Lives on the street

A slightly off topic post today following spending the day yesterday helping a friend salvage his flood ravaged house.

I'm choosing my language carefully, and using the term "house" deliberately. My friend's house is a shell - no walls, no ceiling, and most pertinently, none of the personal possessions that make a structure a "home".

He has family and friends that foresaw the devastation. I'm told the recovery mission to strip the house of furniture, clothing - and even the new bathroom vanity - was epic. Some of his neighbours, like others all over Brisbane, Queensland, and now Australia, have not been so fortunate in these floods.
I arrived on the scene early yesterday morning. I sensed that what I was seeing was the calm before the storm. I was stopped as I turned on to Queenscroft by an army officer who was clearing the area in preparation for the heavy machinery that was scheduled to arrive later in the day.

There was thick mud smeared across the street. I was lucky, as was the owner of a new 4WD, to avoid a crash as I lost control for several seconds as I drove and slid sideways down the road.

I continued on slowly, following the streets I usually cycle on the Brisbane River Ride. It seems it will be a while before local cyclists are able to once again complete this favourite ride.

I tried to concentrate on driving, but was distracted by the piles of debris that lined the footpaths. Seeing it on TV can't prepare you for seeing it up close. It's not just the smell, it's the realisation that people really have lost everything - in amongst the soaked plasterboard, whitegoods and ruined kitchen cabinetry, it was common to see framed pictures, bicycles and toys... curtains and blinds, books and lamps... all the things that make a "house", a "home". 

We hear these items downplayed a lot in the news. They are just material possessions, and can be replaced.

They can be.

But when you see these piles of destruction up close, they strike you more as mountains of memories. While our possessions are just things, they are things that contribute to who we are. They are how we express ourselves. They are the means by which we live the life we choose for ourselves.

Regardless of our age, our possessions represent an accumulation of our life, whether we are ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred years.

As I drove the streets of Chelmer yesterday, I was struck by people's lives, sitting on the street, damaged, unkempt, waiting to be taken away by strangers, to God knows where.

I got to my friend's place and the pile of debris was large and overwhelming. Largely though, it was bland and colourless. His house was muddy, smelly, and dirty, and a large group of family and friends turned up throughout the morning to scrape, rake and hose the mud from his back yard, scoop the remaining mud from the eaves of his roof, strip nails and screws from the frame of the house, wash the walls and roof... the list of tasks seemed endless.

At the end of the day, the house was skeletal, but clean. It will be a large scale rebuild, and it will take time. But he still has some of the things that will make it his home once again; the things that define him and his life so far.


  1. AP. I have often felt guilty about my attachment to things and that sense of loss when they're gone. I have a very bad memory and things keep me anchored to important moments and people. Some things probably do need to go, and as I have moved around a lot, I learnt to be ruthless: some memories are negative and some things just collect dust.Your comments make me me realise that there are 'things' that are important to defining who we are. Thank you.

  2. Ps - loving the new blog format.