths in a flood in Brazil in the same week) in last weeks flood event.
I’m not ashamed to say that as we sat and watched “our town” pushed to the brink, that I shed a few quiet tears, feeling for those who were living through the loss of so much that mattered to them. As we drove through our childhood suburbs later in the week, that feeling was magnified even further. “Our” house was spared, water stopping at the footpath, while those of our childhood friends and neighbours were completely underwater, as were many of the local neighbourhood haunts that had been our home all those years ago.
It was a scene of devastation, and that’s in an area not subject to the powerful currents and flash-flooding seen elsewhere.
And then we had a chance to get out of town, to go and visit friends in Boonah, the small country town we left a few years ago to move to Tasmania.
We moved to Boonah to work with an outdoor education organisation, running camps and programs all around Lake Moogerah. When we first arrived in Boonah, the lake sat at 30% of its capacity. Over the next six years it never rose above that mark, dropping as low as 0.5% at one point, and almost always below 10%. In all the time I paddled, walked and explored the lake and its surrounds, I could not imagine it full.
This week I drove to the carpark at the dam wall, and was confronted with the amazing site of a water storage at (or above) it’s capacity. And as I opened the car door, a most unexpected sound of rushing water filled my ears. More than metre of water poured over Lake Moogerah’s spillway and down Reynold’s Creek, through the gorge that we spent so many days exploring with groups of young Queenslanders.
It was an amazing sight. Astonishing. And beautiful. The lake filled to the brim. Long dry gullies being flushed out, the lake bed that we dragged canoes across to find once distant water now metres below the surface.
As I stood on the dam wall watching the water cascade into the creek all the memories of those years came flooding (sorry) back. Friends and colleagues I worked with, young people I met, experiences shared. The water was a powerful symbol.
And again, I shed a quiet tear, standing just above that raging torrent.
We have all been reminded this week by events close to home, that water is powerful. It might fall a drop at a time – either from the sky or the eye, but it is powerful.
Like many, I don’t know that I have made sense personally of all that unfolded across Queensland (and then Tasmania, and now Victoria) in the last few weeks.
I dare not theologise about it all.
I only know that sometimes the rain falls.
(If you’d like to help those caught up in the flood, donate to the Uniting Church flood relief appeal)