The choppers, man, the choppers…

The summer of 2010 – 2011 will be associated in my mind with the noisy thump of those enormous Blackhawk helicopters coming in to land at the airport. The regular flight path is close to my house, so every morning as I sit on my verandah doing my writing for the day, there are at least a couple of planes flying over.

Since the floods however, there have been many extra planes and helicopters and the Blackhawks are especially distinctive.

The Rockhampton airport was closed for several weeks and the road between here and there was cut too, so the Blackhawks used our airport as a base to get food and supplies in to those towns which were cut off.

The sound is associated with some anxiety and a large helping of guilt. We weren’t badly affected by the floods, largely because of our geographical location. We did have some supply issues, but all in all it was a minor inconvenience for us.

The news each night revealed tragedy after tragedy. There was the flooding of Theodore first, then various towns along the Dawson River and other places in the Fitzroy catchment. All that water ended up in Rockhampton, so then there was the slow inundation which locals pretty much took in their stride.

Then the appalling tragedy in the Lockyer Valley. We were used to seeing such footage from Brazil, not from west of Brisbane.

Mixed with empathy then came resentment as the waters headed towards Brisbane. “There goes our money” was a common complaint as the State Government’s spending is always prioritiesd towards the capital city, not to desperately needed regional infrastructure.

And just when the bucket brigades in Brisbane were patting themselves on the back, along comes one of the biggest cyclones anyone has ever seen, and again we were spared, although everyone here knows someone who was affected further north.

Any of these events taken singly would have been big news, but collectively its as though you are overwhelmed and therefore feel nothing. It’s just too much. We have no emotion to spare for Victoria’s floods, or Perth’s bushfires. Bananas are up to $6 a kilo and every time I see that price ticket I think about the farmers whose livelihoods have been flattened by a chaotic event beyond their control.

Throughout it all, the Blackhawks have been a constant background noise, and I only realised how constant this morning when the silence was deafening. Suddenly they weren’t there and their lack of presence is both reassuring and frightening. For although they were reminders of disaster, the noise was a reassurance that help was at hand. Now we’re on our own. The damage bill is beyond scary, and we’re not out of cyclone season yet.

Still, there’s only one thing to do – just get on with things. It’s the Australian way.