the emerald city 2

Up at 5 o’clock in the morning: I didn’t mean to, but the sun shone in and woke me. An hour of work to get ahead of the posse, then showered, packed, in a cab to the airport to catch a couple of teleconferences before boarding.

By half past ten I feel as if I have already done a day’s work. In the airport I meet Rebekah on the escalator, both of us in our stone-coloured Red Cross uniforms, enough for each of us to say hello. We’ve not met before. She and a handful of others are off to Moura from Gate 2 while I fly to Emerald from Gate 3. We do the two-minute intro – what state are you from, where are you going, how many activations, how are you feeling – then it’s back into a wave of anonymity.

I sit beside Kevin from Queensland Health on the plane. We swap phone numbers: we’ll need to talk tomorrow once our respective handovers are done. Marguerite greets me as I disembark. These Red Cross uniforms are really great for recognising colleagues.

Straight out to the agricultural college where a dozen or more Red Cross people are looking after fifty or so displaced people. They have carved out a sort of routine here: set mealtimes courtesy of the Salvation Army, organised playtime for the kids, a trip into the town for the older people later in the day. The accommodation here is pretty good as it is private single, double and family accommodation rather than inflatable mattresses on a gym floor. The Red  Crossers look tired, a few of them, but all they want to talk about is how the people of Emerald are coping, and how they suggest things could be improved for them.

Later, Mohammed and I sit face to face for handover in the middle of an empty public library. Mohammed has been here for four days and it is time for him to fly home for some rest. His handover is concise and professional. It is weird being in a public building with nobody else around: I feel like we are trespassing. But what a dream to work surrounded by all the books you ever wanted.

Bev and Kim from Tasmania are doing a sterling job in the Red Cross Emergency Operations Centre. New volunteers arrive and get briefed, phones ring, whiteboards get updated, somebody kindly makes the newcomer a cup of tea. The Governor General, Quentin Bryce, is in town tomorrow for a barbecue and meet-and-greet at town hall – who attends? How many animals spent the night in the evacuation centres? (for the record, there was at least one turtle and one lizard, and a number of horses). We need to start thinking about outreach. Some of our mobile phones have run out of credit. I make a list of people to call tomorrow.

We spend a half-hour planning ahead for the coming weeks – me doing a crash course in incident management for Bev and Kim, as they check my adding-up in the columns of numbers we create. Although the river levels have really gone down here in Emerald in the past two days, there are weeks and weeks to come before anybody gets back to any semblance of normal. Red Cross will be there to help, so we need to keep the people coming.

Over dinner we are joined by Robyn, our Recovery Centre Manager. Surrounded by passionate, committed people, it is easy to focus on the difficulties and on what we wish could have gone better today. Mohammed tries to make us focus on the important: we have helped some people on their road to recovery today, and we will help some more tomorrow.

Heads full of more ideas and lists of things to do, we head for bed. Mohammed, as his last act as Operations Officer, pops over to the evacuation centre in the town hall to escort our evening shift people back to their motel. It’s the least we can do for them after a long shift.

Tomorrow he heads home and I take the reins completely. I hope I don’t need his advice when he is airborne.


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