Looking out from our shade courtyard, across the flooded road to the paddocks of wheat. Goulburn Valley life.
The road to our home after one hour of rain. This photo was taken during a break in the rain. At its peak the water was flowing fast and waterfalls were pouring off our roof. That's my cottage garden on the right, the wheat crop (will have made a mess of that) on the left of the road/water. Glad my visitors left, the back of their car would be sitting in a river by now. We expected this. The fun of living on a floodplain—not complaining about it, we love it here.
One hour of tropical rain and we have a riverside property once again. Those cushion covers on the sofa had just arrived today. They were a part of my fun, online Christmas shopping. I find it so much easier to shop online these days, especially when the road becomes a river.
I wrote of a flood in Billabong Dream. It becomes a major feature it the back of the story.
A crowd gathered, respectfully standing back, observing, concerned, feeling like trespassers in a family’s nightmare. Ray was led away, and Peter followed to join Boots in a makeshift lockup well guarded by a dozen Woggan-Wandong men. The town’s people wandered to the escarpment edge to view the flood and to give them another reason not to witness more of the Fife and Buckram family’s anguish.
Eileen knelt beside Iain, dressing his eyebrows and plastering a gauze bandage across each one. “You sure know how to get a girls attention.”
A hush settled back over the plateau. Iain looked around for an explanation for the sudden quiet. “Help me up, please.”
Eileen grabbed his arm, and he quickly stood.
She grabbed him. “Not so fast. Stand still and get your bearings.”
But he’d already begun to walk to the cliff edge. She followed quickly and held his arm, lest he be unsteady after the fight. He stood peering out over the flood, towards the north.
The town’s people, observing the strain on his face, looked to the lower northern point of the crescent-shaped escarpment and waited, as Iain did, not knowing what they waited for, yet knowing Iain had seen or heard something beyond their experience.
Then, between the clumps of wattle trees, they saw what appeared to be dark indigo waves glistening with silver foam. The waves pushed through the trees from all directions.
Waves swirled over waves, advancing fast, gaining height as they rushed forward. A mad mass of seething froth and foam rose on top of the wave surge, and the ground vibrated, as if an earthquake had struck.
Stones and trees were flung free from the lower cliff edge and were swallowed by the rumbling water below.
“The creek!” Voices cried out in disbelief. “The creek, the creek, the creek.” The cries of “the creek” were repeated by all who crowded along the cliff edge to view the wild spectacle. The first shock strike of flood wave took out three mighty warriors, the oldest river gums, and it lodged smaller trees in the upper branches of the remaining eucalyptus. The wattle scrub disappeared beneath the water.
Racing away from the creek, two emus ran down the road. The viewers on the ridge top saw the pouncing wave of water gaining on them. Now waves tumbled out across the width of the landscape.
The Fife homestead and outbuildings were swallowed up. The old shearing quarters disintegrated as the water hit and swirled around, carrying away separate sections of walls and beams. The nineteenth-century cart, that Charlotte had visited the billabong in, was carried bobbing and lurching away.
The water pursued the fleeing emus that raced up the hill toward the town. At the corner, where Todd left Lesley’s car, the emus turned and sprinted up toward Lesley’s lodging house, splashing through water. The crowd on the ridge yelled for them.
The emus, mad with terror, were almost out of sight and still ahead of the wave. The migrants cried out encouragement. Fragments of prayer were heard for the flightless birds. The water swelled about their knees, then their bodies, and the inevitable outcome occurred. Yet it shocked the viewers. An enormous wave engulfed the birds, and the roof of Lesley’s car vanished under water.
Watching those two emus try to outpace the water was the sobering moment. Women and children cried openly, and men turned away and began to make plans to erect more shelters for their second night on the mountain.
The water that invaded the land below so savagely now moved softly in little rippling waves that turned the hills to the south into islands within a gigantic inland sea.
“Bah!” Nino said. “Australia has nothing on what we have in Italy.” He laughed through tears. “Now, if you’ve ever witnessed an avalanche, you’d have seen the terror of nature. I think I’m going to like it here if that’s the worst this land can throw at us. Here’s to our new country Australia and to the people of Fife Springs for making us welcome. We will help you all rebuild.”
“Rebuild—land. Yes, crikey!” Dave dug deep into his back pocket and pulled out a manila envelope. “I keep missing my opportunity.” He held it out toward Jarrah. “Take it, lad. It’s not much, just—my only way to say, sorry. I’d have done more if I could have, but—”
Jarrah reached and took the envelope, opened it and saw money inside and looked up startled.
“It’s your next land payment,” Dave said.
“Thanks.” Jarrah blushed. “You’ve got to let me take care of the next payments. I can do it.”
“I know that,” Dave said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in you.”
A light plane flew toward them, and everyone waved. Jarrah pocketed the envelope and watched the parcels fall from above. They jerked as their parachutes opened, and then they floated to the ground.
The plane banked and circled. A long, single-file line of adults and children, who stood along a ridge top overlooking an inland sea, yelled, “Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray!”
The plane circled again and dipped its wing before flying inland to airdrop other water-locked towns.
The crowd cheered for each other. They embraced with physical closeness the more reserved Aussies were unfamiliar with. That night they all adopted Nino’s demonstrative, relaxed manner. Hugs were exchanged along the line.
A small gathering of Woggan-Wandong men and Kanga conferred off to the side of the campsite on the ridge top. Todd checked and made sure Peter and Ray Buckram and Boots were secured and being well cared for in the Woggan-Wandong camp. They would stay secured there until they could be brought to justice.
With sadness, Kanga watched his half-niece Lesley, and he accepted that she would never acknowledge her own Woggan-Wandong heritage. She knelt beside her son Harry, soiling her designer clothes. Kanga smiled in approval. There was a little bit of country left in her. Perhaps living in Fife Springs would rekindle her humanity.
Kanga turned his attention to his grandson Jarrah comforting Emily, the youngest Fife-Mayer child.
The children stood together, Jarrah’s arms around Emily. She cried on his chest. His cheek rested on her hair as he whispered reassurances to her that her father would be freed quickly because he’d saved their uncle’s life.
Kanga planned to step forward and tell Jarrah to go back with the boys. Then Emily lifted her head and smiled at Jarrah, and Kanga caught a glimpse of his mother Jane Fife in her manner, courage and looks. Hesitating, he wondered if it would be so wrong to allow them to be friends.
“Leave them be,” Iain spoke over his shoulder. “Be pleased they have both found a friend.”
“She’s wrong skin. One of her great-grandmothers was from the wrong Woggan-Wandong skin group for Jarrah, so she is from the same group. He’s old enough to learn skin law.”
“Come on,” Iain said. “Give a little slack. Look at them. They’re children.”
“He’s the future of the Woggan-Wandong. I don’t want to see it lost.”
“My grandmother didn’t want to see the Scottish culture lost either,” Iain said.
“Culture is never lost; it evolves,” Dave said. “Do you really still need to apply a law that was designed to prevent inbreeding of a small gene pool? Emily and Jarrah, and almost everyone in this district are now from diverse mixed cultures.”
Kanga’s chest heaved.
“Let’s be tolerant,” Iain said. “I’ve watched those two children closely. Emily has what my Scottish family call ‘the Fey,’ and Jarrah has something similar in his Woggan-Wandong spiritual oneness with nature. Those two have an affinity, the likeness of the one for the other, and it transcends culture.”
“We are all a blending of two or more cultures. Look around you,” Todd said.
Kanga nodded his head, lowered it and walked toward the location where four spit roasts were set up. He joined the men who began to carve a roasted quarter of one of Iain’s best prime cattle. The residents of the town got to acquaint themselves with both the new migrant community and the Woggan-Wandong, first Australians.
Many attitudes changed, and people accepted neighbours at face value based on how they behaved on that night and let old prejudices go.
They all talked about the new beginning of Fife Springs.
* * *
The story continues in To Kill for a Dream
Australian Rural-lit and historical fiction author and artist