In the days following Oswald weekend, evidence of devastation and appalling loss gradually became apparent. Many communities were isolated by severed communications, and flood waters took time to recede, so damage assessment was tardy. It is now clear that, for some regions, the impact of this natural disaster was greater than that of the floods of 2010-11.
Arriving home in Brisbane late last Monday night, we immediately spotted three mature trees felled within 150 metres of our apartment block, and extensive piles of branches broken off other trees that had remained standing despite wind gusts in excess of 100 km/hr.
Next morning I walked through New Farm Park, which was 'closed' as men with chain saws and giant wood chipping machines cleared away the evidence of Oswald's crazy rampage. I was sad to see the demise of one of the Park's fine Queensland Bottle Trees. I sat by the brown river waiting for high tide at around 11: it wasn't as high as predicted or the previous high-water line of debris. I noticed the same phenomenon I'd seen in 2011: the tide coming in at each side of the river as flood waters charged downstream in the centre of the channel. As the streams of water flowed past each other curious short-lived eddies were created.
There were, of course, no City Cats or cross-river ferries because of debris hurtling down river. How unnaturally quiet the river seemed, apart from the odd craft involved in the clean-up. Even tugs going upstream struggled against the flow. A seagull floated backwards midstream at considerable speed but seemed unperturbed.
The majority of Brisbane's citizens are not 'doing it tough' following ex-Cyclone Oswald: the worst most people had to put up with was a loss of power for a few hours. More badly damaged were upland communities north and south of the city such as Mt Glorious and Mt Tambourine. Further north in Central Queensland, things were much worse. Some residents of Bundaberg weren't even allowed back to look at the ruins of their homes until a week after the event. What they found was enough to break the strongest spirit.
Brisbane and the towns of the Lockyer Valley were not the only communities hit in the 2010-11 floods, either, although they garnered many more column inches. Then the region through which the Burnett River flows suffered greatly, as it has just done again. North Burnett is rich agricultural country, known in particular for its citrus trees. The mayor of the North Burnett Regional Council was already working with the Queensland government to help citrus growers hit by severe hail storms just before christmas. Now there are few trees left standing. More than 100 farms were completely washed away: thousands more have been substantially damaged and face formidable reconstruction of fencing and irrigation systems. The town of Gayndah commissioned its new water supply pump system just four weeks before Oswald struck: it was destroyed by the swollen Burnett River, leaving the town without water.
The extraordinary stoicism of the people of this region has to be seen to be believed. Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney toured the area – he represents the constituency of Callide and is Minister for Infrastructure and Planning – and stressed the need for a drastic rethink of rebuilding programmes for flood-prone areas following natural disasters. And I agree with him. Governments cannot fund reconstruction to the tune of billions of Australian dollars, only to have it destroyed two years later. I wonder if Mr Seeney is thinking what I'm thinking, however: that not only is it a colossal waste of taxpayers' money but that such extreme weather events will be more frequent in decades to come and prime agricultural land and infrastructure have to be better protected.
This post was last edited on 14 February 2013