It seems like a long time ago now as I have been battling the Aliens in my belly, but at the end of February and beginning of March we had unprecedented rainfall and two floods back to back over two consecutive weekends. I didn’t think Ged would get home on the first Friday night (22nd February) because the rivers and creeks were rising so fast, but he got in by the skin of his teeth. Both cars had to be abandoned on the other side of the river and we all had to haul ourselves across the raging torrent on the flying fox, hand over slow hand.
The rain was pounding on the tin roof so loudly we could barely hear ourselves speak, let alone think, and hourly checks of the river showed it rising at an alarming rate. By bedtime the roar of the river was competing with the rain of the roof and while I passed out into dreamless slumber, Ged was kept up all night after the howling wind started to compete in the battle of the elements. Every time he heard a crash he went out and investigated and checked that we were still safe. He brought the farm car into the house paddock and parked it next to the verandah, ready for evacuation to higher ground, because never before has the river risen so rapidly or violently. I slept through . . .
Being floodbound is always exciting – witnessing the power and force of Mother Nature, knowing that we are completely cut off from the world. We had no internet which was really frustrating so we had no idea what was happening in the wider community – we were well and truly marooned. We went for a walk and drive around the property on Saturday morning and saw higher water levels than ever before. Angle Creek had backed up right over the bridge and there was no sign of Paddy or her lovely little Melissa calf. We presumed they had gone up into the bush to get away from the deluge.
The water was significantly higher than ANZAC day 2008 and the force of the flow was incredible. At the end of the house river flat we stood and watched a platypus feeding at our feet – under normal circumstances that is a steep bank down into a shallow river crossing. No sign of Paddy and Melissa but all the other animals were present and correct. It was a housebound weekend and amazing that Ged and Ben got out over all the creeks on Monday morning for preschool and work. The highway had been closed at Long Flat all weekend and when we saw the height and extent of the flooding we were all amazed. Once the internet came back on we realised just how widespread the damage and deluge had been.
I was weak and sick so pulling Ben and I across the river and back in our saggy flying fox was really hard work. I grew muscles in both body and mind! The river was slower than normal to recede, but beginning to go down when the rain in earnest began again. It was like Groundhog Day. Again Ged got home with minutes to spare, but at least this time we didn’t have the roaring winds and crashing trees. We stood at the window and saw a huge gum uproot from the bank and fall down into the river. Closer inspection of the banks during the week saw enormous she oaks had been ripped, roots and all, out of the river bank, gouging great chunks from our land. Now it was all happening again, it seemed incredible that so much water could fall out of the sky and we found streams and creeks rushing out of the bush where we’ve never seen water before. Still no sign of Paddy and the calf.
The second flood was stronger, faster and more powerful and took 10 days to go down so we could finally drive into and out of the property again. So for three weeks Ben and I were hand over hand across 100 metres of muddy brown torrent. Hot, sticky work!
Our river landscape has completely changed. We have welcomed a beautiful sandy beach at our swimming hole below the house, Ged has farewelled a huge rock he used to stand on which has moved 20 metres further downstream, and we have lost more bank. Thankfully all the young she oaks we felled on the other river bank which were waiting to be burnt have all been swept out to sea. Have checked with our neighbour, Pat, and they went straight past her. We went to the beach the other day and I think I saw bits of them in the driftwood pile on the tideline. All the rocks and pebbles at our bridge were completely rearranged and we had to wait for the tractor to come back from its long holiday at the menders (almost a year and $5,500!) before Ged could blade them all back again. It has been a bumpy ride in more ways than one!
But our greatest loss is the beautiful Paddy and little newcomer to Avalon, Melissa. We have looked high and low, up into the bush on rocky crags and escarpments and down along Angle Creek but there has been no sign, or smell. We have watched the wedge tail eagles circling and trudged up to where they land but nothing there either. They are gone and we can only presume that they slipped into Angle Creek and have been swept away to sea. It is hard to believe that we will never see them again and that they are lost to us completely.
Paddy has been here with us since the beginning. She has stood patiently while we all learned to milk kneeling at her huge udder. She has been friend and comforter. We thought she would have to have a bullet when she seemed to dislocate her shoulder over a year ago, but after a month or so of limping she came good, if always a bit slower than the rest of the herd. We had determined that Melissa would be her last calf because of the distension of her udder. But now we have neither.
We can only hope they survived – we have written to the paper to broadcast her loss, but we all have the same feeling, that they didn’t survive. Angle Creek rose so fast and the banks are so steep that it is possible that Paddy went down to water and slipped in, or maybe the calf slipped in and she went after it. We will never know. We are richer for having known and loved her, we are the poorer for her passing.
It’s a reminder that we are at the mercy of the elements, that Mother Nature has more power than we can ever contest. We think we are so in control of our world, but when we look at the sheer naked force of a flood or gaze up at the crystal clear skies at night, we are reminded just how small and insignificant we are.