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Hi folks, long time no see.  The year has been a busy one and although I have often thought about posting, I just haven’t found the time to do so – not sure what that says!  Anyway, we are coming to the end of a ten day break in the Top End with son James, and now, I AM finding the time!

We flew up from Brisbane Friday a week ago on the midday flight and seeing first hand the diversity that this amazing country offers.  From the parched dry outback that stretches as far as the eye can see, with dry creek beds and cattle tracks criss-crossing the landscape, to the lush, clear waters where the ocean creeps in to the land in the floodplains of the Gulf of Carpentaria.  Apologies for the muted colours – looking through a plane window does not give the best colour!

Once we got closer to Darwin, over the Northern Territory, lots and lots of fires were evident.  Guess they use this time of the year to back burn as much as they can!

And then we were here, with James gleefully greeting us.  Don’t tell anyone, but I think that he was really pleased to see us!  He has lost quite a bit of weight since his health scare earlier in the year and looks much  better for it.  Once outside of the air-conditioned airport, we were hit with the full brunt of the northern winter – gosh, give me one of our summers any day!

James does not have the whole ten days off – in fact, he works all week until the Friday of the last weekend.  But his work at The Coffee Club, Darwin Waterfront is literally a hop, kip and jump across the forecourt in front of the apaprtment he shares with the lovely Gina.  Very handy – especially I guess, when it is pouring down here as it does for about 5 months a year!

So each morning we head over for breakfast and try most of the choices on the menu.  A lot of the week is spent very lazily and I am averaging a book a day!  I haven’t read that much since last Christmas.  Michael took a walk one day and came back with a copy of Edward Rutherfurd’s latest offering New York and has his head buried deep in this big book.  He is half-way through and for those who know Michael’s reading predelictions, that is some feat!!!

We planned to hire a car, but on doing the sums have decided to wait until later in the week and so, joined a tour company for a day in Katherine early in the week.  An early morning pickup just after 6 am is a rude shock to the system, but as the coach is air-conditioned, it is not too bad to bear.  Turns out there are only 12 of us travellng today – bit different to two days earlier when the coach was loaded to the hilt with 46 passengers!  Must say, I prefer this number.

The trip to Katherine is about 3 hours by road, but our trip is broken into stages with a breakfast stop at Adelaide River and a quick stop at the War Cemetery followed by another short stop at Edith Falls.  We could have taken a dip, but as our stop was a mere 20 minutes, only one fo the group did.  It is a beatiful spot though and you can easily see why it is popular with locals and tourists alike.

One thing that is amazing me as we travel through this small part of the Top End is the ruggedness of the landscape – not sure what I expected, but I got as much of a surprise as I did when we travelled through Broken Hill many years ago.

Yes, the land is wide and open for much of the time, characterised by open savannah forest and healthy clumps of pandannus.  We travel up slight rises from time to time and then we are in very rocky country where there hardly seems enough soil to hold the miserly trees that grow here.  George our driver tells us that we are in fact travelling across the top of a broad escarpment that has been weathered and carved by wind and water since time immortal.  Ah, that explains how you get waterfalls and rock pools (yes, I know I should have been able to work that one out with my love of geograpy – BUT WE ARE ON HOLIDAYS and the thinking is at a mimimum!)

Before long, we arrive at Katherine, the third largest town in the Northern Territory.  We dont stop in town, but head straight out to the Gorge within the Nitmiluk National Park where we are booked on a lunch cruise.  This is where we pick up our local guide Chris.  A member of the tribal clan whose land we are visiting, he could not be a better ambassador for his people, his country or his employer is he tried harder.

He was charming – laid back, a little bit cheeky with the odd joke, knowledgeable and respectful – everything we could have asked for.  Young and genuine, he makes a great tour guide and is very well suited to the job!  Katherine Gorge is amazing for those who have not been fortunate enough to visit it.  At this time of the year the walls of the Gorge tower over us, affording themuch sought after shade from time to time.  You can clearly see the effects of the laying down of the sandstone layers and the weathering that has attacked them since that time.  Truly amazing and beautiful and with fewer than normal of us, at one point we drift quietly and can hear the ghosts of the millenia past whisper their knowledge to us from deep with the chasms and caves amoungst the cliffs.

There is plenty of people using the Gorge – canoeing and even swimming – even with the possible threat of crocodiles!

All too soon, the day at the Gorge is drawing to a close and we head back on to the Coach for the trip back to Darwin.  A 30 min stop in Adelaide River for a Barra and Chips dinner at the Pub that could not possibly be adequately described.  All that was missing was the newspaper wrapping!  Man, I could live on this Barramundi up here – don’t care whether it is fresh or salt-water – it all tastes amazing.  And then we dozed or chatted with each other all the way back.

Yep, an amazing day that continues to affirm why the land we live is is so great!

I’ll share more of our week tomorrow!

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Well the job of cleaning up is well underway.  There is the Rally for Relief, the Sound Relief and now Operation Bounce Back. Enough with the jargon!
This morning is bright and sunny, but still with lots of those thick fluffy clouds towering into the stratosphere above us.  The thermometer climbs quickly, pushing towards yesterday’s hot of 35.9 °C, the hottest so far this month, but still short of the January record of 38°C!

And as the temperature climbs, so does the humidity!  Ah yes 79% – ugh!
At least the awful smell of the mud rising from the drying surfaces all over town is dissipating somewhat – that lurking, rotting smell that belongs in some horror film.

This morning was the first meeting of the year for the Rotary Club of Maryborough Sunrise.  It amazed me just how much I missed them, given that such an early start every Wednesday morning is not always welcomed by the body – this morning being one of them when I woke with at start at 6:10 am (we begin on the dot of 6:30am).  With Australia Day looming next week and our long-time support for the Council activities, Service Director Lisa was in full swing organising all of us to cook and serve 1,000 breakfasts followed by the Australiana Games.  In deference to the recovering Queens Park, this year we are using the City Hall and the Green surrounding it.  We will also have a representative of the Shelter Box team displaying one and answering questions.

This morning was also time to farewell Nathasja and Nanna from Denmark as they continue their holiday north to Cairns.  Maybe the Danes are particularly reserved people, or maybe the shock of meeting us quietened them down!  Either way, they were two of the shyest visitors we have ever had through Couchsurfing.  Maybe they will come out of their shells as they grow a little older . . .

And so it is back into the business year.  Already I have a couple of jobs on the go and I have been fielding enquiries also.  Despite the heat in the office (fans in over-drive and wondering whether I should buy a small air-conditioner), it is head down and fingers to the keyboard grindstone.  Planning for meetings in the coming week, then back to a large application for a Healthy Communities Coordinator who is to be based with the local Fraser Coast Regional Council.

I will also ramp up the planning and preparations for my first Japanese English Group who will be here in March with AIIU.  Time to interview the first of the families and to get newsletter articles ready for the school.

A phone call from Lisa at Council saves the day.  The first of the lunch dates for the year – we all meet at the Federal Hotel – all the old crew that I used to work with at Council.  It was lovely to catch up with them all and hear their Christmas season news as well as sharing their frustrations of the flood dramas.  With a major building evacuation, I fear that Susan was the one that bore the brunt of much of it.  If only the same processes and people were available as in the last flood!  Thankfully, the pub is air-conditioned.

Midway through our meals, the storm that had been threatening hits and even though we are there for an hour, it is still pouring as we leave.  After standing chatting for 5 minutes, there was nothing for it but to make a dash for the car parked two spaces from the door.  Succeeded in getting drenched even though I was so close.  Lennox Street is again covered with water in this flash flood and even Ann Street in the block before home is inches deep.   Amazingly the yard is filled with water – more that we have seen in the last two weeks combined – yep, the rain was as heavy as!  The saving grace is that it has bought us some relief from the draining heat and humidity and at 3:24 pm, the temperature is now a much more bearable 24.3°C – bring on autumn and winter I say!

So quite a social day to push on into summer.

Modern communications are very much a double-edged sword.  Never before have we been so well-informed in the midst of a major crisis. 

And it brings out the best and the worst in people.  There was the editor of our local newspaper who filled the front page – not just a small item, but the bulk of the front page – with the photo of a cow in its dying throes, caught by its hoof in the railing of the local bridge.  It took more than a heartbreaking 30 minutes for it to succumb, much to the horror and distress of onlookers that included young children.  It surely did not need the added exposure that the sensational-hungry editor gave it.  Shame on you – shame.

And then there is the surge of volunteers who have come out to help those who really need it.  As the saying goes, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ !  As I sat in the comfort of our loungeroom this morning, watching the Channel Nine coverage of the massive cleanup underway, it was heartening to see the thousands of people in Brisbane who showed up to help out with the massive cleanup.  The footage of bus after bus after bus being boarded by people armed with brooms, rakes and shovels shows Australians as we really know that we are – determined to help out a mate or anyone else that needs it.  Sure, it is probably good therapy for people who were the least impacted, but hey – who cares what the motivation is – when the going gets tough – off we all go!  Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, Oi, Oi!!!

In the midst of the tragedies of the flood victims, we have a small tragedy of our own.  Michael’s brother has had a heart attack and is indeed very unwell.  In another demonstration of the Australian character, when neighbours worried about him, they called the ambulance.  So he is safe in hospital receiving the best care that he can get, and now awaiting surgery for a bypass.  As the proverb goes, ‘It never rains, but pours’ – yes, I know quite a sick quote given the moment, but very very apt!

On a lighter note, we are all high and dry and the roads around us are now open.  You can now travel all the way from the Gold Coast to Cairns via the state’s main road, the Bruce Highway, for the first time in two weeks.  We take so much for granted! 

Today we welcomed Nanna and Nathasja from Denmark – our latest Couchsurfers.  They are travelling in Australia and New Zealand until the middle of the year, and could not have chosen a more in-opportune time!  We had been quite worried for them with Michael texting them with updates over the last couple of days.  However they arrived safely after staying in the Maroochydore area yesterday. 

Their plan is a couple of days here to see Maryborough, Fraser Island, to feed the dolphins at Tin Can Bay and see the coloured sands of Rainbow Beach before heading north to Bundaberg and hopefully turtle sightings before they continue up the coast to Cairns.

“We are Queenslanders,” she said. “We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border. “We’re the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.”

Love her or hate her politically, no-one can have anything other than sincere admiration for our Premier, Anna Bligh.  The quote above comes straight from her mouth only moments before she finally succumbed to tears on national TV today. 

It has been amazing to watch her hold her composure, to remain calm in the face of overwhelming adversity, to speak with compassion and sincerity to ‘her’ people – the residents of Queensland, and do it every two hours over the last three days.  Sure, there were times that she looked tired and haggard, but all the time, she has kept us fully informed.  This all kicked in after the horrific storms and deadly consequences around Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane.
And talking of presenters, Wendy leading the broadcast on Channel Nine has done a similarly incredible job providing a level of decorum that must have been hard to maintain as she sat there providing the link to all the reporters so efficiently between 10 am and 5 pm each day – well done, and also to the ABC radio host visiting from Victoria who has relieved her local counterparts for a while – job well done the lot of you!

And now to Maryborough  . . .

Since I last posted, the mighty Mary River had held steady – even subsided a little before again rising to a peak just under 8 m last night (Wed 12 Jan) around 9 pm.  This was the expected water – the water that had been pouring from the heavens on the upper catchment at the back of the Sunshine Coast.  It hits Gympie first, and so we usually have a few days notice.  The Lamington Bridge never surfaced between the two lots of water and as we watched the water buckling over it today, it is very uneven – could just be debris, but could also be very serious damage!  We won’t know until the water subsides and the bridge is inspected.

We have friends who are stuck between two flooded creeks on the Granville side of the Mary River who have not been able to get into town since last Friday – they are all starting to feel the strain of the loss of social contact – as Robyn put it, “there is a very big difference between chosing to stay at home and being forced to!”  Added to this are the great difficulties that they are having in getting food supplies.  And there was a truly frightening moment for them yesterday when Ergon cut the power as the rising river caused concern for the high voltage feeder lines.  For these people living in rural settings, no power = food spoilage, but more devastatingly, no water as they all pump water.  The panic was short-lived and the power back on within a couple of hours – phew.

The news today is good – Council hopes that they will be able to open the Granville Bridge that connects them and the City proper tomorrow!  All I can do is to phone occasionally and feed through information that I can get from people at the Emergency Management Team.  I hope it helps somewhat – they are preparing for a food drop tomorrow, but most of our friends will be able to get across the bridge then.

In fact, we have been one of a number of Wide Bay cities that have been isolated – cut off from supplies both north and south by flooding that has closed the Bruce Highway – the State’s main road.  Supplies have been drying up of things like milk – Burton’s Dairy is still milking and producing, but they are just a small dairy and unable to produce sufficient to provide even the whole city of Maryborough – but at least they can supply places like nursing homes etc.  And while the local bakers are all working overtime, their supplies of ingredients such as flour were at depletion.  Then, joy of joys, a couple of trucks were able to get through this morning with much-needed supplies – so all is good.

Following on from the storms of Tuesday night in the south-east of the State, we have really had nothing to complain about.  There are a few houses inundated here, but for the vast majority of people here, it is really little more than an inconvenience.  Nothing like the horror of Toowoomba, Ipswich, the Lockyer Valley and Brisbane where 12,000 homes are under water – and for most of them that mean UNDER water – to the roof line, and at least 15 people have lost their lives with many more still missing.  There are no words to say – everything is inane at this point, all we can do is to sit glued to the news broadcasts, aching for the loss and suffering.

But the Premier is right – we are resilient.
We will recover – no matter how long.
We will grow together through this tragedy.

Thank goodness for the foresight of planners following the last flood of this magnitude in 1974 – the Wivenhoe Dam in the upper catchment of the Brisbane River (now at 189% capacity after a few short months ago when it was down to 16% capacity) has mitigated the effects of the flood on the much more developed ‘River City’. 

I believe that these events are a natural occurrence and that all we will be ever able to do is best plan to minimise the risks, take the warning advices when they come and look after ourselves and our mates – a truly Australian way of doing things.

So my friends, cry with us, but also be prepared to rejoice at all the little joys that we discover – friends found safe, the kangaroo about to drown plucked by someone “who couldn’t let the coat of  arms drown” and if you are in a position to do so, donate to the Premier’s Flood Appeal.  You can donate from the Qld Goverment main web page – http://www.qld.gov.au/.

Oh, and pray to whatever God you believe in that the cyclone currently developing to the east of us just peters out before it gets here!  The rain has stopped for the moment – please no more for a little while!

The source of this quote is unknown, but I could not find a more apt title for this post if I spent forever searching!
Since I last posted, Maryborough has been inundated.
 
We have had inches and inches of rain in the past 36 hours – I can’t tell you how much just here because our little domestic rain gauge only holds 4 inches, but friends to the west and south of us have both recorded around 9 inches of rain!  Now, THAT is a LOT of water for any watercourse to manage.
 
The Mary River crept up swiftly and almost silently with the high tide on Friday night.  By 1 am on Saturday 8 January, the bridge deck was awash and by the time I saw it around 8:30 am that morning, it was about 1 metre under water and the debris was piling against the railings (which they didn’t get time to remove and lower this time).
 
Mind you, I had no idea that the river was in flood – I went into the Supermarket to do some shopping to cook for a Cocktail party happening and Andrew and Meredith’s that was subsequently cancelled.  Took the route towards the seafood shop and realised then that Queens Park was under water – even the new Rotary Chapel was half filled with water – you know – the stinking smelling sort of muddy backwash – yuk, that is not going to be a nice cleanup!
 
Water was creeping into the lower CBD streets and as the day progressed, the river continued on its fast rise up to and beyond the high tide at 1 pm yesterday.  And still it rose.
 
The Granville Bridge went under, Lower Kent Street and Wharf Street were navigable only by boat and the City’s first water supply at Ululah Lagoon was getting a long overdue major flush out.  Council workers have now completed erecting the portable LEVEE (someone needs to learn how to spell!!) system in Adelaide Street to protect the CBD businesses and especially their basements.
 
As I type this I am looking out to blue skies with high wispy white clouds from my office – ah, but we cannot let ourselves get complacent – just to the south-west another big storm cell is looming and the powers that be are still saying that the flood peak will be at least 9m and maybe even a little higher.  And that does not include the water that fell in the headwaters overnight (300mm) during one of the most spectacular storms we have seen in about 15 years.
 
But we are all OK.  Our home is high and dry and the greatest inconvenience for us is when the storm water system is full, it backs up under the house giving us a couple of inches to wade through.  Many other are cut off.  The suburb of Granville is isolated from town, Council has suspended the ferrying of groceries because the river is running so fast that there is no-where to berth on the other side, and reports are that the supermarket over there is absolutely empty – so they may need to helicopter some supplies in. 
 
Other friends in the Bidwill area are trapped between two creeks that are very over – Jumpo Creek and Tinana Creek – with more water coming in to these systems from the south today.  Helen and Geoff have reported 15 inches in the last couple of days and near neighbours Jan and Peter have more water on their farm than they have ever seen in 20 years!
 
So guys, keep posted – we could yet float away.  It is certainly providing lots of topic for conversation and the sightseers are out that consistently that Mr Whippy is now trawling Queen Street!  Thanks for all the messages of concern from friends all over the world.  Yes, there is a lot of footage in Europe about the Queensland floods – we are having flooding of ‘biblical proportions’ according to the politicians. 
 
And while Maryborough is well and truly under water, the City fares reasonably well in these major incidents – we generally have a couple of days notice before the headwaters hit us and we have an idea of the volume.  And most of the City is built on higher ground – not all mind you, but most!
 
I’ll keep you posted!!

They have been predicting it for days.
And the weather has been a-grumbling now for a while.
And finally here it comes again – rain, thunder & buffeting winds.

No-one likes it – and none more than the poor dogs.  There isn’t a single one that I know that is OK with thunder.  Yesterday we finally had to get the local animal control people from Council in to take away a poor old dog that had taken refuge here for the past week.  He was frightened – hated the NYE fireworks and just as much hated the thunder that has come in most afternoons.

Luckily though, his owner had reported him missing and local animal catcher Steve was able to reunite him with his family.  Harry hates thunder as much as the next dog.  Thankfully Gen was able to get him to the vet and home this morning before the rain set in.  He has a form of dermatitis that comes from a flea allergy.  We see the occasional flea on him, but being a long-haired black dog, it just aint easy.  Nevertheless, countless washing and flea treating had not helped.

Carolyn, his vet has put him on a no-dog-food diet, we have paid $99 for an oral flea treatment and more for gum drops and a sweet-smelling rose wash.  Gosh – they cost more to treat than us.  Still – he is the cutest, loyalist, adorable , beautiful dog that we are not complaining well, not really!>

And so, back to the wet we go – 2011 is predicted to be more of the same – sigh.  Lets just hope that it dries out enough for the floodwaters to recede some time soon.  We are expecting a couple of Danish couchsurfers next week and it looks like they won’t be going to Cairns to catch their flight to New Zealand by road at this stage!

In the immortal words of the oh-so-eloquent John Lennon, time marches on.

I was amazed when I logged on to see that my last post here was in August last year.  While I don’t want to be tied to blogging daily (because I am sure no-one wants to be subjected to drivel!), I couldn’t believe that I had let so much time pass.  Suffice to say, the latter part of 2010 became busier and busier.

Through couchusurfing.org we welcomed many travellers throughout the year.  This is an exciting social project to be involved in and allows us to continue to engage with others from around the globe.  I guess the proof is in the pudding – for us almost quite literally – at Christmas we had 7 Germans, 2 Czechs, 1 Chinese and a smattering of locals here to share the spirit of giving and sharing.

Most of these had visited us earlier in the year and our new friend Ina (from China) was also a link from the Couchsurfing project.   It was a time of challenge as we were in the midst of the wettest Christmas, December and year for 80 years.  It rained the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights and then some, which was followed by the flooding of Queensland that the politicians are calling ‘of biblical proportions’!

Having farewelled Jerry and Klara from Prague only a week earlier to head to Mackay and then (hopefully) to Carnarvon Gorge, there was a tense morning spent waiting for them to arrive ahead of waters pushing the Burnett River into major flood.  Thankfully they got through OK, but they had to miss Carnarvon – a good enough reason for a return visit some day!

Anja came back from Brisbane, Anne and Johannes (with Phillip and Trostan in tow) drove down from Ayr and Markus and Inga drove back from Melbourne to turn around and retrace their steps to Sydney after Christmas.  And while James, Antony and Amanda and the kids were not here, Gen added the family flavour to the day.

We began our festivities on Christmas Eve when the main part of the celebrations occur in Europe.  Not giving in to the desires of our visitors,we made them wait until Christmas morning for presents, but we did do a nice big traditional pork roast which was supported by Klara’s amazing potato salad.  That night, they all took turns is Skyping to their families at home – a nice Christmas surprise for most. 

Christmas morning was chaotic.  Eggs Benedict was followed by present opening before a quiet day for most.  We sat down to a late lunch around 3:30 pm of seafood, more of Klara’s potato salad and an amazing White chocolate Mousse prepared by Anne and Inga.  Of course we also had Christmas Cake – one of the better one I have made!

And no sooner had the last departed, we then welcomed Gan who was leading a group of young Japanese English language students who were staying in Maryborough.  An altogether much calmer experience to say the least!!  Very laid back, this was his tenth visit to Australia in this role. It was just such a pity that the weather was so terrible that we could not take him to see more of our amazing area.  More opportunities though to share some good local produce.

Hope that our very busy home wasn’t too much of a shock for him – mind you, we got a lovely shock one day.  Phone rang and the conversation went thus:
“Hello”
“Maria?  Its Allyson”
“Hi.  How are you?”
“Are you on the other side of the river?”
“Huh?  What do you mean?”
“Are you on the other side of the river?”
“Where ARE you?”
“Blitz Imports.  Tinana Road.  On the other side of the river”

Now, to put this in context you need to know a few things.  Blitz Imports are in Maryborough.  The river was the Mary River and the Lamington Bridge was closed to traffic in anticipation of flooding.  Oh.  And Allyson and Leith (her husband) are from Perth and we had no idea they were in Queensland!!!
Turns out that they had flown over to buy a car (as you do – ha ha) and had decided to hire a car for the day and drive up and say hello!  As well as these totally unexpected and thoroughly welcome visitors, we had a steady stream through the house last week and we even managed to squeeze a restaurant dinner in at the Port Residence with Andrew and Meredith and dinner with Anne and Mick from Brisbane and local friend Judith.  Poor Gan is probably glad to leave~!~ 

His farewell this morning was bitter-sweet.  We have promised to stay in touch and we issued an invitation for him to bring his family for a visit one day.  He left me with a beautiful Tahitian Pearl that he added to my phone dangle late one night – so lustrous and warm – a special reminder of a special visitor!

On the business front, Funding Power has grown from strength to strength.  The last couple of months were very very busy and I got to work with some fantastic people at St Stephens Hospital for a frenetic couple of weeks.  And although our Rotary Club application was unsuccessful in its first round, Michael from Bay Connect phoned this morning to say that they had received advice that the application we prepared to help work with young people disengaged from main stream services was successful.  It is always gratifying to hear that hard work has paid off!

So, I’m back in to the swing and promise that I won’t leave the posting so long this time!  See you all soon.