Sunday, February 22, 2009


Thirsting for rain - the dry creek bed in the foreground

Floods and bushfires are part of Australian bush life. Bushfires were never a big issue in the area where my grandparents lived. They happened but not to the extent that we have seen over the years in Victoria. Sometimes during a storm (I must write about the storms one day, they had terrific storms!) there would be a lightning strike in the mountains and any fire that resulted would be watched carefully but nothing drastic ever happened as a result. To us kids it was an interesting diversion to daily life. If we knew about the use of the modern “cool” we would have said it was cool to watch the fires come up one side of the valley, run around the back of the house to watch it continue on its course and guess whether it would go back down the other side of the valley. Grandad would sometimes mount his horse and ride off to see how far down the mountain it had come, whether he had lost any fences, but that was not a venture in which we were permitted to join him.

But floods were a different story. They were a very real part of life in this valley. The creek played a vital part in the welfare of the valley with its beautiful fertile cropping soil and highly producing creek flats. I remember terrible floods when I was a girl and Grandad saying they were the worst he had seen in his lifetime. Both he and Grandma had grown up along the banks of the creek.

Grandad had a wonderful way of teaching us to respect the power of nature. During those bad floods he took the four oldest of us down to the creek for an up close look (two on each side of him, Esme and Peter holding his hands and me and Dennis on the outside of them holding their hands). The rest of the kids had to be satisfied looking at the little gully behind the house which had turned into something quite impressive. We had grown used to the background roar from the creek during the previous two days but couldn't even hear Grandad when we got close to it. The lovely clean, clear water of our creek had turned a murky, dirty brown and was rushing along at a frightening speed, carrying branches and trees and two cows, one dead, one still alive, and a snake.

Grandad let go of our hands, one at a time, a little way into the creek so we could feel the force of the water. Being the oldest I felt I had to go one step further than the others, still only knee deep, and it was terrifying although there was no way I would let on.

It was all so long ago but when I sit and think about it, it all comes flooding (no pun intended) back. I think one of the advantages of growing older and not having my mind on so many other things, is I can allow myself the luxury of staring at a wall and allowing my mind to go back to visit my youth.

Those floods happened during our seven-week Christmas holidays. When it first started raining we rejoiced that there would be water in the creek for swimming. The first thing we always did when we got to Grandma and Grandad's was check the creek for water holes. That big flood changed the path of the creek forever; the swimming water holes were never as good afterwards. Or maybe I was growing up and not taking as much pleasure from the activities of my earlier childhood.

The flood washed away the vehicle track we used to get from the road to the house; the creek was left much wider and therefore the water holes more shallow.

The best water hole was a fair way from the house, around the roots of a tree that had been washed away, leaving just the dead roots in the middle of the creek and the deep hole that had been gouged around it.

It wasn't a very big hole, the tree roots took up most of the space, there were no shallow edges and the water was very deep in close to the roots. So, although it was great for the older kids, it was rather dangerous for the younger ones who couldn't swim. The hole itself was in a lovely sunny spot with shady trees close by.

The next best hole was in the opposite direction and much closer to the house, in a wide section of the creek. There was lots of shallow water along one bank and it got very gradually deeper until you were nearly to the other side. But the other side was hard up against a steep hill, which we could not climb up. That side was always in the shadow of the hill in the afternoon and the trees were thick on the shallow side, so that it always appeared gloomy.

After that big flood I had to learn about negotiation and trade offs. Yes, we could go for a swim as long as we took the little ones along. If I had not been behaving responsibly either that or the previous day (like the day Michael nearly drowned in the dangerous hole) I would not be entrusted with the kids at the “dangerous hole” and we would have to go to the "Dark Hole" as we used to call it. Then, of course, Peter would vent his displeasure at me. And when Peter was pissed off he could be a real handful. He had a terrible temper and would go off like a firecracker. Denis was always easy going, Esme and Tricia were not born water babies like Peter and didn't particularly care where we went. Danny and Bernie were also water babes but were young enough to not care which water they went in as long as it was water.

I think I started to learn techniques on “How to Handle Difficult People” after that flood. The fact that I didn’t purposely drown Peter speaks for itself. He turned into the Brother from Hell every time we had to go to the “Dark Hole”. He had always been adventurous and competitive, always determined to keep up with, if not beat, we three older kids, and he hated the Dark Hole because it was so tame and safe and “babyish”. When he got shitty he would make life miserable for Esme (one older) and Tricia (one younger). He’d have them both in tears given half a chance and that would mean that I’d be in trouble when we got home and Esme went crying to Gran. Thank heavens Dennis was such an easy going bugger, although at the time I wished he wasn’t such a dreamer and would share some of the responsibility I had as the oldest. I was sure if someone said to him “You’re the oldest boy, it’s your responsibility” he would stop being a dreamer and be responsible, but I guess I was the dreamer thinking that.

So it seemed to me that big flood altered our lives.

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