To have experienced one catastrophe could be regarded as fortunate. To go through a second could be, as Oscar Wilde would have it, careless.
Having survived a bushfire emergency, the likes we’ve not witnessed before, only three months ago, I’m now writing this watching a thunderstorm break over the ridge to our north. It’s been eight days of rain, thunderstorms, wind, and flash flooding around our home on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, with more on its way.
We are now well and truly flooded in. Our road to town has been cut by flood waters. Bridges upstream have been washed away. Electricity and communications disrupted and lives, once again, turned upside down. Welcome to the Australian bush, where, to paraphrase a well-used tourism slogan, it’s “wild one day, wilder the next”.
The bushfire that cut a swathe through much of southern and eastern Australia has not even begun to recede from memory, nor it’s scars begun to fade. Large tracts of land are still black, with no signs of life. The native animal population is only now slowly beginning to return. But it’s as if mother nature has other plans. It needs regeneration, and it needs it now.
The downpour has been so immense in its volume that once dry and benign creeks are now raging torrents. I stood watching as our creek, that did not have any water in it to fight the fires, suddenly rose four metres above its usual height. My neighbour who had a shipping container parked in his driveway found it had floated two kilometres downstream. Once tinder-dry and burnt-out escarpments are greening at a rate of knots.
The fury of an Australian thunderstorm needs to be experienced to be believed. This is the unleashing of torrents that don’t seem to want to end. At one point, we got over 200 millimetres of rain in six hours! Water, which we had all been waiting for since the fires, now was the enemy. Something to fear as it roared down hillsides, an unstoppable force that took all that lay before it. It seems a sin to want this to stop. After all, were we not just a few weeks ago praying for this very thing? Seems there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
A flash flood is more insidious. One minute you are looking at a green valley, and the next you watch as trees are uprooted and taken down in a gushing, mad and unruly river of debris.
With a bushfire, the fear was a palpable sense that there was no way one could control the intensity and direction of the flames. Coupled with the smoke and the noise, a bushfire is a danger all its own.
A flash flood is more insidious. One minute you are looking at a green valley, and the next you watch as trees are uprooted and taken down in a gushing, mad and unruly river of debris. And the worst is almost always kept for when the sun goes down.
Waking up in the dark to the sound of thunder and the flashes of lightning that show you glimpses of the damage wrought, like a strobe-light show, is perhaps something we really do not need to see.
Don Watson in his seminal work The Bush makes this observation. The bush, he writes, is:
Real, in that it grows in various unmistakable bush-like ways, and dies, rots, burns and grows into the bush again; real in harbouring life. Imaginary in that among the life it harbours is the life of the Australian mind. It is by many accounts the source of the nation’s idea of itself. The bush is everything from a gum tree to any of the creatures that live in it or shelter beneath it, and it is the womb and inspiration of the national character.
For me, the bush is and always will be about the Australian that I have become. Knowing that you are living in an environment that indulges you, that permits you to exist. It’s akin to surfing a good wave. You paddle onto it, and then for a split second as the powerful ocean lifts your board and you spring to your feet with this primal force beneath you, you know you only exist because the ocean lets you.
The power of the bush is similar, and so too is its attraction. We who have chosen to make the bush home know the dangers that it entails. To do otherwise is folly.
We have just been told that our causeway into town has been opened. We’ve also been told that Tropical Cyclone Uesi is headed towards Lord Howe island and that we should expect more rain and wind in the coming days. The tanks are full, the dams are overflowing, the paddock is green, the garden looks stunning. What more can one ask for?
Well sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to have a decent break between the times the Australian environment shows us our place.