"I think that you had better get out tonight."
Inspired by Palmjet's trip report of Dashing Up The Queensland Coast - Part I (pics) with its pictures of Rockhampton recovering from floods I thought that I would share a tale from 1991 when I was almost trapped in that city by flooding. I apologise for the lack of photos - this was pre-digital camera days!
My family moved up to a property 30 km's outside of Rockhampton from Melbourne when I was 10. I never really fit in there, with my love of science and learning. Imagine my excitement then when I was selected to attend the CRA National Science Summer School in Canberra for two weeks in January 1991, surrounded by 144 of my peers, all enthusiasts of science.
It was also to be my first flight since I was but 18 months old. Appropriately enough, that's the oldest recognisable memory that I have, flying TAA Melbourne to Adelaide. Since then, all my travel had been by car, bus and train. This time I was booked with Ansett to fly from ROK to BNE, then BNE to SYD. The last leg would be a summer school coach ride from SYD to CBR, though I would fly all the way back.
There was one problem. Rain had been falling steadily in the region for days, the consequence of Cyclone Joy, and the Fitzroy River, which runs through the centre of Rockhampton and near the airport, was rising. Rapidly. It was evening, about a week before I was scheduled to depart, when Dad issued the warning that I would have to leave as soon as possible.
We called Ansett and got the last seat on the next morning's first departure to Brisbane. Just in case the roads were flooded the plan was to leave as soon as possible and then spend the night at the airport. That meant I had to get packing!
It was about 10pm by the time we departed from home, just Dad and I in the Mitsubishi Starwagon van. Our normal route to Rockhampton ran close to the river and was already flooded, so we went the long way round, via the coastal town of Yeppoon and then through the hills, entering the city from the north. At that time of night the quiet country roads were virtually deserted, the landscapes black silhouettes against a dark sky.
Rockhampton Airport is sited next to lagoons fed by the Fitzroy River. The waters were already starting to lap near to the edges of the road as we pulled into the airport carpark. The airport had already closed for the evening and was empty of human presence but for ourselves.
We lay the rear seats of the van flat to form a bed, but the little folding seat was jammed upright, so there was only space enough for one; Dad with his bad back needed it. I was left trying to make myself comfortable on the front passenger seat, which didn't recline that far. I generally can't sleep upright and the gear stick poking into my side didn't help matters.
Most of the night was spent reading George Turner's book Beloved Son in the orange light of street lamp -- it was due back at the library in the next couple of days and I couldn't take it with me. The story, which involved genetic engineering in a post Third World War Australia was quite appropriate, considering that I was enrolled in the Molecular Biology stream at the Summer School.
There is a stillness to the night, mysterious shadows under an amber light flickering in the intermittant showers. I finished the book, still could not sleep for more than fifteen, half an hour at a time. I listened to taped music on my Walkman, sat and dreamed half-awake.
Eventually it was 6am and the airport awoke to the dawn. Dad helped me check my case in then said goodbye, hoping that the roads would be open so he could reach home again. I went to the bathroom, shaved and tried to wash the sleep out of my eyes (remember that you could bring shavers and big tubes of toothpaste on board in those days!).
I was excited, but a little apprehensive, as I boarded the plane, probably a 737-300. As we took off and turned around the airport I stared out the window and saw how close the water was to the runway. I believe that we were one of, if not the last, flights to depart before the airport was shutdown. It was a couple of weeks before the airport was reopened with all but 20 metres of the runway above water during the flood's peak.
The view of the flood was quickly swallowed up by the clouds. We were served a hot breakfast on the hour long flight - those were the days! I looked out the window the entire flight, excited to be flying, marvelling at the world and sky from above.
I had about four hours to kill in Brisbane while I waited for my next flight to Sydney, so I caught the bus into the city. As I wandered around I was felt tired and a little lonely. The previous winter I had attended a week long "extended learning school" where I met Karen from Rockhampton. She, another girl and I had worked really well together in the laboratory while the other students mucked around. I felt like chatting to her again.
Imagine my surprise then when I bumped into Karen while I waited for a local train to take me a couple of stops from the city back to the Roma Street transit station! We had a quick chat before heading off our separate ways, but I felt a little less alone in my travels after that.
I returned to the airport and boarded my flight to Sydney, where I was reunited with my luggage, which had preceded me by a few hours. I was met my Aunt and Uncle with whom I would stay for a week before returning to the airport to catch the chartered coach to Canberra. I ended up sleeping off a huge headache for the rest of the afternoon and watching a news item about the flooding in Rockhampton.
I enjoyed my week long stay in Sydney and the two weeks in Canberra. Every one of us was sad to be returning home at the end of the school. Ours was an early flight out of Canberra. I remember us waiting at the gate before 6:30am. The Thunderbirds were showing on the televisions. It was just like my early childhood when I would set the alarm to watch the super-marionettes in action.
As the aircraft rose into the sky I looked across at Canberra's many landmarks, thinking to myself that it was a wonderful city to view from above. I saw the erosion in the farmlands of the Southern Highlands, the Royal National Park, then we finally descended into Sydney. From Sydney, another flight up to Brisbane, but with a shorter transit, before our last leg into Rockhampton. The sky was clear now and the extent of the flooding highly visible from above, especially south of the city where the brown and muddy Fitzroy spread into many brown rivulets, meeting the sea at Port Alma.
We touched down into the golden afternoon light. Besides me was another student from Rockhampton who had also attended the summer school. He had been forced to catch one of the boats normally used to ferry tourists to Great Keppel Island out from Rosslyn Bay, near Yeppoon, and down to Gladstone to catch a flight to Sydney. He told me that he had got terribly seasick on that voyage. Now he was sobbing, realising that the wonderful experience had finally come to its conclusion.
While my memories of those flights have been diluted by my many flights I have taken since then, across the world and between Rockhampton and Canberra, they made a huge impression on me at the time. I would sit at the grey monochrome screen of my XT-compatible PC flying in Microsoft Flight Simulator 4, imagining I was flying again between Canberra and Rockhampton again, remembering those happy times.
If you enjoyed this trip report you may like to read my other reports:
Into The Pink, Away From The Storm: QF SYD-CBR-SYD
The Smell Of Durian: AK KUL-BKK-KUL (pics)
Back To Malaysia: JQ SYD-KUL Return (pics)
Let's Fly Jetstar Part 2 Redux: KIX - SYD A332
Let's Fly Jetstar: SYD - KIX A330-200 (pics)
QF And AO: SYD-CNS-KIX, NRT-SYD On 767's (pics)
Just A Day Trip: QF: SYD - CBR
How Many Airlines? Adventures In China (pics)
SYD-ICN-AMS: Asiana, KLM Y Class In 2004 (pics)
Honeymoon In Paris: Flying QF1 Y Class In 2001