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Learning from the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley flash floods - now with video footage.

Updated on July 18, 2013

Reporting the flood and gathering survivor stories

Flash flooding the city of Toowoomba - on the Great Dividing Range - swept hundreds of cars from the city streets.

Bystanders used their phones to film the disaster and news coverage quickly spread around the world.

I reported the disaster for The Australian newspaper for three weeks as the search continued for more than 500 missing people.

I spent the following eight months recording the stories of survivors, rescuers and next-of kin of those who died.

The stories told of brave rescues, tragic stories of death and stories of courage of all those people who simply clung on in the torrent and saved themselves.

My book The Torrent: Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley, January 2011, was published in January 2012 by University of Queensland Press. It is available online or as an eBook from any eBook website. Here is a link to the Amazon Kindle version.

The Torrent eBook launched

Click here to download the new eBook of The Torrent.

Murphy's Creek flash flood January 10, 2011

Flash flood in Toowomba CBD January 10, 2011

The disaster struck the rural district of Spring Bluff, the town of Murphys Creek, and the city of Toowoomba. Floodwaters flowing down the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range then began to converge on rural districts and towns in the Lockyer Valley.

The water from Toowoomba flowed to the west, striking Oakey and Dalby and moving down the Murray-Darling Catchment towards Adelaide.

The water flowing down the escarpment to the east struck with increasing force as small creeks converged striking Withcott, Postmans Ridge, Helidon, Carpendale and Grantham.

Over the following days, the floodwaters struck the larger cities of Ipswich and Brisbane.

Mason Crossing, Oakey

Jones Road, Withcott. January 10, 2011

Postmans Ridge Flash Flood January 10 2011

Helidon Bridge, Warrego Highway. January 10, 2011

January 10, 2011 Flash Flood. Channel 7 news documentary

Grantham video slide show

Grantham railway bridge - before the flood.
Grantham railway bridge - before the flood. | Source
Grantham railway bridge - vehicles were swept to the bridge and sucked under.
Grantham railway bridge - vehicles were swept to the bridge and sucked under. | Source

Hear stories from the flood survivors on ABC Radio podcast

Here are links to five short documentaries that were broadcast on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program for the first anniversary of the flood. You can hear them here:

Hear horse whisperer Nellie Gitsham and how she rescued two horses in Murphy's Creek.

Hear Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority swift water rescuer Peter McCarron talk about how he tried to rescue a young woman and her mother from flash flooding in Toowoomba CBD.

Hear helicopter pilot Brian Willmett describe how he and others rescued four people from the area most severely affected by the flash flooding at Postman's Ridge.

Hear teenager Angela Emmerson describe how she and her younger sister climbed to the roof of their house to escape the flash flooding at Helidon.

Hear abattoir worker Rob Wilkin describe how he and his brother used a motorboat to help to rescue 16 people as the 'inland tsunami tore across farm paddocks and destroyed the town of Grantham.

To leave feedback contact me via my profile.

Feedback to the book from flood survivors and readers

Well, Norm and & I have read your book. We must commend you on the book and your detailed accounts of the events of January 2011. This book will be on our shelf (once all the family have read it) for future generations of our family to read and realise what was endured by so many last year. Many friends have bought your book and now have a more informed account of those few days. Sometimes it is hard for us to relate these things to people and now through your book they understand.

Once again thank you for relating everyone’s story with dignity.

Warm regards,

Wendy & Norm Head, Toowoomba

Brisbane reader:

When I finished reading it, I just wanted to get in my car, drive to the Lockyer Valley and ask, ‘What can I do to help?’

Mary-Ann Armstrong Brisbane

Toowoomba ambulance communications supervisor:

Your book is the most comprehensive document I have seen that puts the human experience into what happened that day. It is very detailed and meticulously researched. I knew a little bit about some of the stories but you have taught me much more about those I was aware of and many I wasn't aware of.

One other aspect that stands out to me is the love and care for animals and how you have portrayed people looking out for them and not being prepared to leave them behind. It comes across in the book that the animals were as much a part of the many families as people.

The book is an important historical document which will be a permanent reference source for the future, researched thoroughly and written very quickly while memories are still fresh. I also think your book will be an important step in the healing process for many people.

David Hartshorn, Toowoomba Ambulance Communications Centre supervisor.

Reader reaction: A credit to the survivors and rescuers . . .

I have just finished reading this book in a 24hr period. You have remarkably put these stories down onto paper in a clever way that made me understand the history of the places, the way the land lies and the fateful stories that put people in positions that both saved their lives or ended tragically.put people in positions that both saved their lives or ended tragically. I have shared the stories with my family as I have read the book and together we have pondered the amazing feats of survival. The way some instinctively reacted with holding onto each other using monkey grips, how 4yr old Jacob held onto the showerhead for 2hrs, how Madison climbed onto the lounge chair that stayed wedged within the house, and the premonitions that many heard and listened to.

This book is a credit to the survivors and the rescuers and I know myself and my family have learnt a lot from it. What amazed me was that way you were able to piece the stories together in a way that it was through the eyes of the survivors and no guesswork on identities, but all the stories intertwined with unspoken words. I have shared the stories with my family as I have read the book and together we have pondered the amazing feats of survival. The way some instinctively reacted with holding onto each other using monkey grips, how 4yo Jacob held onto the showerhead for 2 hours, how Madison climbed onto the lounge chair that stayed wedged within the house, and the premonitions that many heard and listened to. This book is a credit to the survivors and the rescuers and I know myself and my family has learnt a lot form it. What amazed me was the way you were able to piece the stories together in a way that it was through the eyes of the survivors and no guesswork on identities, but all the stories intertwined with unspoken words.

Laurel Hughes

Rescue 500 helmet cam photo of the flood in Grantham.
Rescue 500 helmet cam photo of the flood in Grantham. | Source
Rescue 500 helmet cam photo of winch rescues in Grantham.
Rescue 500 helmet cam photo of winch rescues in Grantham. | Source

Flood survivors still need help

Generous donors have helped the flood survivors to rebuild their community but much more help is still needed. Anyone willing to offer to raise money or provide other assistance would be greatly appreciated. See Lockyer Valley mates helping mates.

The torrent destroys a shed in Grantham.
The torrent destroys a shed in Grantham. | Source

Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley

Helicopter rescue of Peter and Marie van Straten by NSW Fire and Rescue.
Helicopter rescue of Peter and Marie van Straten by NSW Fire and Rescue. | Source

State Library archive

My recorded interviews with all the flood survivors are housed at the Queensland State Library and are due to be available online from mid 2013. They form "The Amanda Gearing Collection".

Radio program "The day that changed Grantham"

ABC Radio National's 360 Documentaries commissioned a program called The day that changed Grantham.

Feedback from flood survivors:

Thank you very much Amanda for all your efforts. It is most appreciated. To have a record such as this is priceless.I’ve had some comments from personal friends, all of whom thought it was very well done. I got a bit carried away listening to it all again but the whole show is a very precious record of the many people who displayed such courage and selflessness in the face of adversity. This documentary is a very precious record of an afternoon of tragedy and triumph and the bitter-sweetness of survival. For most people an experience that will define the course of their lives for many years to come.

Trying not to sound too pompous.

Many Thanks

Frank King, Grantham

For information on how to prepare for flash flooding and what to do during a flash flood emergency see my articles:

How to prepare for flash flooding

How to survive a flash flood emergency.

Listener feedback to the radio documentary

ABC Radio National's 360 Documentaries commissioned a program called The day that changed Grantham.

Listener comments:

One of the most sensitive and heart-wrenching stories I have ever listened to. A credit to the whole team.

Lesley Moseley, 360 feedback, ABC Radio National, October 19, 2011

This was an excellent presentation of these people's stories. I was on the verge of tears at times. Thank you very much for this piece. This is community story telling at its most important.

Ben White, 360 feedback, ABC Radio National, October 24, 2011

Excellent program! Thanks to those who put it together and to those survivors who have the guts to tell their stories to the public in general. It sounded horrific when it was actually happening but to hear it from those who were involved first hand was amazing and deeply emotional for me.
May all who suffered loss and grief find some kind of valuable meaning from the experience. May you also find a good deal of peace and understanding within your hearts!

Jack, 360 feedback, ABC Radio National, October 16, 2011

I thought that the programme on the Grantham floods was superb. The honesty and courage of the people in facing death, danger and terrible losses was really heart wrenching. It was a greatly effective use of radio to depict suffering and tragedy. The people spoke of tumult and disaster in matter-of-fact tones. What else could they do? It happened and they were there so they tell it simply as it was. Their humanity shone through. Thankyou.

Margaret Millar, 360 feedback, ABC Radio National, October 21, 2011

I heard the second half of this documentary on the radio and went immediately to the website to listen to it in full. I found it incredibly moving and my heart goes out to all who were, and I'm sure are still, affected. I found myself crying as I listened to your stories which were both heartbreaking and uplifting. I had listened to the coverage intently at the time as I was worried about my family in Queensland and thought I knew what happened but hearing it told through your personal stories was even more powerful. I hope that telling your stories helped in some way - it must have been hard and taken a lot of courage to do so, thank you. And thank you to the people who put the program together, you have done a great job.

J. Gibson, 360 feedback, ABC Radio National, October 19, 2011

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