We’re in a La Niña event, they tell us. We’ve had a wet summer and now we’re enduring a sodden autumn (that’s fall, for those of you in the US). Weeks with hair and clothes constantly damp. I keep a change of clothes in the car, for when I get soaked. Spare shoes. Towel. Pillow.
Our main access road crosses a weir which floods when the river is full. Some factors which aggravate the flooding have also been aggravating a lot of my neighbours also. When the river is high, the word is out: “Don’t spit upstream.”
The recent flooding rains have been catastrophic for so many people in other parts of the state. When the rains moved south to Sydney, a new phrase entered our vocabulary — “rain bomb”.
I have experienced such events before. Being in a rain bomb is like stepping into an industrial-strength shower. You‘re soaked to the skin in seconds.
Yesterday I went to the weir to see how it was faring. It started raining as I arrived so I set up in the cafe under their wide veranda and watched the deluge on the river. It was bad — a family of ducks decided to shelter from the rain under my table. I sat and worked on my writing for the couple of hours I had.
Later after the rain eased, I walked across the weir and noticed how hard it was flowing. It began to spill over onto the road as I was there.
When I went home, I sent another lot of photos and emails to various government departments. Management of our road during a flooding deluge is not working, and I’ve been digging in to find out why, and trying to get action. Just one more thing that gets in the way of my writing.
Today I had a choice to make. Go out, or stay home? I’ve got a book talk to attend. And not just any book talk.
Of course, the rain starts just as I’m loading the car. I’d checked the traffic camera that covers the weir. No passage there, it’s Niagara Falls. The café I visited yesterday will have closed due to flooding today.
I’m in for The Long Drive.
It’s getting heavy as I throw my bags in the car and jump in before getting soaked. The towel is getting a lot of use these days, as I mop the water that tried to follow me in.
Just out of the village, the rain bomb hits. The sky is the colour of liquorice and the water hits the windscreen like a fire hose. Wipers on max only channel the worst. Headlights on, fog lights on, even though it’s mid-morning. I’d pull over but the side of the road is damaged from past storms. The ground is so waterlogged that huge holes appear in the road almost overnight. Trees, roots loosened in the mud, can topple without warning if you just sneeze in the wrong direction.
There was almost a week of relatively fine weather (only a little rain) so most of the potholes have been patched. We’re starting over. I give it a day, if that. As I drive, I peer through the rain to scan for bad potholes. Over the last few weeks there have been many popped tyres and bent wheel rims from people hitting a pothole that was hidden under a puddle.
A slow crawl of cars goes past in the heavy downpour, slinking their way slowly in single file, like saturated chickens huddling together for fear or warmth. Safety in numbers. Headlights on, wipers at full speed.
The rain has eased a little as I drive past the road to the beach. I see some men dragging gates shut. I didn’t stop to ask, but it’s likely the road has been closed due to tree fall.
The road winds down to the valley, and mist is thickening around the road from the thundering waterfalls. Water is pouring across the road, taking gravel with it. Potholes are already forming, patches breaking down.
Behind me, cars are building up. I let the cars past then pull in to look at the old upstream weir. This was thankfully replaced some years ago by a bridge, but it still shows us how badly the river is flooding.
I turn back, cross the bridge, and begin the climb uphill. Tall cabbage-tree palms line the road, with blood gums and other eucalypts straining to maintain their grip on the friable cliffs. Halfway up, here is an incongruous sight — a traffic light. About a month ago, the outer lane of the road partly collapsed and is in need of rebuilding. Until that can happen, the road has to be single lane. I wait at the red light, and soon a string of cars trails past.
Green! I move into the single lane, hoping the road holds. The lights are on a timer and I shudder at the memory of a friend who moved forward on the green light, then found herself caught behind a cyclist, struggling up the hill in the single lane, taking so long that the automated timer changed at the other end and they were met by oncoming traffic where none should have been.
Out on the highway, another rain bomb hit. This is the pattern — drenching rain, low visibility, damaged roads. Then it eases, until next time.
I got to the book talk with time to spare. It’s not raining. It’s as if it only rains on our village, or near the river, guaranteeing that we will be flooded in for weeks. I know that’s not true, I’ve attended meetings with this writing group in the last few months where the deluge was so bad that water was flooding in the door. Not today, thank goodness.
The Torrent is a new crime fiction book set in a fictional town in the NSW Northern Rivers area, three months after a serious flood event. The main character, a detective who is about to go on maternity leave with her second child, is given a cold case to work on, a man who was found drowned in that deluge. Everything is not as it seems. There are murkier depths that are shockingly uncovered, even with all the workplace politics trying to interfere.
The author is Dinuka McKenzie, a pocket rocket of a human dynamo, a young woman with drive and passion for writing. Her talk about her writing process is very useful.
The book was only launched last month, but I’ve already read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. It breaks a lot of stereotypes but only benefits from this. The plot is delightfully complex and very satisfying. This is a detective novel that doesn’t cheat.
Keeping it real, keeping the book honest, is very important. When bits aren’t working, the author tells us, you need to dig in and fix it. Focus on the problem. Because when it’s fixed, you’ve got something great.
Like the road, I think. The weir.
I’ll have a lot to think about on the long drive home. There’s no rush. If I have to pull off the road when the rain bombs hit, so be it.