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.