From Fire to Flood

Chinchilla Flood – Version 2

Sometimes it doesn’t take too long for things to turn around. 

At New Year, barely six weeks ago, we were struggling to muster any enthusiasm to welcome in a new year. Instead we were watching our country burn. Coupled with a crippling drought, we were looking to the skies, wondering when it would rain again and how much rain would it take to douse bush fires raging out of control. 

And then the heavens opened. Since mid January we have recorded just over 275mm (approx 11 inches) of rain. Our heaviest fall was about 5 inches within 3 hours. The rainwater tanks are full and overflowing. The barren soil has turned into thick, sticky mud. Even the short walk out to the rain gauge every morning is enough to add an extra layer to our footwear. So I needed to get a pair of these….

New Boots – Version 2

The rain has been most welcome and it is quite amazing to see how quickly a carpet of lush green has appeared. I would say grass, except that it is probably mostly weeds. At least it is green!

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Our front paddock

But now we are facing another disaster at the opposite end of the spectrum – flood. In New South Wales it has been reported that Sydney has had its heaviest rains in 30 years. In January people were being evacuated for fire; now they are being evacuated for flood. Just weeks ago we were watching images of raging flames, billowing smoke and blackened earth. Now we are watching flash flooding, cars crushed by falling trees and people rescued from flooded waterways.

But there is a silver lining. The announcement that two big bushfires have now been extinguished is cause for jubilation and a huge sigh of relief. These bushfires were so big, they were called mega-blazes. They were so big, they were thought to be too big to even put out. But after 74 days, 500,000 hectares and 312 homes, the Currowan bushfire has been declared finally out. The problem though is that bush fire ravaged areas are more prone to flood and the torrential rain is washing ash and debris into water supplies.

Closer to home, there have been emergency alerts issued for towns west of Toowoomba at risk of flooding. Despite the possibility of flood damage, some people feel this is a cost they are willing to bear, if it brings an end to the drought. Dams are being refilled, dry ground is being saturated and lush green grass is appearing. But as the Board of Meteorology (BOM) notes, the rainfall has been patchy and there are still areas that are missing out. Towns like Stanthorpe are still having to truck water in. There is a while to go before we can be sure that the drought has been broken, if at all.

From bushfires in SA to floods in QLD 

Growing up in Adelaide bushfires were a frequent event in the Adelaide Hills during our hot dry summers. We could stand on our front porch and see the red glow in the hills. But flood was only something I experienced via the television screen. That changed in December 2010 when we were living in a small town west of Toowoomba.

2010 had been a wet year. The months from September to November had been the wettest Spring since the year 1900. December 2010 was the wettest on record. Overall it had been Australia’s 3rd wettest year since records had been kept. The ground was already super saturated. As the water made its way down the rivers and creeks, water backed up, banks burst and towns were flooded.

Our small town was flooded twice. It was a slow flood, in that we knew it was coming. We knew the water was making its way down the creeks and rivers. There were all sorts of predictions about how high the water may get and whether it would beat previous records. We watched the water levels rise on the BOM site and we prepared as best as we could.

Fortunately our house was on higher ground, so while the water flooded into our front yard and under our house, it never reached our floorboards. Others were not so fortunate. Some businesses and homes were swamped with water and some people did lose everything.

 Crowds gathered in the the town centre to look upon flooded roads. Some took to canoes, paddling down streets we were driving down just a few days earlier. There was a sense of camaraderie as our town was cut off in every direction. There was nowhere for us to go and nobody else could get in, at least not by road. In the local supermarket you could stand at one end and look through all the empty shelves to the other side. The fruit and veggie section was reduced to potatoes and lemons, and milk was rationed.  You don’t realise how much you value basics like milk and bread, until there is none to be had. Our local baker had to have supplies flown in by helicopter so that he could get baking again.

A friend took Paul up for a flight over the town and surrounding areas. Water everywhere. Once familiar landmarks and roads are completely covered with water, it is hard to tell where you are and what you are looking at. 

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Chinchilla flood – Version 2

The Queensland floods of 2010-2011 led to 75% of council areas across the state being declared disaster zones. 90 towns were affected. Thousands of people were evacuated, 33 people lost their lives and the damage bill totalled over $2 billion.

But nothing could have prepared us for the 10th of January 2011, when a wall of water swept through the city centre of Toowoomba. Cars were swept away and 4 people lost their lives. We watched the footage on our television screen, stunned. We had actually planned to be in Toowoomba on that day but changed our plans when rain was forecast.  By the time the water reached the small town of Grantham, it was estimated to be 7-8 metres. The water that hit Grantham that day has been described as an inland tsunami. 9 people died. A year later, 3 people were still missing, presumed to be dead. It was a devastating event that still lives in our memories today. 

Flood waters eventually subside and that’s when the clean up and recovery begins. It’s amazing the way a community pulls together in a crisis. People just rock up, willing and able to give a hand. By the thousands. In January 2011 over 50,000 volunteers registered to help with the clean up, and that’s not counting the thousands who just turned up anyway. Our Prime Minister at the time, Julia Gillard, said:

“…right across Queensland today people have got up, they’ve marched out their homes and they’ve gone to find people to help. It’s a tremendous spirit of volunteering right across Queensland.”

We saw this same Aussie spirit during the recent bushfires and I expect we will see it again during this flood crisis and every crisis that we will face together in the future. Drought, flood, fire, cyclone – we experience them all in our country, but it is the courage of our emergency workers and the generosity of strangers, that instil in us a sense of hope of what we can be when we stand together, whatever comes our way.

 

The Journey into Autism

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The word ‘journey’ can conjure a variety of images in our minds. Perhaps you imagine packing your bags and catching a plane for that once in a lifetime trip around the world. Or perhaps you think about stepping into the great unknown, travelling down an unfamiliar track, not knowing where you will spend the night or who you will meet. Throughout our life we will embark on many journeys, some short, some long, some never ending. Sometimes we know the final destination and sometimes we can end up somewhere completely unexpected. But every journey begins with that first step.

The dictionary defines journey as an act of travelling from one place to another.  It is also defined as a long and often difficult process of personal change and development. I think this second meaning sums up the journey into the world of autism.

From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Dan, I knew he was a boy. I don’t know why or how I knew. I just did. Like all parents, we held hopes and dreams for our child. We had so many questions. Who would he take after?  Who would he look like? Who would he become? As first time parents we didn’t really know what to expect, but we expected our parenting journey would be pretty similar to those we saw around us. I didn’t know then, how different our journey would actually be.

Dan arrived a little earlier than expected into the world. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but we got there. It’s difficult to describe that moment when you hold your child for the first time. Your heart is filled with more emotion than you ever thought possible. All the pain is pushed aside as you gaze upon this little person, overwhelmed with the rush of love and the awesome responsibility of the journey ahead. Dan was beautiful, perfect, precious and very loved.  

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As babies go, Dan was pretty placid. He slept well, didn’t cry too much and seemed pretty happy. We had no reason to suspect that things weren’t all as they should be.

Dan reached almost all of the major milestones within the right timeframe – except for speaking. I wasn’t too concerned at first, but to be on the safe side, we consulted a speech therapist. After a while we were directed towards an early intervention program in our town, and eventually a paediatrician. That was when we heard the A word for the first time. I thought that Dan just needed more time. 

 Finally, just before Dan’s 3rd birthday, we heard the A word said with definition. And then our world changed forever.

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Autism. It’s not a huge word – only six letters – but it means a whole world of difference. Eighteen years ago that word would devastate me. All our hopes and dreams for Dan’s life were shattered and we were filled with despair about the life he would have. On that day I could never have imagined that there would come a time when I would say that there are no regrets, no wishful thinking, no desire for a cure. I would not change Dan for the world. 

Our parenting journey has been different. The road has been long, and sometimes it has been very hard. But it has also been filled with much joy. Despair soon gave way to a fierce and absolute determination to give Dan the best life he could have. It was a steep learning curve. Patience, alternate communication, maintaining routines, sensory issues,  persistence, food intolerances, special education, and advocacy. Every thing we learnt along the way, were the very things we needed to show to the world – patience in the face of ignorance and insensitivity;  persistence to keep on going when things are tough and get even tougher; and advocacy to bring about the changes we wanted to see, the dreams we wanted fulfilled, and for the rights we all take for granted.

Dan is a wonderful human being who graces this world with much love, enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is loving and generous, happy and giving, friendly and helpful. He possesses all the characteristics a mother could ever want for her child. He is a son to be extremely proud of. Even though verbal communication is a struggle for him, Dan demonstrates his love and kindness everyday. I don’t know quite where his journey will lead, but I know it’s going to be awesome.

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The journey into autism is tough. It is not for the faint-hearted. But you will learn about true friendship and what really matters in this life. And you will discover depths you never thought you had.

If you have just started on this journey, may you be filled with hope and encouragement.

 If you are someway along this journey, may your well be replenished with the strength to keep on going. 

And if you are not on this journey personally, may you be a source of encouragement, support and understanding for those of us who are. 

Walking Together in Grief and Love

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Our friend Barry passed away in the early hours of Easter Sunday. After a remarkably swift battle with cancer, we mourn his passing, yet at the same time, we are relieved that he is now at peace. We knew that the end was near. We hoped that his suffering would be over sooner rather than later. Yet now that it is here; now that he has left this life; we still feel stunned.

It feels almost inconceivable that we will not see his smile, or hear him laugh or see him tending the gardens of his hometown.

There are so many emotions swirling deep inside us – sadness, grief, pain and disbelief. We find it hard to adequately express all that we feel. We struggle to find the right words.

The Path of Grief

I ache for my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, for I know the path of grief all too well. I know the pain of losing your life partner, the one with whom you thought you would grow old and welcome grandchildren. I would change things if I could, turn back the clock, take away the pain, make everything better again. But all I can do is be her friend.

Every person’s journey of grief is different. The circumstances of every loss are never quite the same. Some know and have the time to say goodbye, while others reel with a sudden and unexpected loss. Yet some things remain the same.

We nurse a deep sadness in our hearts. We grieve the loss of the one we loved so dearly and who loved us too. There is a hole in our heart that can never really be filled. Every person in our life is unique. They each leave their own individual mark upon us. Other people will come and go in our lives. They will love us too and leave their mark upon us, in their own special way, but it won’t be quite the same.

The path of grief is hard.  There will be sad days when just the mention of their name will bring forth tears. There will be days when your heart will feel so heavy you can barely breathe. And there will be days when the pain of their absence will cut like a knife. These days will pass. There will be happy times too, when we reminisce, and laugh and remember all that they meant to us and we will treasure those precious memories in our hearts forever.

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I don’t believe we ever truly get over our grief. Life goes on – true. And we do go on, carrying our grief and loss with us, wherever we go. We go on, living and loving, because we know that is what they would want us to do. We go on, even though our lives will always be tinged with bitter sweetness. Every celebration, every anniversary, every special day will be happiness mingled with sadness as we remember the one who is not here.

The loss of a loved one becomes a defining moment in our lives. There is our life before, and then, our life after. Our life is different. We are different. We are changed forever, but we step forward into this new life, tentatively, sadly, but with hope because this is what life is – happiness and sadness, love and grief, hope and pain. To live a full life, we must experience it all – one day at a time.

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But we do not walk this path alone. No matter how sad and broken-hearted we might feel, we are loved more than we can ever know. Bound in love and friendship, we walk beside each other, sharing our joys and sorrows, wiping away each others tears and  holding each other tightly. We know that no words are needed, because a hug says more than a thousand words ever could.

Barry’s physical journey in this life may be finished, but he lives on in our hearts. We remember him with joy, give thanks for his life, and slowly step forward, to go on living in love and hope.

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