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Queensland floods: The spirit down under

Nick Bryant | 22:06 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

There are times when you just have to give in to the national stereotypes, and these past few weeks in Queensland has been one of them.

Regular readers of this blog know that I think outsiders commonly get a lot wrong about the land down under. For a country that prides itself on being so laid back, it can be surprisingly and infuriatingly authoritarian and nannyish. It is strongly state-orientated when the tendency is to think of a shoulder-to-shoulder, fiercely unified nation. For all the national mythology about the bush and the outback, it is also hugely urbanised. Aussies have even slipped a long way down the world drinking ladder.

Flood water surrounds Kurilpa bridge in the suburb of South Brisbane on 13 January 2011 in Brisbane, Australia.

The misappropriation of the phrase The Lucky Country always serves as a useful reminder of the misunderstandings. It started life in the early-1960s as a term of disparagement - it was coined, of course, by the journalist Donald Horne - and only later became a boast.

Some of what we have witnessed in Brisbane these past few days offers proof of all this. The state premier, Anna Bligh, spoke tearfully, and with great Queenslander pride, of the people who live "north of the border," as if the residents of this state are a breed apart. Super-Australians, if you like.

I dare say there were a few people in the bush who, while sympathetic, had a wry smile when they pondered how Brisbane's latte-drinking city dwellers would cope with such massive flooding. Perhaps there are even a few officers in the Queensland police who have rather enjoyed having even more latitude in telling people what to do.

And I know for a fact there were a few New South Welshman who delighted in seeing the Suncorp rugby stadium under water, having been pummelled there so often in the State of Origin rugby league (a producer in London suggested I say that the stadium had been "marooned," not realising the Queensland side are known as the maroons).

For all that, the public reaction to the floods conforms much more closely to how the rest of the world prefers to think of Aussies. Assumed Australia has been very much in evidence.

There has been an extraordinary grittiness in evidence. Yesterday, I reckon I ran into about six or seven Allan Borders. People have shown extraordinary resilience and stoicism. There has been a wonderful laugh-out-loud humour. People have, on occasions, been extraordinarily laid back. Even in Brisbane yesterday, the "No worries mate" and "she'll be right" spirit was strongly in evidence as people mopped out their homes.

Anyone worried about the demise of the Australian larrikin will have hopefully have been reassured to see our pictures yesterday of a bunch of surf dudes, as if out of central casting, taking to the muddy waters with beers in their hands. This, after all, is the home of Castlemaine XXXX - in fact, the area around its main brewery has been flooded. I've lost count of people we have filmed kicking back on the verandas of their Queenslander homes, these bungalows on stilts, while the waters have risen underneath them.

People have mucked in. Yesterday when we filmed home-owners mopping up their homes, they were helped by dozens of volunteers who the residents did not even know. So many were wearing Aussie clothing, from Akubra hats to ball-crushing shorts that seemed to hail from the era of World Series Cricket. Needless to say, many turned out in the dress of urbanites across this land: tight-fitting Lycra.

I will long remember the site of a barista wading through the waters clutching his coffee machine; the man who emerged from the floodwaters with a box full of top-notch wine (most of it came from New Zealand, curiously), and the kid who rescued his surf board. I enjoyed the mayor of Ipswich, an uncomplicated bloke in an uncomplicated sort of place, who suggested that looters be used as floodmarkers.

And we have not even got the bullsharks.

This has been an awful week for the people of Queensland, and especially for those living in Toowoomba and Grantham. But the response and spirit has been a marvel to witness.

And stereotypes are sometimes a little like floodwaters. Sometimes, there's no point in trying to hold them back.


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