For a few days, at the beginning, Girards Hill was an island. We’d had no power for days, so internet/phone was not possible. We knew there’d be a “bit” of cleaning up after the water went down, so I took my sketchbook to the edges of our island and drew what I saw. I wasn’t to know what dramas were being enacted the other side of the river, nor how that flood diary would chronicle the damage that far more widespread than a simple sketch of a street turned backwater.
At that stage our flood was simply water in the wrong place. We were yet to see the horror, experience the pain, watch our friends struggle. And in case you were worrying, apart from that first day when I was out and about drawing on site, the rest of the diary was a daily record of what I’d seen and felt at the end of my day at the coalface. When all the rest of the experience became all too real.
The day before I sat there up the hill in Esmonde street, the river had been a full house higher. The day before the top of the stop sign down on Whyralla road was just visible, but even today there was still a river where the street should have been
The water in Cathcart street had receded too. It was brown, but there was no evidence of it’s ferocity – it was almost peaceful, still, as the water began exposing the cars that hadn’t been moved in time.
My friend, on whose verandah I was sitting, told how the now visible homes of her neighbours had been awash. How the older lady two doors down had been screaming out in the night, for help. She didn’t know if help had arrived or not.
I knew that it was a serious flood because the helicopters (army, private, westpac) were flying so low, and loud. What does a flood sound like? The rain is heavy , constant. There’s a particular sound that we label “flood rain”, and send us running for the BoM river height charts. Water flowing in my part of the hill is loud, not as loud as it would have been riverside, but loud enough to notice. Downpipes amplify frogs, harbingers of rain broadcast: yellow tailed black cockatoos, ants.
At night it’s quiet. And dark. Only the moonlight, and the fog. No noise from the town, or the neighbours. In the beginning no cars either. There was nowhere to go off our island.
The first day the water receded from East Lismore, the piles of people’s lives began. Not an accurate drawing, but a complete one. This is what I remember seeing after I got home from my first afternoon helping a woman begin to empty twenty years of her business, as an equestrian embroiderer, out onto the street. It took another two days before she had left her now empty shop to start life as officially retired.
My friend Rhonda Armistead had this painting of herself as a mermaid. I don’t know if she had a tail, like I remember after I saw that painting out on a pile in the street. It was gone the next day. Swam away I guess.
I found this in amongst Marie’s stuff – in amongst the three storage units of a life and business. To this day it seems such a game of chance. Flooded, not flooded. Saved, drowned. Lost, found. Capacity, worn out. Survive…