Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Droughts and flooding rains

One of Australia's best known poems, Dorothea Mackellar's (1885-1968) My Country says in part:

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains

273507-rockhampton-floods Jan 2011 That is certainly what we are experiencing at the present time.

This photo from the Courier Mail shows the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, population 75,000. Flood levels have yet to peak here, although the city is already completely isolated by the waters.

It is difficult to comprehend the scale of these floods. However, to give international readers a feel for scale, the area now affected by flooding is much greater than that of the UK plus Ireland combined.

Unlike Pakistan and its floods, Australia is thinly populated outside the coastal hugging capital cities. Even so, more than 200,000 people have now been affected.

Coming on top of earlier floods, the damage to the Australian economy will be significant.

Coal mines and coal lines have been affected, with Queensland coal companies declaring force majeure on export contracts. Food crops have been affected; food prices will rise. Government revenues are down, while costs are up. The total cost to the economy is likely to be around one percent of GDP.

Ten people have died so far. Again, this is very small by the standards of the Pakistan floods. But it's still significant by Australian standards.

Inland Australia is very dry and very flat, an old much eroded continent. Waters flow slowly, creating a moving flood wall. 

During long droughts, the soil dries, ground water vanishes. During long droughts, people forget about floods. Some inland Australian children can be as old as seven or even ten before they actually see flooding rains.

As the rains come, the thirsty ground absorbs the moisture. The biggest floods come when the ground is finally moist, storage's full. Then, suddenly, all the water runs into the rivers. For months afterwards, floods come under hot, blue, skies. The heat haze shimmers, even as water rolls over the land. 

Most modern Australians are now remote from the Australian land. They live in hermetically sealed urban environments linked more to the rest of the world than to the realities of their own country.

To my mind, it's not a bad thing that they should sometimes be reminded of the real realities of their country.          


Anonymous said...

Jim, your talk about the thirsty ground - I still remember flying into Moree to visit a client, and dinner that night in his beautiful old homestead - with 2 inch cracks in the stone block walls.

He explained that "you don't fill them up, because next rains, they'll close up, disappear" - or something like that.

And thank you for that lovely post on Learmonth - "I build a cairn of words" - just wonderful!


Jim Belshaw said...

I'm glad you liked the Learmonth post, KVD. I had you in mind when I wrote it!

Liked the Moree story.