Made it back home across the river just before it became an impossible, treacherous swathe of swirling brown, a sinuous horizontal vortex sweeping the bedrock channel clean. Water winds its way from the sky to the sea, taking with it thousands upon thousands of tons of ancient soil released by the unprotected riverbanks.
Archetypically the flood rises after years of parching drought. Already reaching near-record rain levels, predictions of more days of rain followed by thunderstorms are made. The usual.
Goorah and eye wait for a short break in the downpour to traverse the slushy track to the muddy dirt road in the Jackaroo Deva. We have a narrow window betwixt one flooding bridge and the next. The river approaches the road as we reach the place where we know the first causeway to be. It’s a narrow concrete strip above a swirling deep hole on a river bend, somewhere in the middle of a turbid torrent that covers it – and thirty metres of road – completely. Not quite yet impassable if you know the flow and can keep the engine revving. Not too fast, not too slow, not quite nudged into the hole by the swift current.
“Thirty-six black cockatoos on the tree at the mission yesterday,” Goorah observes as the rain begins thundering down again.
“Thirty-six? Yellow tails?”
“Ni. Screaming and singing away. One of the young fellas there on the veranda counted them.”
Past paddocks become lakes and floating cattle we make the last two bridges with less than a foot of freeboard. Goorah has made it back to the Mission, and the rainforest home is now unapproachable. Town is almost cut off, but there’s just enough time to purchase a roving internet connexion and some supplies before phoning ahead. Time to reach the kids – but the phones don’t answer and the river is rising.
It’s moments like these that a local community radio station is invaluable. My plans firm up when the announcer tells me there’s no way to reach the valley where one of the boys lives. The two most direct roads out of town are already under many feet of water, leaving one roundabout route open and there’s nobody home at either of my destinations. Grey clouds mass in a new approaching front.
Then eye’m offered a place to stay for the night in a large concrete oval dome. Reminiscent of a giant empty tortoise shell, delicately scalloped and inlaid with mosaics, it’s populated by knee-high winged fairy beings made of neo-porcelain, decked in gold and velvet. Paintings dot the walls of the hand-built artist’s studio whose curvaceous walls and circular windows spiral this dreamer through the night.
Today the clouds disguise the dawn and there’s still one road open – when the tide is right. It’s possible to reach one of the kids past wide rivers lapping at the roads and shouldering the highway. The only real obstacle is nothing to do with the weather; Beamish and his mother have just moved house, leaving me with no address but the coastal town’s name and the fact that they live near a big water tank.
The Jackaroo deva aquaplanes along the highway. Most vehicles have their lights on at midday and many have pulled over, parked on the side of the road. An hour later Beamish and eye are leaving the beach to attempt to reach his brother.
The boiling sea is a uniform brown out to a few hundred yards from the shore, where a line as clean as the horizon itself separates the muddy water from the aquamarine Pacific. A gale is rising as the tide falls; at the propitious moment we make our way toward the still pooling lake which covers the highway to Wonder Boy’s valley. It’s only a couple of feet deep and hardly moving, but the emergency workers won’t allow us to make the attempt. We head for the mouth of the river where eye sit writing this in yet another town in a house on the headland, listening to the massive surf pounding at the breakwater and the roar of the river pouring into the ocean. Nothing is visible in the dark of night but a single light in the distance. The houselights are out but the power and phone lines work. The usual occupant is trapped in another town and has graciously opened her door to these happy wayfarers.
It’s good that things are normal again. The drought may even be over.
- R. Ayana
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