© Brenda Joy

Winner, 2021 ‘The Kembla Flame’ Award, Illawarra, NSW.

For the victims of the 2019 North-West Queensland, Inland ‘Tsunami’.

We’re stranded by an inland sea.  We’re isolated. Fear
is threatening my sanity.  Away to East I hear
the helicopter’s distant drone – our only solid link –
and here we wait, two souls alone, too traumatised to think.

To think of how we welcomed rain to end the years of drought –
the source of constant stress and strain that wore our spirit out.
But this was not a normal storm.  Our jubilation ceased
as downpour surged beyond the norm.  Intensity increased.

Increased until this fierce monsoon with unrelenting force
unfurled a trail of wrack and ruin on creek and water course.
Destructive winds of gale intent brought chaos in their wake –
disastrous tale of deep lament that caused my heart to break.

To break in sobs to see our stock entrapped in oozing mud
unable to withstand the shock effects of wind and flood,
I watched my man in ordeal try to feed our starving cows
and saw this stoic, grown-man cry, while labouring for hours.

For hours but then to have to shoot those weak beyond all hope;
to have to face the absolute defeat.  We had to cope.
The animals we’d raised with love depleted down to bone.
We prayed for strength to God above and yet – we felt alone.

Alone in this calamity, we watched our land submerge.
The power of Nature’s symphony became our funeral dirge.
Then in the next dramatic stage, we realised we weren’t
the only ones. Another page of tragedy was learnt.

Was learnt through images of plight in Queensland’s vast North West
as helicopters took to flight and damage was assessed…
While in our microcosmic realm all we can do is wait.
As my emotions overwhelm – we’re victims of our fate.

Our fate! The pilot’s sad report has graphically revealed
the battle that ‘our girls’ have fought and, though our minds were steeled,
his aerial surveillance found the truth we’d come to dread
with cows that reached the higher ground outnumbered by the dead.

The dead!  The rest in huddled fright.  The pilot was disturbed.
As witness to this dreadful sight this hero was perturbed
at wild-life heaped in piles with stock.  Attempt could not disguise
the depth of such horrific shock within his haunted eyes.

His haunted eyes and trembling lips bore message to his grief
He struggled hard to come to grips, to try to give relief.
Cows left cannot access their feed, it’s caked with mud and slime.
He’s flown to bring the hay they need. – Pray he returns in time!

In time we’ll have to face the task of cleaning up the mess.
My husband wears a rigid mask symbolic of distress.
The arduous, rebuilding phase, runs rampant in his brain.
He’s in a post-traumatic haze.  He’ll have to start again.

He’ll start again and I must too.  We’ll salvage and repair.
Resilience will see us through and help us past despair.
The cleaning up of trash and muck, rebuilding miles of fence
will call for fortitude and pluck.  But courage is immense.

Immense community support will rally to our aid.
Help out your mates!’ – that’s what we’re taught. That’s how the West was made.
But when support has moved along, for years we’ll need to strive.
and only those remaining strong are destined to survive.

Survive the rugged, harsh terrain, the threat of flood, the drought,
the debt to banks, the mental strain that ‘sorts the weaklings out’.
It will be tough. We’ll cry, we’ll grieve and curse this tragic flood
yet we’ll resolve to never leave – this life is in our blood.

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