The wind rattles the corrugated iron roofing, the straight ghost gum at the back of the house sways, drops branches that make a whipping crack as they hit the earth. Relentless rain batters at the tin for hours and I chant a mantra over and over please stop raining, please stop raining. It continues for days on end and we battle to light the fire even with the use of kero, its blue hued liquid fizzing against the damp kindling.
Endless hours turn to days. Wet, wet, wet. We watch the river, holding our breath, and then it rises. Rises like a monster awakening from slumber. Water covers the rocks and trees and creeps steadily upwards, towards the house. Please stop raining, please stop raining.
We speculate about whether the water has ever covered our little hill, suck in our breath and marvel at the speed and power of the water as whole trees sail past – roots and all – some stopping at our crossing down stream and creating a new bridge for us to use to cross the river or as a diving jetty – a new place to play.
The river is swollen, surly and churned up with mud and debris, sometimes even a cow or a car part, some roofing iron.
If it stops raining, the river will drain away into the sea in as many days as it came. Please stop raining, please stop raining.
If it doesn’t stop raining then we are moored on our little island bound by the river on one side and the creek on the other, the only way out is along the saddle behind us, a narrow ridge now made narrower by the rising waters on either side. Please stop raining, please stop raining.
And if it doesn’t stop raining we will run out of food because there is only so much to be picked from the garden in winter. And we are only self-sufficient to a degree. Please stop raining, please stop raining.
A meeting is held. I don’t know how word gets to us. There is always someone who will travel around the bush regardless of the weather, regardless of the situation. In my minds-eye it’s Maddy but I don’t know for sure. But a meeting happens and the majority agree that everyone should take what they can and head out to town.
Maddy is neither boy nor man. He is a gazelle: nimble, quick and flighty. He lives in a hut on the side of the cliff, above the creek, across from Tent City. His dark eyes are always smiling and crinkled and you could confuse him with a Navaho Indian. He likes to ride his motorbike up the coast or to Canberra to visit the oldies. You know what they say: The good die young.
An excerpt from my childhood memoir, ‘Take Me to the River’.