Coastal calamities are the last thing which come to mind as you wander the pristine beaches of the northern New South Wales. We live only 100 metres from the most beautiful stretch of coast. White sand as far as the eye can see, and the odd surfer cleaving the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Our little village is perched behind the sand dunes, created in the 1970’s after the sand miners left. It’s backed up by an artificial waterway created by a 70’s developer from Marshall’s Creek, a tributary of the Brunswick River. Wedged between these two waterways, what hope is there when the tail of a cyclone whips through the land before bellowing out to sea.
We insist on living in this wetland and think we can tame the water flows with drains and easements and kerb and guttering. The Council repairs the asphalt roads with ridiculous cupcakes of tarred gravel fill, which wash out in the next downpour and they think the weathering can be managed with swales and drainage pits. But nature has other ideas.
Having watched the Whitsunday Coast being battered by the 270km/hour winds of Cyclone Debbie earlier in the week, we prepared ourselves for heavy rains and wind. Rain lashed our windows and roof as we listened to the local radio flood alerts. As night fell, the rivers likely to breach their banks were listed by the increasingly solemn announcer – the Rous, the Tweed, the Brunswick, the Wilson and all the creeks feeding in. Occasionally the evacuation hooter boomed out over the radio, as little communities were whisked to safety – Billinudgel, Tumbulgum publicans put on a brave face as they moved their stock to higher ground and put beers on for the locals.
We went to bed thankful we had removed the giant Elaeocarpus grandis at our front gate last week. The E. grandis or Blue Quandong is a spectacular rainforest tree, which can grow to 40 metres. The little seedling our friends had propagated on their property was already half-way to this height and on windy days the branches brushed the roof line. It’s beautiful flowers attracted rainbow lorikeets and the branches were home to our family of kookaburras and occasionally Mad Max, the brush turkey and his harem. Somehow, the man of the house, always conscious of safety, had a premonition we needed to remove this tree.
I managed to hang onto it for 12 months, pleading that we needed other trees to grow up to give us the privacy which would be ripped away when the tree was gone. But nothing can prepare you for the brutal lopping of a beautiful giant tree. On a horrendously humid day last week, the three tree loppers with their cherry picker and mulcher descended on us and the decimation began. Within an hour the tree was reduced to mulch, water pouring from its trunk as the strongmen flung bits of it to the ground.
At midnight, the rain and wind intensity had increased. SMS alerts came in from SES, Billinudgel evacuate, half an hour later low lying areas in Ocean Shores prepare to evacuate, at 4am New Brighton – just down the road – evacuate. Any time we expected to hear the hooter as cars splashed up our road to higher ground. We lay awake in bed, thankful our 20m Blue Quandong was not going to crash through our bedroom glass doors. We shone torch light out the gateway, checking if the water was advancing under our garage. But no, amazingly we escaped and as dawn broke, we were told to stay indoors as the wind gusts approached 100km/hour. Our rain gauge measured 244mls.
Of course, human curiosity is irrepressible. Soon, we were out with the young kids across the road, wading through the water. In fact, the whole community was out and about, checking trees across the road and riding the river that had become our street. The Council in their wisdom had left open the valve shutting the canal water off from the street. The normal garbage collection would need to wait another day as the garbage truck stalled in the water. Cars lay marooned however we were thankful the evacuation hooter had not sounded.