|ABOVE. MY FATHER, TOM BELL ROWING THE RIVER.|
BELOW. DAD'S RECORDING OF THE RECEDING FLOOD LEVEL.
Source: Personal Collection.
When the waters had receded enough to allow them to descend from the ridge, Dad, Gallagher and George Riggs found that the floodwater had covered the entire Lornesleigh homestead in a layer of mud that had reached up into the second storey.
Later calculations put the height of both the rivers in flood at nearly sixty feet. The water might have lapped around their thighs, but with the taste of brolga still on his lips, that wasn’t going to be enough to keep Dad out of the homestead.
He found Mum’s dog and his tom cat curled up together on a bed in the upstairs bedroom. Now, that was pretty funny, because, natural disasters aside, the two usually hated each other. Dad and the others grabbed tins of food from the pantry and returned to the ridge, along with the dog and cat. The dog didn’t mind being carried, but the cat panicked and clawed him. So, Dad let him swim to the ridge.
The thing about floods, especially in North Queensland and especially on a cattle station, is that everything gets churned up together into a disgusting, ghoulish kind of soup.
I’ve never understood idiots who go deliberately seek out floods as an opportunity for a dip. There are snakes swimming among the dead livestock, there’s excrement from the septic tanks, kerosene, diesel and all manner of poisons. And of course, crocodiles survive when everything else drowns.
They knew all that, but Dad and the others had no option but to wade through the water. They got back to the safety of the ridge with the tinned food, but all of the labels had been washed off, so it was a lucky dip as to what they were going to eat. Sometimes it could be tinned sausages. Sometimes it could be jam. They ate whatever came out of the tin without complaint.