When Disaster Hits Your Adopted Country

January 12, 2011

in floods, natural disaster, Queensland

I’ve always had a sort of subdued reaction to natural disasters and traumatic events. Sept. 11 scared me, but it didn’t break me down. I didn’t feel a palpable concern during the 2004 tsunami that hit Asia or Hurricane Katrina.

But these Queensland floods are loosening something within me fairly immediately, even though they’ve technically been going on for three weeks. As I took the bus to downtown Sydney the other day, it hit me how sad the whole thing is, and how sad I actually feel about it.

The instant after I realized my emotion, I felt guilty. Why hadn’t I felt this way about anything in my own country or others that had suffered worse disasters? It’s not that I didn’t care.  It’s gone the same way with major personal events.  My idea was just to always plow through a thing and deal with the feelings later if necessary.

The floods are surely one of those “in your face” events like the ones mentioned above. The news constantly pops up on my Yahoo! page and I read status updates from acquaintances in Queensland and field questions from concerned family and friends who don’t realize I’m away from the danger. The only thing on the TV since about 7:30 last night has been flood coverage, and Brendan and I watch it with a mix of fascination and horror.

This area has experienced floods before, but as one person put it, “We’re not used to this happening at 20 locations at once.” People have died, more are missing and objects not meant to be in water are ripping down overfull rivers and newly created riverways. People have lost everything, people who were promised that their homes would be safe from floods for 100 years. And the floods have greater implications for the whole of Australia–more than 20 percent of Australian agriculture has been wiped out, meaning that fresh fruits and veg may be hard to come by for months. The water is contaminated and unsafe to drink in some areas.

Through it all, one thing I’ve seen absent is complaining. No one’s pointed fingers at the government or aid workers. People definitely seem devastated. But they don’t seem broken.

Maybe it’s something about Australia’s love of nature and how cruelly it turned on them. In a way, Queensland is the place you go to really experience the water: you dive at the Great Barrier Reef, sail the Whitsundays, stroll the beach in laid back Port Dougie and enjoy the riverfront in Brisbane. Maybe it’s the whole sunny, “no worries” Australian disposition that makes it so heartbreaking that Queenslanders have something so massive to deal with.

Maybe I’m just more in touch with my feelings since coming to Oz.

I have my up and down days with this place, but it unarguably has a spirit. A spirit of pride, love of country, appreciation of the outdoors and permission to have the best of fun. I hope it’s enough to carry everyone affected.

19 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Sebastian Junger

    “And the floods have greater implications for the whole of Australian–more than 20 percent of Australian agriculture has been wiped out, meaning that fresh fruits and veg may be hard to come by for months.” – Lauren Fritsky

    Not only will certain fruits & veggies be hard to come by, but those that actually make it to the supermarket shelves will be incredibly more expensive then the usual price.

  2. Lauren Post author

    Thanks, Sebastian. You’re absolutely right about the cost leap. It should be interesting. Better stock up on canned/frozen veggies.

  3. Caz makepeace

    I too cannot get over the spirit of the people. There is no complaining or blame. They are focused on helping each other and doing what needs to be done. They all seeem so grateful and optimistic. I think Australians are used to nature brigg brutal. We know she doesn’t discriminate and she will always hit us hard. We’ve just got to can continue to respect her and keep nothing forward.

  4. Lauren Post author

    Caz, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you being an Australian and knowing people in Queensland. And I think how you described it is what’s showing through in the media–people seem to be doing what they have to do. It’s touching to see, and I hope it continues. My thoughts are with you and anyone you know who is affected.

  5. Lauren Post author

    Thank you so much, Andi. Fortunately, I am deep down in NSW, so I am OK, but I know some people up in Brisbane and just feel awful for everyone up there. It has to be unimaginably scary.

  6. Amy

    I just came across your blog via a tweet on Twitter. After living in Queensland for 8 months several years back, it breaks my heart to see the misfortune that mother nature has brought residents recently.

    Like you, I haven’t always been moved by other natural disasters, but the flooding has me glued to the internet constantly looking for updates on Australia. It’s so incredibly sad.

    My thoughts and prayers are with Queensland and all the families facing the destruction and loss.

  7. Lauren Post author

    Hi Amy! Wow, eight months in Queensland. That must have been fantastic, and I’m sure it’s hard to watch what’s happening to a place you were in for a while.

  8. Lauren Post author

    Heather, we have not been able to tear our eyes away. And then they said more people died from the count they reported yesterday. I know you know people up there, so I’ll keep them in my thoughts.

  9. marie

    i just want to tell you that i stayed up till 6 am last night reading your blog from start to finish! i’m moving to australia in june to be with a guy who lives in sydney. i’ll be entering the country going on a work holiday visa as well, and your insightfullness has really inspired me to go full force into this new situation. there was more then once last night while reading your words and had to stop and just reread your words, because you really hit into the heart of things i am or have felt before. Your writing style is almost breathtaking. thank you so much for your words and im going to be an avid follower of your experience.

  10. Lauren Post author

    Wow, Marie, I don’t even know what to say to your kind words. Thanks, but sorry I kept you up all night, haha. Howe exciting for you that you’ll be here in a few months. I wish you heaps luck as you make your plans.

  11. Jack McClane


    I think you got the emotion right. We are Queenslanders and we are devastated what is happening not just in our capital city of Brisbane but also with our farming brothers and sisters across this wide land.

    My daughter and I went and volunteered on the weekend to assist with clean up and it broke our hearts but we didn’t hear one person complain. Their lives were sitting on the street. Water logged. Destroyed. Instead of tears and sobs we heard laughter and witnessed mateship.

    Queenslanders are a relaxed mob. We’ll rebuild and get to it straight away. It’s mother nature and she can be a cruel bitch when she wants to be. With 20 Queenslanders dead including little children it puts it into perspective that the property can be replaced. The lives cannot. It keeps it real.

    I am yet to write about the events of the last week or so. I don’t know if I have the words yet. I get choked up with emotion when I see the thousands of volunteers marching into hell to help out total strangers. I get choked up with every ‘Queenslander’ call I hear. I want to give this next post of mine the justice it deserves. I need to capture the spirit when I write it. I’m not sure I am that good a writer to do so but I’ll try anyway.

    On the first day of the inland tsunami I set up an info page to direct people to areas for donations and emergency services and council information etc and blasted twitter and facebook with it. I have also included some video and photos. Eventually I will close this post down but in the meantime if any of your readers want some images, then I have a few from within the flood zone. http://jackmcclane.com/2011/01/11/floodageddon-2011/

    It is so good that people like yourself, who don’t even call Queensland home have been touched by what has happened here. Keep spreading the word as this clean up is going to take a bloody long time!

    Keep up the good work with your blog. I love it.


  12. Lauren Post author

    Thanks so much, Brooke and Jack. Brooke, I know how you feel. I gave $10 in donation via the Post last week. I wanted to give more, but I have too many expenses right now, one of which is the visa we both know well. Brendan has discussed signing up to go there and volunteer one weekend, which is something I would consider.

    Jack, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. I know you just from social networking, but you seem like such a positive person. I know you and everyone else in your state will get through this. I saw the paper yesterday with the names and pictures of the lost–the ones of the kids broke my heart. My continued prayers.

  13. Sasha

    Thanks for the post, it really made it hit home for me. Being an Aussie abroad the whole disaster didn’t really seem like a reality even though I have family up there and I did a post on it myself. This post really reminded me that I’m an Aussie and those are my people who have been effected.

  14. Lauren Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Sasha. I am really sorry you can’t be with your fellow Aussies. I can’t imagine what it’s like being away while it’s going on.

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  16. Trevor

    I know this is about 3 years late, but I just want to say that, living in one of the areas that was fairly hard hit in the Jan 11th 2011 floods and helping with preparations is one of the things that really makes you put things in perspective.

    When you are walking through rising water in the main street of your town, a sandbag on each shoulder looking at the businesses and homes being inundated ahead of you, you find the only thing that goes through your mind is ‘That one is gone, that one is already under, maybe we can save the one 3 shops up where the water has not risen to yet etc”

    But it hits you really hard when you have lived in the town your entire life and you either know everyone or you know someone who knows them. I live maybe 30 minutes drive from Grantham, the small town where the flood ripped through with no warning and most of the 2011 flood deaths occurred.

    After the waters receded we here in the rural areas tried to pick up and rebuild, ignored by the Government, the media and other Australians because by then the flood waters had risen in Brisbane and ‘caught the inhabitants completely by surprise’ despite the fact that they had 3 days warning or so of it coming.

    We shoveled away tons of mud, we rebuilt and helped those who the insurance companies had scammed with ‘flood cover’ policies that did not actually cover floods and tried to get one with our lives.

    Jump to Jan 2013, almost 2 years to the day, our area got hit again, this time higher, faster and more destructive and we locals watched everything that we had worked to rebuilt be destroyed and buried under tons of black, foul smelling mud. It was our highest on record and once again you find yourself waist deep in muddy water, fighting currents to try and same businesses and property before you are forced to give up by the rising waters.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that the spirit of Australians is such that you feel you need to overcome all the crap that happens. Once the waters had gone down the entire town, from people unaffected to people who had lost everything, descended on the effected areas to clean up and help each other out.

    This is what Australia used to be, a country of ‘help your mates out’ and ‘always someone to lend a hand’ when they were needed. In the cities this feeling is largely gone, replaced by the ‘my time is important and worth money’ type mentality that has sadly become so common these days. In the rural areas it has been slow to take hold and we still help each other out, be it bush fire, flood, drought or Insurance/Government incompetence/interference.

    It makes me proud to be Australian when you see the pulling together and the mateship that this country was know for………but it saddens me that it takes a major disaster to get people today to show that mateship.

    If you really want to see the ‘Real’ Australia, get away from the cities, get away from the big ‘touristy’ areas and come out to the small towns. Take a look at their history, talk to the people, listen to what they have to say and you will see that what you see in the city is nothing like the real thing.



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