A week ago we were delighting in the glorious collision between winter and spring, able to ride our mountainbikes in shorts and feel the splash of mud on our legs, while soaking up views of powder snow laden mountains glowing in the warm spring sun. Then it began to rain and rain and rain. It seemed it would never cease. Thoughts of “40 days and 40 nights of rain” passed through people's minds. Flood warnings were issued, and the SES put incident management strategies in place.
We watched in amazement as the 24hour rainfall totals skyrocketed. On Mt Buffalo the 100mm mark was reached and succeeded. The final was over 200mm. Landslides began to block roads to Falls Creek and Mt Hotham. Then the rivers and creeks rose and Mt Buffalo was cut off as well.
While the media focused on Wangaratta, little was mentioned about the Upper Ovens. There was a good reason. We were isolated. For a few days no mail got through and a trip to the supermarket meant coming home with a bag bereft of veggies. The river flooded the road at numerous points up the Ovens between Wangaratta and Harrietville. Boil water notices were issued as septic systems failed to cope and heavy sediment in the water prevented proper water treatment.
It seemed just like in the major fires, the main towns of Porepunkah and Bright would be basically spared. Upstream at Harrietville we heard stories of sandbagging going ahead and downstream at Eurobin and Myrtleford residents faced inundation. Just one road, as expected,
The local SES based in Bright worked hard, and called on Harrietville Rural Fire Brigade to sandbag and do what was needed there to free them up to attend other jobs downstream. Harrietville Captain Garry Weston told me “we did what we needed to do, to help out the SES. We are prepared to help where required…and the levy bank held (unlike in the ’93 floods). “but the flood wasn’t as good as ’93!” he added with a laugh.
Over in the
The river here subsides, and the water gathers from the creeks and springs and heads towards Wangaratta where, with more rain forecast, there is a real risk a levy bank will collapse putting about 60 houses at risk of serious inundation.
But life in the country goes on, and no one is really that bothered. There are stories of damaged crops and hay bales floating downstream. But even farmers see the positive of a good flood, spring rains at last and the promise of good crops ahead.
Take a walk or mountainbike ride in the bush you find yourself on tracks that have become creeks, not just from run off, but from springs that have broken through to the surface or have begun to flow again after years of absence.
There is a sense of delight in seeing the river that not many summers ago was nearly still, now a raging flow. At the height of the recent drought water was pumped from the Harrietville Dredge Hole to keep the
For those who escaped property damage, the flood has been a rather wonderful event. As the rain fell, people around town sheepishly admitted that it is all rather exciting watching the water rise, wondering if it would equal the ’93 floods.
As the community parks in Porepunkah and Bright began to disappear beneath the swirling brown mass of water, and stories of waterfalls on the side of the road up the Buckland spread, locals became tourists, unable to resist watching.
For those who are safe, it is awesome to watch. A great reminder of the power and cycles of nature. For an area that has suffered numerous serious bushfires in recent years, floods are a lot less threatening. Unlike fire, they are more predictable, with often more time to prepare.
But they do spring surprises on us. And like fire, water has the ability to terrify and also enthrall. Like fire, in parts it is ferocious, it roars, it tumbles, it moves with a force hard to comprehend. In others it seeps, it creeps, it can even be played with.
Like fire, floods leave stories behind that are told for generations. It leaves markers in history's pages. Like fire it misses some hits others. The power and mystery of nature.
And like fire, after the excitement of the front passing through, the media leaves and the clean up is done. Debris has to be removed, numerous roads repaired and the structural integrity of bridges assessed. And like fire, or any natural disaster communities pull together. All through the flooded areas of the state people have their own stories to tell. Brilliant team work between CFA and SES volunteers was witnessed by many.
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