The Brisbane Floods of 2022
The weather system that swept along the Australian east coast in late February and early March 2022 has caused enormous damage to the many villages and towns in the coastal region throughout Queensland and NSW and, of course, there are a lot of terrible stories to tell.
My report is about Brisbane which has also been hugely affected and because it is a big city the damage here is enormous. More than 5,000 homes have suffered water damage.
When the British soldiers built a penal colony here in 1825, they had a good idea of the high ground, in what is now the center of Brisbane. During this period (until 1840) the 2000 convicts and the soldiers were able to keep their feet dry. It was not the intention of the British when the penal colony was abolished to grow a city there. It was a situation of pioneers who arrived and set up their tent somewhere and then turned it into a hut. Queensland did not exist at that time and was governed from Sydney and that was certainly far away at that time.
Between 1840 and 1860 it was mainly sprawl and the surveyors who mapped the city and its surroundings had in fact only one commission to create as many building blocks as possible because that was the only way for Queensland, which became independent in 1859, to get money in. It did not take into account the floodplains along the Brisbane River and the dozens of rivers and streams that crisscross what is now Brisbane. On the contrary, those were the places that made the most money. During the last 200 years there is a flood somewhere about once every two years.
The first major storm surge soon came in 1857 and then in 1863 and a year later in 1864 and except for the old part of the penal settlement everything was under water. The city was then small no more than 5,000 inhabitants and there were few ‘real’ houses, the slums just drifted away with the water, and were rebuilt. A lot of misery but not too much damage.
The flood of 1872 flooded the entire city again. The flood of 1893 was one of the largest of all and knocked away the newly built first bridge over the river.
With a rapidly growing population and little regulation, the damage got bigger and bigger. When another flood occurred in 1974, the city had more than 1 million inhabitants and that caused new dams to be built to collect the water and then slowly flow through the river to Moreton Bay. But the flood of 2011 made it clear that this did not help very much, and the flood of 2022 confirms that once again.
In the Netherlands, they have had a new water strategy for 20 years: Give the river space. Habitation has been removed from old floodplains and new floodplains have been added to it. This on top of the dikes that the Netherlands has built since the 13th century. While that’s the best solution, it’s not realistic to imagine something like that for Australia, but then what? You really can no longer speak of 1:100 years or 1:50 year major floods. In general, it is the same areas that are flooded again, how long can you last to go through such floods again and again?
Every storm is different and the one from 2022 was a rain bomb, similar to the storm that hit the corner of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands last year, the prediction with increased climate change is that it is precisely these types of storms that will occur more and more.
During the storm I went on foot to see for myself what happened to the Brisbane River and it is unimaginable to see what kind of power that water has. One pontoon after the other with or without a boat on it floated by. Some hit the pillars of the bridge and stuck to it. Pavilions passed, garbage bins and so on.
The day after the storm, typical Queensland weather with plenty of sun, I went out on my bike. Many cycle paths run along the river and they were all under water. What struck me during the bike ride was the mud that stinks and sticks enormously. I was reminded of the thousands of people who are now dealing with that. I can’t imagine the disaster if your house is full of that mud.
We moved to Brisbane two years ago, before that we lived in Bucketty in the Hunter Valley. During the 30 years that we lived there we went through 5 bushfires, but we always had the idea that with the right materials we could do something about this and we always succeeded. You don’t have that option if you live in those areas where flooding happens time and time again.
It is now on to the next flood in 5, 10 or 20 years, one thing is certain it is inevitable and thousands of houses will be flooded again.