We had an Australian weekend.
First thing Saturday we went to collect a barbecue we'd ordered. We didn't have one to bring with us from the UK and in any case we probably wouldn't have been allowed to without risk of fumigation and a to-do. We've survived quite happily for nine months without one, my friend having had a rather strange notion for a while that we might be the first people to come to live in Australia and not become barbecuers. Maybe it was memories of doing it in the rain in the UK or maybe he just didn't want to be like the Aussie Bloke in the corner with tinny in one hand and tongs in the other.
Then I received My Grill: Food for the Barbecue by (chef, restaurateur and TV presenter) Pete Evans for my birthday... from my friend. There had been a sea change. Within two weeks, we were driving back from Aussie BBQs in Murarrie with an enormous box on top of the car. It is a Weber charcoal grill: no namby-pamby, easy-peasy gas for us – well, only in order to get the thing lit in the first place.
Afterwards, we drove to Lake Wivenhoe, along with many thousands of other people from Greater Brisbane. We were there to watch the release of, according to the Courier Mail, 1,500 tonnes of water per second from the reservoir into the Brisbane River as part of flood mitigation measures following the big rain of 8-11 October (see A bigger wet).
The damming of the Brisbane River had been contemplated since the end of the 19th century, but the Wivenhoe Dam wasn't built until 1985. It is 2.3 kilometres long and 50 metres high, and has a concrete spillway section with five steel gates that are each 12 metres wide and more than 16 metres high. I have read a few times that the reservoir holds more than twice as much water as there is in Sydney Harbour. I imagine few people know how much that is, so I find it more helpful to know that the reservoir holds roughly 2,000 times the daily water consumption of Brisbane. Not that I know how much that is either, but at least now I have some idea when water supplies might run dry if there wasn't any more rainfall over Southeast Queensland.
The reservoir has a catchment area of more than 5,500 square kilometres, which receive an annual rainfall of 940mm. During the big rain, Maleny, a pretty little town in what is known as the Sunshine Coast hinterland and which is not far from the source of the Stanley River, the Brisbane's major tributary, received more than 400mm in less than two weeks at the beginning of October, breaking records that had stood for 60 years.
The reservoir was soon full to capacity after the deluge, necessitating a 'big spill' for the first time since 1999, hence the day tripping to see the action. The strong wind whipped up the spray and, even though all the gates weren't fully raised, the water swirled and tumbled furiously down river, flooding beyond the designated channel so that trees stood with their lower trunks submerged.
The water release coincided with a high tide, so several inner suburbs of Brisbane were put on flood alert. The increased volume of water from rain and spill meant more debris than usual was being carried downstream, and ferry services in the city were suspended for several days.
To get to Lake Wivenhoe, we drove from The Gap (in northwest Brisbane) through the Brisbane Forest Park, an area of high hills and bushland that, in brilliant sunshine but also fierce wind, was uncrowded and very agreeable – below are the views north and south from McAfees Lookout, named after the first settlers in the area.
We drove through Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious, highland hamlets that felt remote and much further away from the CBD than an hour-or-so's drive. The descent to the lake on the other side was twisty and steep. This being merely an afternoon's jaunt, we headed straight for the dam, but there is no shortage of recreational opportunity here, with camping and picnic areas, a walking trail, boats for hire and birds to watch. I was surprised but delighted to learn that fuel-powered boats are not permitted on the lake. Which means no jet-skis, one of the most environmentally irresponsible and irritating gadgets ever invented... in my humble opinion. After our queue-and-view at the spillway lookout, we drove across the dam before looping round to Lowood and back on to the Brisbane Valley Highway, and taking the Warrego Highway and the Ipswich 'motorway' (one of the most speed-restricted roads around at the moment) back into the city.
Sunday is run-day, but not content just with that, we decided to go cycling bayside – which provided another photo-opportunity for recently acquired equipment (the bike carrier).
Bayside refers to all those places on Moreton Bay where would-be Brisbanites who can't face living in the inner city buy homes. (That's not quite fair: onshore breezes and bay-and-island views have attracted people since Brisbane's early days.) They include Redcliffe and Brighton and Sandgate and Shorncliffe north of the Brisbane estuary; and Wynnum and Manly ('No, Mum,' this is Manly in Brisbane, not Manly in Sydney,' one woman explained to her elderly mother as she wheeled her along the prom) and Cleveland and Redland Bay to the south. Roads head out east from Brisbane's southern suburbs to these coastal havens – so the Wynnum Road goes to Wynnum and the Old Cleveland Road goes... you guessed... to Cleveland.
We live very close to the Wynnum Road, so off we went, wary of low bridges. And we did indeed come across what must be one of the lowest in the whole of SEQ as we wended our way through Wynnum to the sea. We cycled along the esplanade pathway – now on the lookout for out-of-control toddlers or smalls on scooters – from the breakwater at Wynnum, through Manly, as far as Fig Tree Point in Lota. And – after all that rain – it was sunny and warm with just the right amount of breeze for the boats in the bay.
And then, tired but content, in beautiful early-evening light we drove back to Bulimba for our first barbecue at home.
We need more practice. Will La Niña permit in the coming weeks, I wonder?