Now that I’m home, in the safe confines of my own house, I can write. Even now as I sit here, my fingers hesitate over each keystroke. What to say, and how to say it? How to write about returning to Murphy’s Creek - my home for a year – and to put down on paper what I saw, and how I felt. Be patient with me, I’ll do my best for you.
“I returned to the creek/listened to the spring to come/felt the grass grow tall.
And look, there/Darling/still the yellow flowers are bursting!”
I lived in a single skin, round one-bedroom house at Murphy’s for a year, when I was a single girl; weighed down only by 8 chooks, a rooster, and various wildlife and animals. I loved that house. It was isolated, innovative, interesting and unique. Once I had turned on all the outside lights, at night it looked like a UFO about to fly off into the darkness. The owls would swoop on the insects the floodlights attracted, and I spent most of my time there writing poetry, feeding open mouths and working hard as an Advertising Rep for The Land and Qld Country Life. Gumboots and field days were a wonderful part of my life, I enjoyed mixing it with the menfolk, and I loved being back in Queensland, my home state; closer to my parents in Rockhampton. It was only a full days drive away!
When you live at Murphys, you cop a lot of criticism from the Toowoomba community. “You live at Murphy’s Creek? Why?” they demanded. “You have to go up and down the range, all that way!”
Well, yes, that’s true, but it’s not like I had to walk, I had a car for crying out loud. What was wrong with these people that they were not only so disinterested in living down there (too hot, too cold) but so against the whole concept of driving “The Range.”
Me? I’ve always loved to drive. I marched into the Rockhampton Police Station on the morning of my 17th birthday and got my drivers licence. I had already sat for and passed my written test, the rest was easy. I have always loved my road trips, and I married a car enthusiast, so yeah, me and cars go hand in hand, but I digress.
Murphy’s Creek, as you may recall was the flashpoint for so much destruction recently with the floods, beginning first in Toowoomba (who hasn’t seen the you tube clip of the blue car floating nose-first down the street?) and making their way to Murphy’s Creek, Grantham, and eventually to Brisbane, the waters included in the flooding river and as they say, the rest is history.
My dear friend CJ is with me today. I have work to do in Toowoomba for my client, and she has personal effects to drop off to a young girl who lives here. We head to Toowoomba, an early start; along the amazingly easy but complicated new highway, out to Ipswich, past the flooded paddocks and scoured-out creeks, past the road-work gangs mopping their foreheads in the 30c heat, and past the numerous Police Camera radar sites. So many!
We drive, and chat, and as we slow for road works at the most damaged community, we point. First me. Then CJ. We point, and mouths open and close slowly, we are speechless. Really, there’s nothing say either; nothing more to add to the media and the commentators and the blame being apportioned for the flood.
Our work done in Toowoomba, we spend ten minutes trying to locate the grave of my grandmother, Minnie. I drive slowly along the old road of the Drayton Cemetery, calling her name. Minnie? Minnie? Min? Minnie. We get out in the scorching heat. The graves lie baking like gingerbread men. We can’t find her.
This will have to be another road trip and we make our way home, first discussing if we should drive to Murphy’s, or not. We should go. We shouldn’t go, it’s ghoulish. I need to get CJ back to Brissy by 3.30pm so she can clean her church.
Eventually we decide that we should go and see, to witness for ourselves, and to check out my old home. At first, it’s shocking, the carnage. Then it becomes appalling. At times we gasp together, and then the silence settles again, and we point.
Here. There. At once I want to turn my head, look away. At the same time I need to stare, to absorb it all.
I am not going to describe what we saw, and I didn’t take one photograph. It wasn’t necessary, these images will always be with me, and we have all seen too much in the past few weeks. Way too much. At Murphy’s Creek there is a new pub, where the locals and visiting officials have gathered. We stop for a quick drink, to toast to the new pub, and the survivors of the horror. We toast to the destruction; Mother Nature; and we toast to the dead, the missing; the lives torn and ripped apart by my beloved creek.
Do I feel betrayed by my meandering, pristine water course, the source of so much of my poetry. You bet. Will I be back? Of course, but for now, a community needs to heal, to settle. Homes need to be demolished and rebuilt. Trees need to be removed, boulders shifted, roads and bridges rebuilt.
Murphy’s Creek remains a strong resilient community, and I pray the scars heal, and quickly.
Actually Murphy’s Creek, take your time.
Kilometre after kilometre of fence lines with debris and brown grass clinging like dead skin to the barbed wire.
Driving past a crumpled something. It’s not until I am beside it, I realise it is a car. Was a car. Looks like a crushed tissue. I gasp so deeply momentarily my car wobbles as my hands shake.
Driving past homes and front gates with a sad flapping piece of police tape. In some areas it’s blue and white. Other places have the same tape, as well as orange and white. I don’t know what it means, and I love that I am protected from the horror.
Noting wordlessly another police tape on a letterbox. A gate. We try not to look, to pry.
The further along the road I drive, looking for a safe U-turn place, the tighter my stomach draws into a knot. I feel physically sick, and can't wait to throw the car into a tight right-hand lock and swing it towards home. Hurry!
A sign outside the pub: IF ANYONE FINDS ANY PIECE OF CLOTHING, NO MATTER HOW SMALL, PLEASE REPORT IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT TOUCH. DO NOT REMOVE.
The countryside so green. Such a high price to pay for the rain.
Memories of Murphy’s Creek
I stand, legs spread, arms out wide, straight; like a starfish. The water reaches to just below my nose, allowing me to breathe. The swimming pool reflects my outside world. Tall buildings, palm trees, clouds like frozen steam are solemnly reflected in the smooth water. I am weightless, suspended in space and time. The outside world slows to each breath in and out. At times the water barely moves but the smallest movement disturbs the surface tension and my aqua world rollicks and sways in discord. My husband and his mother chat quietly in the far corner of the swimming pool. I am happily lost in my own universe of water and reflections. Is the world any easier to fathom upside down? In part, as it becomes blocks of shape and colour. The apartment block wobbles like jelly in front of me, stripes of blue zoom in and out; now there, now not there. So, the question is begged. Are they really there, or not? Did recent events really happen, or not? The flood, mud, destruction, cleanup, mess, the cyclone, the winds, the rains, the bloody rain.
Sitting in the Murphy’s Creek Pub, my friend CJ asks: Did this pub go under water? Did it flood? Staring at the rising bubbles of my beer, my mouth tightens. I shake my head; I don’t know, and I don’t want to ask. I want to walk gently in this landscape. If they did go under which was highly likely, as it’s just down the road from the primary school (“I looked up from my class preparation to see cars floating away” says the teacher to the media) then they’ve made a wonderful recovery. It’s not my place to ask such impertinent questions. If they have recovered, then I don’t want to disturb their newly made memories by trolling through the muddy, distressing past. Let bygones be bygones.
I do, however, ask how long the pub has been there.
Three months. So young. So fresh.
Three men in suits and a woman dressed for serious business stride past outside. They stop, consult folders, and continue walking. Detectives? Forensic? Government officials? Locals gather to talk, perhaps about anything but the inland tsunami, perhaps to discuss each step; each day by day; minute by horrifying minute.
Rows of army tents flap silently across the road. Army water trucks rumble past. On the way home we pass the road crews who have put in a massive effort in the short time we have been away. Kilometres of road have been resealed, resurfaced, smoothed and are now open the travelling public.
The following night I phone my mother and my sister in Rockhampton. “I read your piece on Murphy’s Creek” she says. There’s a short silence, and we both begin to cry in the soft way women do when we don’t want to disturb menfolk. Our voices break when we speak again.
“Do you remember buying Naughty Toby James from Murphy’s?” mum asks.
Do I? How could I forget! Toby James was the bitiest, barkiest puppy . As my family were previous cocker spaniel breeders, I had hesitated in buying him, as he wasn’t a purebred. Someone had gotten to the bitch so the father was an unknown. I bought him anyway, glad of the company. I took him everywhere. My advertising clients soon fell in love with my puppy, as I arrived in my girly pink pearl buttoned blouse, jeans and short white gum boots, pup firmly tucked under my arm. Bet they’d never seen anything like it in their life!
As time progressed and my husband and I set up house together, Toby James left his yappy indelible mark on us both, and the front door which even now still bears the scars from his sharp claws.
“I came back covered in so many scratches,” my mother says with a laugh.
“And how about the time you came down to visit me, mum, and Toby was shitting eight poos a night. We went to move the mattress you and dad had been sleeping on, and I shoved once too hard. You went flying across the room, to land within a bee’s dick of a huge turd.” We both laugh heartily at the memory.
Neither of us has even seen a bee’s dick, but we know how small it is. Sorry bees.
As it became more apparent to both my husband and I that it was either me or the dog, Toby James went to live in Rockhampton with my parents. An ideal match, as Toby barked at everything, and dad was deaf. One day as dad was walking Toby along our street, the local ex- Police inspector came rushing out of his house. He lived across the road.
“Shut that bloody dog up or I’ll shoot it!” he demanded.
Dad’s heckles rose, and he bristled with fury. His normally gentle priest’s voice became a deep menacing growl.
“Touch my dog and I’ll have you, ya bastard!” snarled dad, and with that he turned and shuffled back home. It became a battle of wits, the former copper, the ex-priest, and Toby, always barking madly in the middle.
Toby! Lie down! So there it was: two old men, their careers and philosophies forgotten in the streets of Rockhampton. One barking, yapping, happy gold and white spaniel, dad’s best mate.
Sadly they are both gone now, and I like to imagine Toby James, the barkiest, bitiest puppy, running along the beach, yapping at the seagulls and at nothing, his short golden ears flapping in the sea breeze; my dad quietly walking behind him, grinning. Such freedom, heaven must hold.
“Hmm, I remember so much,” I say to mum. “I’ve forgotten heaps, but gradually the memories are becoming refreshed.”
Suddenly the image of black and white photos comes to my mind.
“Do you remember me taking beautiful photos of my sister’s hair” I ask excitedly. “You were both visiting, and we were sitting on the pristine white sand banks of Murphy’s Creek. The afternoon sun made my sister’s hair resemble spun gold.” I can still see her now, yellow dandelion flowers in her fingers, as I clicked away, heart pounding.
“Don’t move, don’t move sis! Look up a bit, now turn your head away a little, and stay still!” I snapped away on The Land’s work camera. Her blonde hair glistened with health and sunshine.
I’ll never forget. However my sister marches up to the telephone in Rockhampton, interrupting my reminiscing. “I only remember some old flasher, giving us all an eyeful!” she snorts. “And there wasn’t much to see!”
Yes, I do slightly remember that, but it’s only 5% of my memory of that day. She, on the other hand, has no memory of my photographing her hair. “We bolted as soon as we saw him” she reminds me. Did we? Fair enough.
But I don’t remember the bad, or ugly, only the sunshine, the glossy loveliness of it all, and the yellow dandelions, waiting to burst upon the world.
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