This time of year in Australia is usually dominated by the fear of fire. Bushfires rage anywhere that isn’t desert and we watch the local fire services and the huge water bombers in action with a kind of grateful awe.
With horrible irony, this year the West is fighting fires, but the East is under water. A completely mind blowing amount of water. It has rained for weeks in the North East corner of our wide land, and I mean it has rained with almost no breaks, everyday for weeks.
Rivers are breaking their banks. A flash flood caught a whole town unawares with an inland tsunami. A major city is nervously looking at the nearby dam.
Seeing what the state of Queensland is going through right now (a state more than twice the size of Texas, about 75% of which is a disaster zone) brings to mind the mythology of The Flood.
Why is it that a tale of a great flood has such ‘cultural memory’, when stories of fire and wind don’t to the same degree?
I think it’s because there is something different about water. The way you know it’s coming (mostly) and the way it rises and rises and has such power.
Not only do fires and cyclones leave fewer survivors, they pass so quickly. But water spills over the banks of rivers and fans out across flood plains over hours, days and sometimes – when it just won’t stop raining – weeks.
And unlike fire or wind, it’s not so indiscriminant in the destruction it achieves. Buildings in the path of flood waters will all be damaged to the same degree more or less if they’re at the same elevation.
The heartbreaking thing about Australia’s current great flood isn’t just its scale, which will grow as the waters head south into New South Wales, and the lives lost, but that we’ve just come out of decade of drought.
In fact the breaking of the drought has also brought plagues of locusts and mosquitos. Not hard to see why people who couldn’t interpret large-scale weather patterns saw divine punishment in having so many calamities come one after another.
But leaving the writerly musings, and returning to the reality: Here’s hoping that no one else dies, that the rain stops and the water begins to recede as soon as possible.