Every so often my father and I head to Bundaberg to help my grandfather out. Sometimes mum and dad go up and other times our whole family. We do his shopping and cook up a storm to make life a little easier for him. My father and I made the four-hour journey over the weekend. And with the floods having hit earlier in the week, we were more than a little concerned at what we might find along the way, but also in Bundaberg itself, which everyone saw has been absolutely devastated this week, so soon after the 2011 floods. Luckily my grandfather lives in an area unaffected by both the floods and the tornadoes which hit the area.
The thing that was in the forefront of our minds during the drive itself was looking out for potholes and worn roads. Thankfully on the journey up the Bruce Highway the road was in quite good condition, despite the sheer amount of water that had covered the major Queensland road in many places between Brisbane and the north of the state.
It was really when we drove through the outskirts of Gympie when we first noticed where the waters had been. The first hint was the dirt over the road, dried sludge left from the flowing Mary River. And then you looked into the flatter fields of grass and up into the trees and you saw more brown. One thing was clear: it must have been very high.
That’s what it was like the rest of the way to Bundaberg. It was not a constant thing. The waters, as they do, discriminated against the flatter areas of land and the valleys. There were however, some markedly high deposits of dirt on the sides of hills around the flatter areas nearer the river systems.
The other notable thing was just how much the water had receded. In most areas it was not a noticeable yet foreign feature of the landscape. And what was not coated in mud was a glorious shade of green, sitting proudly, belied what would have been the appearance of the landscape earlier in the week.
The journey took no longer than usual and before too long, we were in Bundaberg, coming into Kalkie. Coming the way we came we again noticed just how lucky some areas could be. We saw nothing remarkable as we made a beeline straight for my grandfather’s place.
Saturday was shopping day. We buy in bulk for grandpa and travel to a few different places relatively close to where my grandpa lives to make the required purchases.
Our first stop was Bargara. As you might recall, Bargara was hit, by of all things, a tornado. The ‘twister’ did some major damage too, ripping off roofs and knocking down trees and moving whatever else was in its erratic path. We saw some of this damage, including two yachts stranded on the usually quite tranquil, but then, empty beach. That’s when the gravity of the situation first hit us. If the damage from the tornado was bad in places, what would we see in the flood-affected areas we needed to traverse in order to buy supplies?
That question was answered as we headed towards home after visiting two of the local health food shops, both of which escaped flooding and were open for business.
We drove through part of Bundaberg East and began to see those familiar scenes we had spotted along the Bruce Highway. First it was the dried silt on the roads and then we spotted it higher and higher up into the trees. And then we saw dirt and high-watermarks on homes and businesses. I’m pretty sure our hearts’ sank at that point. I shed a quiet tear and I’m pretty sure my dad did too.
As we continued to drive, the amount of property damage became clear. There were piles of household items and other destroyed property lining the side of the road. I bet we were both thinking at that point: ‘if this is how bad it is in East Bundaberg, then imagine the horror of North Bundaberg’. As it turned out, we were on the same page.
As we talked later, we discussed how we felt about what we saw. My dad said that he felt like we were intruders. In a way we were, strangers witnessing people living through their own tragic horror stories.
Bundaberg is so important to both the Queensland and Australian economies. A thriving Bundaberg equals a thriving economy. To that end, all that can be done to rebuild, prevent and mitigate future flood events must be done.
The few sad scenes that my father and I witnessed will probably stick with us forever. My grandfather was alright and our family are thankful for that, but there are so many others now facing broken lives and dreams.
The people of Bundaberg are tough, a lot are smiling. But many will be hurting for a long time to come.