Nick Earls is an Australian author, transplanted from Ireland. He wrote an essay in Sunday’s New York Times about another one of those apparently annual once-a-century events that visit our planet.
This one is the flood in Australia’s state of Queensland. The flood covers an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma. (That’s an area the size of France and Germany.)
Nick Earls’ article reminded me of something I witnessed in Australia during the 2000 Olympic Games.
But first the homeland security resilience observation from Earls’ article:
Queensland faces a flood affecting an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. The mines that supply one-third of the world’s coking coal are shut down. Crops have been destroyed and the soil that grew them has been carried away. Mercifully few lives have been lost so far, but the economic impact has been estimated at $5 billion. Some 200,000 people have been affected, many of them forced from their homes by water and mud.
Nevertheless, there is none of the clamor of disaster, none of the chaos one might expect. Crisis management plans have been activated. Townships, towns and cities are hard at work, not only as governments but as communities. Neighbors are helping neighbors, and then helping people they have never met. When the hard-hit coastal city of Rockhampton put a call out over the radio for people to fill sandbags, 70 volunteers turned up within minutes.
…. Even after the rain stops, we’re told, it will be weeks before all the water is gone. As the less-fortunate evacuees return home, they will find mud everywhere: in their filing cabinets, their kitchen cupboards, their photo albums. As I learned in the aftermath of the Brisbane flood of 1974, the smell will remain for years — a swampy stench that comes out of the walls and down from the ceiling on hot days.
Those people will need room for grief and anger. Most of them, though, when interviewed standing in the wreckage, talk about how life goes on.
Events like this flood not only show our stoicism, but create it. It’s important to Queenslanders, like all Australians, that we see ourselves as people who look adversity in the eye, stare it down and band together to overcome it.
Houses will be repaired, and new ones will be built. Businesses will get back to work. In ground that was baked dry but is now soaked deep, eggs will hatch, seeds will germinate and hidden species will reveal themselves and make the most of this change in their luck before the next drought sets in. Life will go on and, for farmers and those dependent on the land, the next crop should be a good one, if the weather holds.
Ten years ago I was sitting along with 80,000 other people in Sydney’s Olympic Stadium. An Australian athlete named Jane Saville was leading in the final stage of the 20 kilometer race walk event.
An Olympic athlete trains almost her entire life for a very slim chance to win a gold medal. The gold was 100 meters within Jane Saville’s reach.
She approached the Stadium filled with 80,000 cheering and excited mostly Australian spectators.
I’ve been to a number of Olympic Games. I had never seen anything to match the national unity created in Australia by the 2000 Olympic Games. You could hear roars travel like waves throughout Sydney whenever one of its athletes won a gold medal (Australia won 16 of the 186 gold medals awarded.)
Winning an Olympic gold medal is a huge deal.
Here’s the transcript from an Australian broadcast about what happened as Saville moved into the stadium:
Announcer: It’s Saville of Australia. You’ll hear the roar all round Australia when she walks into the stadium. I heard the boys say to her, “80,000 there”. Wang [the Chinese athlete] is chasing her. She’s not all that far behind her, but Saville is leading still as they’re about to go out of my vision. And we’ll go to the commentator… she’s got a red disc! she’s got a red disc!
She was just about to enter the stadium, and the leader, Jane Saville of Australia has been disqualified. Can you believe that?
Jane Saville, leading the 20 kilometre walk and about to enter the main stadium, receives a red disc and has been disqualified from the competition. And that leaves Lipang Wang of China in front.
Well, that is unbelievable. She was within the shadows of the stadium, and Jane Saville has been disqualified from the women’s 20 kilometre walk.
She has broken down. She’s burst into tears. The cameras are following her. They’re not worrying about Wang. And Jane Saville, when she was about to reach out and grab Olympic gold, has been disqualified.
I was close enough to Saville to see her tears, her face contorted by what must have been total devastation.
Ten seconds later — at most 20 seconds — I saw her take a very deep breath, draw herself together, and transform herself from devastation to something close to serenity.
I have no clue how she did it.
Saville (a few moments after she was disqualified): “[Disqualification] is always playing in the back of your mind because as a walker there are the rules and things like that can happen. I wasn’t confident ’til I crossed that line, but I didn’t think it’d happen. I thought it’d be absolutely outrageous for it to happen, you know, where I was. I can’t say anything. I don’t know, I don’t know. Back to the drawing board and try and work out what’s wrong with my technique.”
When I think of resilience, I think of Jane Saville. When I read what Nick Earls writes about the floods in Queensland, I think he is probably right about the resilience of the Australian people.
I have no clue how they do it. I wonder how our nation can learn from Australia.