I woke to the drumming sound of torrential rain on an iron roof at 1.30am. The sound pulsated, as the wind drove the sheets of rain against the window, loudly shushing back and forwards. Every now and then a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder disturbed the relentless sound of the water driving down from the sky. This was the sound of flood rain. And as I sat up in bed in the dark night, my heart pounding, anxiety filling my body, I wondered if I was experiencing pluviophobia.
We had discussed the fear of rain earlier in the afternoon – my 9 co-writers and I sitting in the warm and cosy living room of Dipitur Retreat, sipping fragrant chai and nibbling on chocolate cake. But they, unlike me, had actually lived through the catastrophic floods which had hit Lismore, Mullumbimby, Ballina and the hinterland, two weeks earlier. Was there a word for fear of rain? Well, for the word sleuths among us, there are in fact two words, pluviophobia and ombrophobia, pluvio from the Latin meaning ‘rain’ and ombro from the Greek meaning ‘storms of rain’, phobia, ‘fear of’. Medical literature suggests ombrophobia is an irrational fear. But it is trite to suggest the catastrophic weather system which hit the far north coast of New South Wales during March 2022, was caused by irrational fear. It is a real fear of being homeless, losing all your possessions or your business and in extreme situations, your life, as torrents of water tear through towns and wash roads and hillsides away.
Fred and I had ventured north from our relative safety of home, 400km south, for me to attend my second writers retreat. We planned to arrive a few days earlier to reconnect with our old neighbourhood in South Golden Beach, which had been flooded the week before. We were no strangers to flood, having lived for 10 years under the Springbrook escarpment at the head of the Tweed River. We knew the sound of flood rain. The day we arrived at the beach the streets were devoid of rubbish and mud. The army had been through the day before. Our friends and neighbours spoke of water gushing over ‘the bund’ as the levee is called that separates North Ocean Shores from Fern and South Golden Beach. The small canal development created by Alan Bond in his halcyon days, prevents Billinudgel and Marshalls Creek from emptying into the ocean, just north of Fern Beach. Longterm locals bemoan the fact that it was ever created, disturbing the natural river system. But on this occasion, they spoke of how the community rallied to demolish damaged kitchens and rip up carpets in homes which had had 1.5 metres of water through. We had nothing to offer except to listen. And the weather appeared to be holding. The sun was out.
And so, onto the writers retreat. Dipitur Retreat is slipped into the Bangalow hinterland at Nashua. The Tuscan themed villa, nestled in rainforest can host up to nine residents in separate rooms, ideal for writers. And on entering, a visitor is welcomed by warm light diffused from lamps and high set windows and a stone floor, spread with thick Persian carpets. In the corner stands a giant fireplace, created by hand from river boulders. Lounges and easy chairs provide a nurturing atmosphere.
Behind this is the large farmhouse kitchen and the dining room, with a long wooden table capable of seating ten people. The outlook from here is over a peaceful garden with numerous nooks and crannies for creating an outdoor writing sanctuary.
And there is a pool and hot spa to complete the indulgence.
Nine of us women gathered, seven who had experienced this place last June and two newbies who fitted like gloves into the palm of our group. Cooler bags and woven shopping baskets disgorged food for our four day sojourn. Two fridges groaned with the weight of healthy fare – fruit, vegetables, cheese, organic bread, local gin and wine. The culinary queen Belinda had even made lunch for our first get together as we sat around reconnecting and getting to know our two new writers.
Then the work began. Writers spirited away to their rooms, scrawling in notebooks and clicking away on laptops. After all we were there to write. The discipline was astounding perhaps fuelled by the thought that on day two or three we had to read our work and get feedback from our facilitator Sarah – and each other. A wonderful spirit of trust and nurturing wound around the house, as writers drifted in and out of the kitchen making herbal tea or coffee, random conversations popping up as we stood at the kitchen bench.
And then came the meals. Pumpkin gnocchi with salad, followed by coconut and avocado flan; Thai vegetable curry, with pappadams and spanakopita, followed by chocolate mint cheesecake; spicy dhal with rice, potato bake and baked vegetables, followed by left over gluten free chocolate cake. The table discussions matched the food, deeply healing, respectful and filled with raucous laughter as the alcohol loosened our tongues. And we kept writing, filled with admiration for each other’s stories and their quality, urging each other on to keep going.
But the rain returned and by Sunday when we farewelled each other, we began nervously watching the weather forecast. Fred arrived to collect me, our frantic text messages of the middle of the previous night forgotten in the relief that he had not been cut off and we were destined to move back south. But the forecast of another east coast low presaged more rain for the Rainbow Region and more flooding. The hope remains that the inspiration and euphoria of our writing retreat helped mitigate the feeling of pluviophobia or a new term coined – pluvibophobia.