Most of these images have never been published or seen.
A little over 48 hours after the horrific wall of water crashed through Grantham and surrounding areas on January 10th 2011, the township remained closed to all outsiders as authorities, police, volunteers and the military searched for bodies in the mud flats and car wrecks surrounding the town.
NOTE: These images are © Copyright with all rights reserved – please do not copy, redistribute or use in any way without express permission from the photographer.
Some people may find the following images distressing – discretion is advised
There were still so many souls unaccounted for, and others that had already been found. As we understand it, the authorities didn’t want anyone in there until they assessed the damage and cleared the area at the now infamous railway bridge – the place that was at the epicentre of the carnage and where the flood waters converged, crushing vehicles into its pylons and sucking them into an abyss of thick turbulence.
I would later learn that it was on the same railway bridge, that acts of heroism beyond my imagination or understanding had also taken place – ordinary people placed in an extraordinary situation and doing the impossible.
Jim Wilkin is a hero – he is to me. His retelling of what he saw and did that day at the railway bridge was as jaw-dropping as it was terrifying. He described the wall of water he saw as being nothing short of a 4-metre high tsunami – a literal vertical wall of rampaging water rushing towards the town. His quick thinking to round up his brother, his neighbours and all of their kids to safety, was a defining factor. He eventually launched his boat and along with his brother Rob, the pair began plucking others who were clinging desperately on fences to safety – saving lives with seconds to spare.
It was a last-minute call to go, we set out for Grantham knowing full well that there was perhaps little chance we’d be let anywhere near the place. Roads were blocked, other roads were desolate and empty and at one point we had to negotiate a mess of fallen powerlines that had closed off a bridge on the outskirts of Ipswich.
My partner had been on and off the phone to Police Media during the course of the morning (she’d been tasked by a national publication to cover the aftermath) and we had been instructed by Police to wait outside of town until the Prime Minister’s convoy arrived – today was the day that both the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and then Premier Anna Bligh were to tour the town and inspect the recovery operations. Military helicopters buzzed the sky above and the humidity post-flood was stifling.
We were escorted in behind the Prime Minister’s convoy and then taken through the town, under the railway bridge and up to the school which was one of the few places on high ground that was unaffected by the flood’s wrath. Here we met with locals, survivors and people, many of whom were still reeling in shock for their lost friends or family, visibly affected by what they had witnessed. Their stories were both nightmarish and, without limitation, utterly heroic.
Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and then Premier Anna Bligh arrive at the recovery headquarters in the town of Grantham, inspecting the search maps and being briefed on the recovery strategy.
Not just in Grantham but in Toowoomba and down to the city, so many stories of heroism, courage, hope and strength – none as touching as the story of the late Jordan Rice who selflessly gave his life to safe that of his younger brother Blake. His story will forever be carried with me but in the most positive way, well as much as one can draw positivity from something so deeply tragic. If you’re ever struggling to find the courage in your own life to take on the insurmountable or to conquer your darkest fears then think of Jordan Rice, he is the light and he is the absolute highest example of what courage, bravery and sacrifice can ever be.
Here and below are just some of the images I photographed that day and the next day in the city at the evacuation centre. I will never forget the things I saw and the stories I heard – it has had a lasting impact.
Six years on and there is still so much that is unresolved for so many – questions that remain unanswered and information that has been buried – much like the cars and people’s lives were buried in the mud that day.
The railway line leading out of town was left covered in strewn debris including shipping containers, water tanks and peoples’ personal items from their homes.
The road into town was littered with the smashed remains of farms and produce rotting in the sun.
Volunteers and police muster and coordinate ahead of sweeping another field – a grim search for the missing and presumed dead
A town in ruin, houses literally picked up and deposited kilometres away on farm flats. Note the landslip in the distance, a hillside scarred by the heavy deluge a few days earlier.
The Grantham railway bridge acted like a giant barricade, swallowing and crushing any vehicle or object that rushed towards it during the tsunami-like event.
Vehicles puled out from under the railway bridge after the water subsided.
An entire house stands isolated in the middle of a field, far from its original stumps.
Shattered and sunk, one of so many cars left broken and semi-submerged miles from nowhere.
Police and military searching the low-lying grasslands around the township of Grantham
A field that just days earlier was filled with crops now sits loaded with half-sunken washing machines household components and cars.
A shattered car sits in a ditch by the railway bridge.
Vincent ‘Norrie’ Blume spent almost two days believing his wife and kids were lost in the flood. They were separated when he courageously leapt onto the rail bridge amid rising waters to save a women from certain demise, reaching out and grabbing her at the last second and helping her to safety. He was later reunited with his family and there’s little that can be said to do justice in speaking about the heroism, emotion, grief and joy that frames his story.
Perhaps one of the more impacting images – this shot shows the lines of footprints and pole prints left by those searching for remains in the deposits of mud, and the concentrated focus around one of the lost vehicles left stuck in the mud.
Jim Wilkin’s car where we found it, sitting destroyed on the bank of the creek by the railway bridge.
Another pile of crumpled cars that fell victim to the railway bridge during the flood.
Pallets of emergency drinking water ready for dispatch, held in a hall in the neighbouring town of Gatton.
One of many houses, uprooted and eventually parked somewhere in a field downstream.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard being briefed by military.
The local Grantham school later became the centre point for those displaced or affected by the event, quickly filling with supplies, donations and most importantly, people to lend a hand or just lend an ear to the local community.
Most street signs around the town ended up looking like this – those that weren’t ripped out and washed away that is.
Police officers take a well-earned water break by the railway bridge.
Some described the water as being six to eight feet above the top of the railway line here at the peak of the flood.
No place for a human being, one of the obliterated cars from the bridge.
No place for a human being, one of the obliterated cars from the bridge.
Tracks and footprints, line after line – a scene of almost complete devastation.
Prime Minister Gillard meets with Red Cross and evacuees that had fled to the RNA Showgrounds Evac Centre ahead of the flood reaching the city downstream.
The Evac centre set up at the RNA Showgrounds to house and support thousands displaced by the pending floodwaters that would later inundate low-lying parts of Brisbane.
Sandbagging in Brisbane City.
Emergency accomodations at the Evac Centre, Fortitude Valley.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks with displaced members of the public about their situation.
Nowhere to go and nothing to do other than wait it out and hope for the best.