“I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable…” – T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets
Personal narrative has been a powerful way we as humans have articulated the individual and collective experience. Through personal accounts we are able to share many experiences including stories of survival – what we lived through and how, what this has meant to us and what we have learnt.
Storytelling is instrumental in the process of sense making; allowing us to to come to terms with turbulence and adversity, with suffering and loss, with pain and trauma. Through stories we can share and unearth deeper truths, bringing reconciliation and healing to individuals, families and communities.
A new acquisition for the John Oxley Library, the 28510 Amanda Gearing Queensland Flood Collection 2011-12, represents a stand out example of the the use and power of narrative for truth telling and healing, for learning and starting again.
We could not so easily forget, how in January 2011 the state of Queensland endured catastrophic floods. Brisbane, the state’s capital, experienced its second highest flood since the beginning of the 20th Century with major flooding occurring throughout the Brisbane River catchment.
The flooding, however, most severely occurred in the catchments of the Lockyer Creek and Bremer River (major tributaries of the Brisbane River) where numerous record flood heights were recorded. It was here that one of the major flood events occurred: a flash flood (described as an “inland tsunami’) hit Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley on 10 January.
Most devastatingly, this flash flood caused the loss of 21 human lives in the Lockyer Valley: 14 in Grantham, 2 in Murphys Creek, 2 in Postmans Ridge, 2 in Spring Bluff and 1 in Helidon.
Another major consequence of the event was flood inundation. In Grantham, for example, nearly every house on the floodplain area suffered major damage with a number of houses washed off their foundations and some totally destroyed.
Of this event, the Flood Commission found that: “The common experience was that no-one had time to do much before the water arrived; it was then a fight for survival”.
Against this backdrop, Toowoomba-based journalist Amanda Gearing spent the year interviewing the survivors and rescuers in this region as part of her master’s degree research project. The interviews of the survivors and rescuers then became part of Amanda’s book: The Torrent: Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley January 2011 published by UQP in 2011 (available at the State Library of Queensland: The Torrent).
The raw materials she amassed through this process including a number of oral histories with flood survivors and rescuers in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, as well as digital photographs and videos have become part of the collection of the State Library of Queensland and are now available online to listen to and view.
The stories are deeply personal and honest. Having sat with the accounts for a while, I have felt the aching and loss – but have marvelled at the courage and strength of the people telling their stories.
Amanda explained that: “they [the survivors and rescuers] had an inner determination to tell the stories despite their traumatic experiences, so that those who died would not be forgotten, so that lessons could be learned, so that warning systems and disaster responses could be improved, so that if another similar disaster occurs here or somewhere else, the cost in lives and possessions will not be so devastating.”
The 28510 Amanda Gearing Queensland Flood Collection 2011-12 represents a major digital collection for the State Library of Queensland which explores a significant moment in the contemporary Queensland experience.
Zenovia Pappas – Contemporary Collecting Coordinator, State Library of Queensland