Thursday, 30th of March.
Uki, Northern New South Wales.
We’ve been out in the torrential rain for 4 hours, there are 11 of us and 3 umbrellas.
Our clothes are drenched and stick to us like paper mache suits.
I pace up and down the 10 square metres of grass that we have left, my mind is making cold calculations and I fucking hate it.
The brown water is rising, crashing on all sides, moving at a pace you wouldn’t believe.
A few of us might survive, miracles do happen, and the rest will dance into the abyss.
If I survive, I may lose more people I love than I can bare to live with.
Should we save the old man first? or the 12 year old boy? Or should it be the people that are the most fit to survive.
Do I save myself before somebody else?
Could I live the rest of my life after watching someone be sucked sickenly beneath the surface?
How much do i want to live?
The horses across the eastern deluge stomp their feet nervously as they watch us sinking on our island.
A man too, watches from the other side.
We wave at him laughing, he waves back helplessly.
Liam and Aydan, two fine young men who grew up in Uki and are like brothers to me, point to a floating palm frond that has 3 screeching rats on top of it.
It rolls over silently.
I walk up to the highest point and jump 3 metres high when my eyes catch a carpet python snaking beneath my feet in the grass.
The SES quotes us $1800 to get a helicopter to save us, and that all helicopters are currently grounded due to low visibility.
None of us can afford $1800.
They advice us wisely to, ‘stay out of the water.’
Brown upon brown the river rushes, gushes, gashing, and trashes our hopes of surviving.
Danielle, constructs a shelter out of a washed up canvas and two ‘ochee straps’, then he points over my shoulder at my car in the distance and says, “Awww fuck mate, she’s not looking very good over there. She’s fucked”.
He laughs at me because he knows his car went under water about an hour ago.
We’re all soaked and shivering, whoever can climb the trees will then have to fight of the hyperthermia overnight, covered in the snakes and insects that climb up too.
On the waters edge of the western bank, we can see the corner of Kyogle and Smiths creek Road in the direction of Uki.
We yell and whistle as loud as we can, but the absolute thunder of the rain and the flood is like banging our fists on a stone wall.
Lizards and spiders cling to our shoulders and faces.
Grass hoppers climb up under our shirts.
Green ants bite our legs, who’s fangs feel like poison, but we’re too tired to take them off.
We’re all refugees here together, our fate is now the same.
Liam found a mouse on the ground, frozen in shock, and he holds it to his own shivering chest.
Sofia, Aydan, myself, and Spock the dog, came down from Shaz’s house to check on the flood and make sure everything was ok.
We crossed a small causeway in the driveway that rarely goes up and never fast. 10 minutes later we returned and it was chest level and running ferociously into a barbed wire fence.
Looking at the water now, I wish we had of crossed that causeway when it was only chest deep.
But then again, im glad im not watching my friends here standard on the other side of the water.
I’d prefer to die with them doing something to help then to watch that.
Shaz, Liam, and Danielle had gotten stuck coming back after abandoning work.
They had swam across a causeway to get here, almost drowning.
The officials say to stay out of the water, but it’s lucky they had swam across, because where they were, is now underwater.
We all met in a paddock alongside a woman named Kate, and retreated back through the paddock back to the road as the water was flanking us fast.
We took refuge under a shelter in the park for 2 hours.
Liam stuck a stick in the ground at the waters edge, every 5 minutes he moved it back thirty centremetres from the rising water.
3 cars sit up the road from us at meadow place, up there was an old man with a heart condition, Two older women, one of whom has leukaemia, and a mother and her 12 year old son, all of whom got stuck for their own reasons.
The water slowly pushed us all up together and now here we are, on the last piece of land left.
Spock, the miniature terrier, and the bravest damn dog that ever was, shivers and shakes in Aydans arms.
The horses shy away from a white barrel that whispers past like an evil spirit.
A part of my brain calculates jumping in and holding on, most equations end in death.
I feel no fear, only the frustration of dead ends, my heart turns cold.
I walk back over to the two trees and check them again. The branch I had planned on scurrying up is inaccessible now.
The rain is unrelenting.
We’re all in good spirits, but our brains can’t fathom how much water our eyes can see.
The water will come.
Its fabric will clothe our naked bodies.
It’s impossible to be alive and simultaneously fathom my own deaths.
Visions flash in my mind, of the old man reaching out to whoever climbed the trees, the fear in his eyes breaking his spirit as the water drags him down.
The 12 year old boy being blown away like a piece of string on the wind under the water, his supple body being broken by the dark beneath the deluge.
These visions are preventing me from going into shock if they eventuate.
Shaz shrieks with elated desperation, jumping up and down and waving in the direction of Uki.
On the bank, roughly 200 metres away from us, on the other side of a monster of water, stands 3 brave men with canoes and paddles.
The canoes were commandeered by Brad, Niall, and Eddie. (Shout out!)
Eddie, paddles out first like a charging bull and carves around the tessellating currents and reaches our island.
“This is a bit of a rough situation isn’t it”. He says jovially.
In minutes, we organise a rescue effort, and one by one canoes come back and forth.
On a few occasions our rescuers almost lose their lives.
The old man went first, then the older women, then the boy and his mother, then one by one we came too.
I felt dissapointed at how easily we paddled across, and I wanted to savor the feeling of leaving that island of death for a moment more.
We all stand there after reaching the other side for a moment with a few more members of the Uki community, exchanging thank yous and having a laugh in a big pink bubble of community that surrounds us and blocks out the deluge.
None of us understand how close it was to all 13 of us washing off of our island, survival mode is still on autopilot.
A woman comes down the street, yelling at us. She’s calling us a bunch of idiots, threatening to report us to the SES for breaking the law.
Shaz tells her to ‘shut the fuck up!’.
The SES arrive 3 hours later in the dark, they search for us around our island that is now underwater.
3 of us lost our cars, but we are alive, and after what we’ve heard has happened to other people, we are extremely fortunate.
We spent the next day clearing fallen trees from Shaz’s driveway. The blisters were small but many from the polluted flood waters, running up and down our legs, they became itchy and weeped yellow fluid.
A couple of us break down as the nervous energy slowly comes out.
We are all family now, bonded together by blood and adrenaline.
When I tell my friends and family the story, it sounds like a great adventure, and it all makes me laugh a lot… but I find it hard to express that I’m having a hard time taking a shower, and that i feel water in my lungs when storm clouds come overhead.
I can only imagine what soldiers must feel like when they come back from war.
I’m glad I experienced it all.
I was baptised by more water than my rational mind could fathom.
It’s given me something that can only be gained in such a way.
In some form, I died on that little island.
I now have nothing to lose, because I still have the life that I already had.
Big love to all other victims of cyclone Debbie.
Every minute before your death, which will one day come, is an opportunity for you to be as alive as possible,
to make Gold from the gift that You have,
which is every gorgeous morning.
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The team at HeartCorePapyrus ❤