The Anonymous Army

The Brisbane flood of 2011 was big news all around the world, but for me it was entirely personal. Sitting here, now, a month after the flood as I settle into my new place, I think it’s time to talk about my flood experience.

If you watched enough of the news you’d recognize the suburb of Rosalie – it was a big talking point both during the floods and on the day after as cleanup began.

My place? It was right in the deepest point of Rosalie. So yeah, we got flooded.

Now while that sucks, we didn’t lose anything significant:

  • Two empty bookcases (one mine)
  • Tall white cabinet (mine)
  • Washing machine (mine, possibly salvageable but I had already planned to throw it out or sell it cheap)
  • Large fridge (mine, again possibly salvageable but I wanted to sell it)
  • Small bar fridge
  • Large cupboard with drawers
  • TV stand
  • Desk

I have Wivenhoe to thank for the comparatively small size of that list. Things could’ve been so much worse. Wivenhoe gave us the warning on Tuesday that a flood was coming the next day; this meant we could leave work early and spend the entire afternoon moving our gear upstairs. We had already been served notice to leave our rental property at the start of February (hence wanting to sell fridge/washing machine), so the bits of packing we’d done helped immensely to get everything we cared about upstairs long before the floods hit.

I left on Tuesday evening, but one brave flatmate stayed behind to see what the initial 3m flood looked like. He parked on a nearby hill and continued to move stuff we decided we didn’t care about, but would have been a little annoying to lose. Turns out 3m was just below our ground floor level thanks to building minimum height requirements, he stuck around moving the last few things until he was ankle deep in our downstairs floor on Tuesday morning (waist deep in the driveway). We both stayed about 23km away in Kuraby with friends.

My flatmate was told to go to work on Friday because they’re on the edge of the CBD, so I tried to work from our temporary accommodation. But there were so many volunteers on the news that my friends, and then finally Ephox, told me to take the afternoon off to clean up.

I turned up at about 2pm, saw a lot of cars (being kept out of Rosalie by police) but not a whole lot of people which had me a bit worried that I’d missed the cleanup crew. The high water line was over my head in the driveway; my key didn’t work in the front door. I eventually made it through the jungle that was our back yard and started recording as I walked in the front door:

What a mess! You can’t really see it (although I did try to show it near the end) but a lot of the walls are bulging. You can see most of the items I listed above, along with plates and stuff that we have since cleaned up and kept. Everything I mentioned was destroyed; the big white cabinet, for example, collapsed as soon as they tried to move it because the back was entirely chipboard.

After I took that video I was a little bit in shock. I shifted a few things around but wasn’t really sure what to do. I eventually walked out to the street and grabbed the first volunteer that walked past to help me shift the heavy stuff.

We moved a few small things but when it came time to tackle the fridges he wandered off to grab some more help; that’s when the whirlwind was unleashed. Word must’ve got out that there was someone in need of help, because an army descended on my home.

It’s all a bit of a blur. At a rough guess, I had as many as 10 people helping me but it could’ve easily been more.

I remember being in the driveway emptying our big fridge into a bin when someone said “I’ll do that” and sent me back inside after I made sure they would keep the pyrex containers. I remember having no idea how to unlock the electric roller door until someone finally found the release lever. I remember blindly walking into the garage as the volunteer behind me gingerly checked the area for snakes before following me.

I was debating whether to try keeping my fridge but I’d already told them to throw it, next time I went outside the massive dump truck had arrived and it was being loaded onto the back along with all the other rubbish piled up in the street.

We had someone in Army camo-type gear who turned out to be an ex-reservist and not actually in the Army anymore. I think one of the helpers might’ve even been a neighbor from our block of 3 units, I can’t really be sure. I was so busy directing people and responding to “should we keep this” questions that it was hard to keep track of it all.

Once everything had been taken outside they hosed out downstairs and asked me if I had any bleach. Most of it went on the floor for general disinfecting with another hosing, but some went into a bucket and was used to wipe the walls down for me – I never expected them to do that!

They even hosed out the garage for me, and asked nothing in return. One guy was eyeing off the miscellaneous beer and alcopops that had accumulated in the bar fridge, so I told him to take it. That’s all it cost me, and this is the result:

I don’t know any of their names – any I was told were forgotten in the madness – and they never asked mine, only learning it when I was looking for bleach and a neighbor (one I know I recognized) called up the stairs asking if we needed help. I was so blown away I didn’t think to take any photos – this is the only photo I have of them, the back of the guy who I gave the alcohol to:

I feel incredibly lucky to have survived as well as I have. My deepest thanks go to all those who volunteered for the cleanup, whether in Rosalie or elsewhere in Brisbane.

They were the Anonymous Army, and they will always be remembered.

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