© Julie Boyd 2011
‘G’day, love. Not sure your little one will make it through okay. Whatderya reckon?’ I looked up to find myself eye to crotch with the owner of the voice, a fluorescent vest-wearing man-mountain who had appeared unannounced outside the window of my small car. Along with a multitude of other lost souls. I’d stopped in the face of a flooded creek which we were wondering if we could cross.
‘Dunno, mate, I guess it’s up to you guys to let us know what to do.’
I was in a queue, something that Aussies tend to not like doing, and the impatience of some of the other drivers was clear. One bloke in a red ute directly behind me threw a three-point turn into oncoming traffic before speeding away in a flurry of stones carried by a good spray of water, earning the curses of all those around him who added chipped duco to the list of car issues they were already facing.
We were stuck at a flooded causeway. An unexpected flash flood in Melbourne’s far-eastern suburbs had been caused by local construction damming water which would normally have been able to escape quite easily. The state government had imposed yet another planning nightmare on residents vehemently opposed to the construction of a desalination plant on one of the pristine areas of Westernport Bay. This had created an unexpected hazard, resulting in widespread destruction. A high price to pay for water infrastructure that was not needed in the first place.
Anyway – as a direct result, trying to get through a 100 metre strip of land that stretched for kilometres was proving a nightmare. Local councils unprepared for such an emergency had hastily constructed signs right at the floodwaters helpfully advising ‘floodwater, find an alternate route’ which resulted in frustrated drivers, like Mr Red Ute, spinning in circles, as they tried first one road, and then another, finding the same advice each time. Not one of them actually suggested an alternate route, which meant that non-locals found themselves taking scenic drives through endless mazes of dead-end streets as they struggled to find their way. Even those with electronic guidance systems in their cars could be heard yelling at their dashboards ‘I tried that way and it didn’t bloody work.’ At least one such electronic gadget was seen being despatched unceremoniously through the driver’s window and into said flood waters.
As my conversation with the crotch of the orange-vest wearer continued, some activity was observed on the northern shore of the flooded causeway. A postie, had zoomed up as only posties can on their little motorbikes, hat and coat flapping like the superman she clearly intended to be, saddlebags each side of the bike bulging with mail that must get through. She, too, had encountered an orange-vest-wearing person, and from the level of arm-waving that occurred, was clearly agitated at her predicament. Her ‘orange vest’ responded by summoning two more orange vests – built more on the burly side, who simply picked the motorbike up and trudged carefully through knee-deep water before depositing it carefully right beside my crotch-conversationalist. ‘There ya go, love, they made it through, let’s arks them what they reckon.’
The next minute three beaming faces appeared as they all squatted down for a problem-solving session about how to get me through. ‘Have ya ever driven through floodwater before, love? Not sure any of us would fit into that little fella, though I’m happy to give it a go. It’s not very ‘eavy tho is it?’
‘Yeah, mate, I have done it before, but that water looks like it’s moving pretty quickly and I haven’t got much weight in the car this trip – apart from me.’
‘No worries, love. You’ll be right,’ the largest one decided. ‘I reckon if I sit on the bonnet, Bill ‘ere might fit in the passenger seat if ya take the lid off, and these other mugs walk behind, that should keep it down enough.’
I looked up just in time to see the postie superman lady leaping onto the back of a fourth burly orange-vest wearer. To the cheers of surrounding onlookers, he ported her carefully through, with only one wobble in the middle, which could have seen them both dumped into the raging water, before depositing her carefully beside her bike. ‘There ya go, love. The mail must get through,’ he said with a salute as we all waved her off on her travails.
As I unclipped the soft-top roof, threw it back and wound the windows down, ‘in case we hafta haul you out, love’, orange-vest Ron hopped aboard the bonnet of my car. Bill, the smallest in stature, managed to get into the passenger’s seat, and, satisfied that we had maximum possible weight on board, we headed out.
One tiny red sports car, with four orange vests, one in, one on, one beside, and one behind, proceeded slowly and steadily, with maximum care, safely through to the other side.