The worst of the flood water has hit the low-lying villages of Tumbulgum and Condong today, with all residents being told to evacuate. I received a text message from the State Emergency Service (SES) advising of the evacuation, and posted the information to a local Murwillumbah community page that I am a member of. While on the page, I scrolled through a few announcements and photos added by other members. The flood waters are making a bit of a mess of the area, which is what happens when we have heavy and consistent rain. It’s sad to see the damage, and although I have lived in low-lying Murwillumbah myself and have been directly affected by flood waters, my concern for the residents of nearby, flood affected towns never wavers.
If anything, my concern now is greater. The population of the area has grown significantly over the years, therefore more people are affected when the river breaks its banks, which is what it did today at Tumbulgum. Over the years, however, there has been a shift in peoples’ attitudes towards flooding, and the suggested ways in which we should cope. Once, a new family to the area would discuss the situation over the fence with their neighbours, and learn what to expect and how to prepare for the rising waters. Now, the multitudes turn to social media. While the internet is a faster means of alerting the community, it is also a source of unnecessary alarm within the community. Social media is a platform where old locals and new residents alike can voice their opinion, be their opinion educated or otherwise. And I have noticed that it is mostly the relatively new people to town who feel they are justified in spruiking their ill-informed opinions.
After I posted the information regarding the evacuation notice from the SES, which included information on the designated evacuation sight in Murwillumbah, almost immediately I had a reply from Ms. Over-reactor – the main road into town is closed, how are people supposed to get there? Boat, I replied. I also added that the SES would take care of everything. A further reply was added by Ms. Over-reactor – thank goodness, she exclaimed.
I’m no authority on the matter, but my brief interaction with another community member was an example of one of several over-reactions I have read today. Are people spending so much time on social media, I wonder, that they have failed to discuss the possibility of the Tweed River flooding at some stage with the locals, prior to a flood? Did they not wonder what the white flood-level posts with black measurements painted on them, positioned strategically along the river banks where people would notice, were there for?
Already, the “blame climate change” brigade are making sure their voices are heard. This is proof of climate change, they wail. We must be kinder to the planet if we want this flood devastation to end, they proclaim. Historically, the weather has been changing ever-so-slightly for as long as time. Occasionally the earth has been subjected to a big shift – think the Ice Ages. Industry caused a few problems with the burning of the ozone layer, but measures were taken to reverse the damage. Yes, climate change does exist, just as it always has, so why is it talked about more now than ever before?
I believe the answer to that question involves a notable shift in people, rather than any notable shift in the temperatures. People have been handed the opportunity to be heard on a silver platter in recent years. The internet, and yes, social media, allows everyone to voice their opinions. Instantaneously, a previously unknown person on the other side of the world can have a knee-jerk reaction to a comment without first taking the time to consider the opinion. They respond. Before you know it, a massive row is bouncing back and forth across the planet between two strangers. Others join in, and others, and more and more people voice their opinions, becoming irate over … what exactly? Does the one-hundredth person who joined the argument – because that is what it has developed into – even know how it started? Do they care how it started? Or are they too busy “taking a stance” on the latest topic, complete with buzz-words and hyperbole?
Meanwhile, the old farmer from far northern New South Wales ponders the questions of climate change. He gazes into the flood waters and assures his neighbour, speaking in his gravelly old voice, “Nah, this isn’t climate change, saw the river rise higher than this back in ’74, I did. That’s why they built the levy bank along the town side of the river. You wouldn’t credit the rubbish we saw floatin’ through town that year. That’s when the water lapped the ceiling of all the shops in town. Same thing happened in ’54 too, the old folk used to say. Yeah mate, seen it all before …”
If you ask any old local, they will tell you this weather is to be expected. We live in a flood zone. It’s a subtropical climate, which means our rainy season arrives during summer – it’s summer now. There’s a major river in the area, the Tweed River, which floods, even when the rain isn’t pelting down. Today is one of those days – there’s hardly any rain about, but the run-off from the western catchment areas has now reached the low-lying areas. The river has swelled up from the excess water runoff and broken its bank, and people of the towns and villages are being evacuated.
And it’s not climate change, we’ve seen it all before, Ask any old local. They’ll set you straight on the matter.