Personal perspective: inside the flood clean up

By Carolyn Barry 8 November 2013
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
In one of the worst-hit ares of Brisbane’s flood, an army of volunteers are making lighter work of the clean up.

Online editor Carolyn Barry has been reporting on the floods in Brisbane.

HOPEFUL, NERVOUS ANTICIPATION WELLS up, when the house comes into sight. As I draw near to my great aunt’s single-storey home in Chelmer, one of Brisbane’s hardest hit areas, the reality becomes clear.

With the floodwaters gone, the yard and exterior of the house don’t look so bad. Perhaps, I think, it was spared the worst. Eagerly, I search for the telltale water mark from the river’s peak, hoping for good news. It’s not. The water had risen to less than a metre below the gutters.


The harsh reality of the flood clean up

On this hot, muggy day, I survey the property from the outside and meet up with other family members while we wait for my great uncle to arrive – the traffic has been chaos from road closures and the residents of 12,000 damaged homes returning. It takes them over three hours to arrive.

As we enter the house, we’re instantly hit by the stench of baking mud and rotten food. It’s dark, dank and wet. Furniture rests in the upturned positions the water has left it in as it receded. The fridge and freezer lie on their side, with chairs strewn over the top. It’s a disaster zone.

The phrase “I don’t know where to start” has been heard many times over the past few days and that sentiment rings true. The task seems overwhelming. Every inch of the place under the high water mark is covered in a layer of thick, slippery, smelly mud. The carpet squelches under foot.

The ubiquitous sludge is a constant thorn. You can’t sit on beds or rest a hand on a rail; and you can’t put the few untouched possessions down – even out on the lawn, for it too is still covered in a layer of mud. 

Flood volunteers provide a silver lining

We start, as Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman advised, by taking photos and searching for valuables to salvage. Miraculously, though the heavy furniture has been upturned, small trinkets and collectables have remained on their shelves, filthy but unmoved by the water. After righting the washing machine, a quick check reveals perfectly clean clothes and sheets, somehow protected from the murky floodwater.

After a while a stranger walks in – Eddie from Cleveland – asking if he can help. And then a couple of young women. Before we know it, there seems to be a dozen people in and around the house, carting things away, sweeping out muddy water, dragging in a high-pressure hose. On top of that, every now and again people drop by with BBQ food, cold drinks.

There were so many people offering to help that we had to start turning them away. Within a few hours, the entire house was gutted – more than several days’ work.

A few of the more than dozen-load of volunteers who turned up to help clean

It’s a blessing in more ways than one that so many volunteers turned out. To have almost all of your possessions left in a slushy, stinking, ruinous heap, the task of sifting through the personal memories is demoralising. But having unattached strangers whisk away the wreckage removes some of the indecision, the emotion, the pain of seeing precious possessions trashed.

The sheer number of volunteers – the mayor estimated that almost 12,000 had registered by lunchtime – strangers, who gave their time to muck in with hard, labouring, messy work was simply amazing. The community has joined together, across Brisbane, to help each other out, and it’s entirely heart-warming.

And the efficiency and organisation of clean up is, thankfully, excellent. From the start, communication with residents from the Brisbane City Council has been clear, frequent and adaptive.

QLD flood recovery will take years

Brisbane’s flood affected have a long way to go yet, but they’ve been given a great start by their neighbours.

And of course, we also need to remember that more than half the state of Queensland is flooded and parts of Victoria too. Places like Rockhampton have been underwater for three weeks and the Fitzroy River is still only slowly receding.

This disaster will take years to recover from and this is only just the beginning.