Saturday, February 05, 2011

And then the floods

After all the talk of floods and cyclones elsewhere in Australia, last night it was our turn here in Melbourne. They called it flash flooding: rain that came down in volumes in only a matter of minutes, and the city was drenched. Our backyard was a swimming pool and many of the streets in valleys and low-lying areas were unpassable.

Our situation is mild compared to places where whole houses have been inundated to their rooftops. The only water that entered our house came through one or two points where the roof had leaked because the plumbers who were supposed to have fixed it last year did not completely seal the flashing.

One or two buckets in strategic places has been enough to hold the flow here, but elsewhere in country Victoria where the rivers have burst their banks, people’s houses have been inundated. The drenching rains and winds for us come in the wake of cyclone Yasi, which ripped a swathe through parts of north Queensland two days ago. It is still rocking its way inwards but has lost much of its force moving from a category five cyclone into a fierce storm.

I felt anxious this morning, uneasy in my gut. Too much water now. When will it end?

Last night I went to the historic house where one of my daughters works as operations manager. She was worried that the place may have been flooded. The house, an old mansion in the inner city was once owned by a dignified family in Melbourne, now all long dead.

The house is spooky at night, my daughter says, hence her need for my company.

There was a function in the restaurant when we arrived, for which I was grateful. There were other people around in the garden, but we soon took ourselves off to the main house and away from the crowd.

It took some fumbling through office drawers for my daughter to find the one old-fashioned key to fit the back door and more keys, again old fashioned, for almost every separate room in the house.

The main leak was near the ballroom. One of the workers for the catering company who organised the event nearby had put down buckets, haphazardly as it turned out because the floor was a river of water. Someone had peeled back the carpets long ago. This room is notorious for leaking, my daughter says, but the Trust has no money or will to fix the roof.

After a twelve-year drought it has not mattered so much till now when the El Nina effect has turned things around, from drought to flood, in what seems like the blink of an eye.

We walked from room to room across the musty carpets, past elaborate furniture displays, all held back by light wooden barriers to deter people from touching. In each room we looked to the ceiling for tell tale signs of cracked wallpaper. We listened for the sound of dripping, the splash of water against hard surfaces.

We found a small drip onto the desk in the room they call the ‘Boudoir’, otherwise all seemed okay. We moved upstairs. No further signs of damage. We used paper towels to mop up the mess, then turned off lights and locked up again. Finally we took up our umbrellas that we had left at the back door and made our way home through the teeming rain.

All the way there and back I had wondered about the ghosts on the property. I did not let myself think too long on these ghosts while I was in the house itself. I did not want to spook myself nor my daughter. She after all works there and there are times, in winter particularly, when she finds herself having to lock up alone in the dark. Lights out and it is indeed a creepy place.

My umbrella brushed against the underbelly of one of the Cyprus trees along the side fence and unleashed a torrent of water over my head. It rolled down the sides of my umbrella like a waterfall.

This time last year we were still hoping for a little more rain, after the first drops fell following twelve years of drought, but now we want it to stop.

Last year I resolved to myself that I would never again complain about rain, as if my complaints had been responsible for keeping the rain away. Now it seems it matters not.

The amount of rain falling in the last twenty-four hours is enough to convince me the weather is impervious to my insults, or to my comments. The weather is its own boss. It is thick skinned. It does not heed the feelings of mere human beings.

Even so, maybe we should pay more attention to the weather. There are patterns. There are signs. We ignore them at our peril.
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