Brisbane: the river city?

By Carolyn Barry 8 November 2013
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The Brisbane River is a literal and figurative heart of a city now being tested by its lifeblood.

THE RIVER CITY IS now a place hamstrung by its very centrepiece. The Brisbane River, which broke its banks on Wednesday, has seeped into more than 50 suburbs of the Queensland capital. While outlying areas remain unaffected, those closest to the river – almost 12,000 homes – are devastated by the water and the mud that will be left behind.

Brisbane has become a booming metropolis over the past few years, as a large-scale development has raced to keep up with the swelling population, now at two million – up from 911,00 in 1974. There have been busways, motorways, three bridges and a major underwater tunnel constructed to meet the demands of a major city’s traffic. So while the river’s peak of 4.46 m overnight was below that of the 1974 floods, it has affected more people and the devastation is far worse – being described by Premier Anna Bligh as “post-war proportions”.


Brisbane under seige by floods

Aside from the homes and businesses, many aspects of river living have been destroyed. The CityCats, which ferry people along the river, are a major mode of transport. All of the CityCat terminals and pontoons have been destroyed or washed away, and it will take at least six months to rebuild, the premier says. It would be akin to Sydney’s ferries being out of action for months. Riverwalk, a cutting-edge floating walkway which served as a recreational and tourist draw card, was torn from its stumps and carried down stream – including a 300-tonne section.

That Brisbanites care so much for the fate of the party barge they call The Island (which was once a car ferry before the Gateway bridge was built), is testament to their connection with the river.

There’s always been talk of the ’74 floods, but until now, not many people believed such a massive flood could seize the city again. After all, the Wivenhoe Dam, built in 1984 to mitigate future floods was at an alarming 17 per cent just three years ago when Brisbane was stricken with drought. It now hovers around 180 per cent.

What is striking about the city though, is the calmness that pervades from the premier to the onlookers. People have heeded warnings, evacuated, and with steely determination and community spirit, are just getting on with things. As Premier Anna Bligh says, they’re “the people who are bred tough.” And perhaps it’s their respect for the river that gives them the resolve.