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Inspired by the Queensland floods, Flood is a moving and sensitive story of a natural disaster as seen through the honest eyes of a cattle dog that has been separated from his family. The floodwater mercilessly rips through the towns, and finally recedes, leaving a devastating widespread path of destruction.
But from the ruins, courage and kindness emerge. A tiny tugboat heroically guides a wayward boardwalk out to sea; rescuers pluck friends and strangers from the dangerous waters; communities gather, providing aid, shelter, comfort and — above all — hope.
Notes on the book
I grew up in Brisbane, in houses on stilts with big verandas. Each year floods would surround us, water like café latte, thick with foam. We kids would dangle our feet over the veranda, and watch the cars screech to a stop at the floodwater.
Floods in those days were a break from school, the adventure of forming a human chain to haul my mother’s mini minor car back when it floated down the street (We tied it to the peach tree where it floated happily till the flood subsided.)
It never occurred to us to be scared of floods. Every house we knew was built out of flood reach, and we all knew which streets that would turn into rivers when the tail of a cyclone whipped past, crashing corrugated iron and garbage bins against the fences.
The first I knew of the 2011 Queensland floods was the call from a friend’s mother, in Townsville. She had just outraced a wall of water, frantically reversing her car and screaming to try to warn those still heading towards the floodwater. She cried as she said ‘They didn’t stop. None of them stopped!’ She had grown up with floods. They hadn’t. They didn’t know the savagery of water.
The 2011 floods swept into unprepared towns. Land had been cleared, so the water gained speed. Houses had been built on flood plains, labelled ‘never to be built on’ in my childhood, but homes and gardens now.
My father was frail, living next to the river, cut off by floodwater. He watched from his veranda as that tiny tugboat pushed and shoved the walkway out to sea. If it hadn’t, his home might have been swept away, and him as well. All I could do was stay on the phone, as he sat on his veranda and watched the river rise.
Dad was always a story teller, and I can still hear his voice showing me the dramas, hour by hour: the police rescue boat racing after a family stranded on an out of control houseboat, the café that floated past, still with the tables set for lunch.
Dad died before the book was printed, but I still hear his voice on every page. My brother provided shelter to other families whose homes were under water. The power might have been off but the BBQ gas bottles were full, and when they rang to say they were safe I could hear laughter in the background.
My nieces cooked and cooked. Another niece, a nurse, helped care for a dementia ward, as well as those who came to the nursing home for shelter. They were cut off for about 36 hours, and no other nurses could get in to relieve them. They kept on going. As she said, it’s just what you have to do.
As the water receded my brother and nephew joined thousands of others with mops, spades and hoses. My nieces kept cooking for the clean up, linking via the Internet with others to keep all the volunteers fed.
More than 60,000 volunteers registered that first day. Probably double that number just turned up. But the most extraordinary thing was that none thought of themselves as heroes. They just did what was needed- and did it with jokes and laughter too. It was so very, very Australian.
After Hurricane Katrina they locked the survivors in football stadiums. Australians held barbeques, cooked chocolate chip biscuits, and then got out the mops and shovels.
I was proud to be part of my family in those weeks. I felt and proud to be Australian, too.
The flood was still snaking through the streets when Andrew Berkut from Scholastic rang me and told me I had to write the book. And so I did, in ten days, instead of the three years a book usually takes. Bruce worked with the same urgency, and when I saw the strength and beauty of his work I cried again.
Had we captured it? My hand shook as I gave the first copy to my brother. He had been there. I hadn’t. He looked it and said ‘I’d already forgotten what it was like. It’s a good book, Jacq. It’s important that we remember this.’
Bruce and I were even more apprehensive about the reaction of kids who had lost homes and teddy bears in the flood. We had hoped to show that bad things happen, but that they pass too- and if you look, there are those who’ll help. But when we finally showed the children the book, on the morning of the launch, a small boy just touched one of Bruce’s extraordinary pages and said ‘I’d forgotten the flood was that colour.’ By the time I had finished reading the book, they were smiling.
I think- I hope- that when kids read Flood they’ll remember the matter of fact heroism, the strength of hands that helped and offered hope, and not the terror of dark water that rose unstoppable in the night.