by Bron | October 14, 2010 1:44 am
Not so long ago, Brisbane (and large parts of Queensland) was conserving water by showering every third day with a thimbleful of water, urinating outdoors and filling the dog’s bowl with beer.
We were in the throes of a massive drought. Our dams were dry. Our tanks were dry. And so were the clouds.
I think there was even that moment when former Premier Pete saw fit to scutter off to Singapore and beg them to allow us some of their bottles of recycled water so the state could clean its teeth. In true form, of course, the state revolted, not dissimilar to what we do when New South Wales wins at Origin or when too many Victorians crowd our beaches in summer. We were just fine with our teeth the way they were.
Then, just as it was reaching critical mass, when we were considering syphoning water from the Brisbane River to make our coffee, it began to rain. And rain and rain.
To the point where, today, Wivenhoe Dam, the water supply king for south-east Queensland, is opening its spill gates because, quite frankly, it’s got too much water.
With so much rain in SEQ in the past month or so, talk has turned to the Great Flood of 1974. Over a five day period between 24th and 29th January 1974, around 900mm of rain fell and the Brisbane River reached a height of 6.7 metres, four metres above normal levels.
And my mum was pregnant. We were holidaying on the Gold Coast, along the Nerang River. We woke to find the garage and ground floor units awash, the swimming pool and garden disappeared under water, and dad was wondering how he was going to get his paper.
The road to Brisbane was cut, the rain wasn’t stopping, and as it was a Saturday. Meaning our holiday had ended and we were required to vacate.
My mother has a 6th sense and a storeroom of nifty ideas. When flooding threatened, she had popped down to the car and covered the exhaust with cling film (such a housewife). This simple act apparently saved something or other in the engine, because when the water subsided, dad was able to effortlessly start the car. Still not too sure what happened there, but I was only eight and had too many wines since then to fully remember every detail.
Mum had an appointment with her obstetrician on the Tuesday which she wasn’t keen on missing. Dad wasn’t keen on her missing it either. But we couldn’t get back to Brisbane, so the four of us (I have an older brother) descended on some distant relatives buried in the Currumbin Valley who had a spare room.
Oh my, weren’t they thrilled to have four extra people and no fresh food deliveries for miles around. I remember eating a lot of porridge and watching the adults drink a lot of red wine. Even mum had a few. But that was back in the days when cigarette advertising was on television and a Datsun 120Y was a car of choice.
Tuesday rolled around (by now, the date is 29 January 1974) and we made the arduous trek north on a very dodgy road known even then as the Pacific Highway. It was basically a cattle track.
We drove straight to Wickham Terrace, the location of choice of uptight supercilious obstetricians and ENT specialists. Still is, I guess. Except I believe there’s a smattering of plastic surgeons as well.
While mum waited for her appointment, dad took my brother and me for a wander around Brisbane CBD to view the damage.
I clearly remember standing at the high point of Albert Street, where it crosses with Queen. My Brisbane readers, or anyone who has read books by John Birmingham  or Nick Earls, will know what I mean. There’s a dirty ugly mall there now, but back then, it was just a street. And not a very good one either, because it was flooded.
Looking down towards the Botanical Gardens, I could see the sign for Festival Hall forlornly yet proudly keeping itself aloft. Kids were swimming around in the flood waters and using the roof of Festival Hall as a diving platform.
I did ask, but dad wouldn’t let me go and join them.
The other thing I clearly remember was the mortification of being in the city wearing nothing but a Sea World t-shirt, terry-towelling shorts and rubber thongs. Circa 1974, a trip to town meant wearing my communion dress and black patent Mary Janes.
My baby brother was born the next day. One month early. I remember we were at home when mum’s waters broke as she was standing in the kitchen peeling potatoes for dinner.
“As if there isn’t enough bloody water around us already,” was her only comment.
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