Travel used to be a pleasurable experience. Ever changing scenery as a train chugged across Europe. Tropical evenings on a P&O steamer with good food and the possibility of ship board romance. Not anymore. The indignities of airport security, the cramped seating, inedible food and the claustrophobia of being packed like sardines in an aluminium can. Occasionally there is something that makes the whole experience worthwhile.
Somewhere over Northern Australia, the plane started to change course. Looking out of the window, I saw the plane banking to avoid a huge cumulonimbus. It then turned again to miss another. The plane was flying at 36,000 feet, and the cloud top was at least 4000 foot higher. The sun was low, bringing a glorious range of colours to the intricacies of the surfaces, from blue to vibrant gold.
There was a vista of similar clouds going southward to the horizon, like a nuclear Armageddon, with something like the same release of energy. Suddenly you realised that, somewhere underneath that were people being deluged by biblical quantities of water.
I was not till I returned that I read that Queensland had experienced the worst floods in living memory. Townsville in Queensland received 1100 mm of rainfall in 9 days. Other areas must have received a lot more. By comparison, Sussex has about 750mm in a whole year, and we think the weather is bad.
Australia also has the misfortune to be very flat. It’s part of the huge continent Pangaea that broke up 175 million years ago into the continents that we have today. However, unlike the other continents, it did not suffer the collisions that caused the Alps and the Himalayas. When water falls, it takes a long time to drain away. The Flinders River is a 1000 kilometres long and drains much Queensland. For most of its length, you can walk across it. You certainly can’t now. In some places, it is well over 60 kilometres wide and huge tracts of farmland have been flooded. Half a million cattle have drowned or starved. Doubly sad, because the farmers had nursed them through several years of devastating drought.