Rise of the Mud Army

in Queensland, Australia

We received this touching email from a Queensland, Australia resident:

Dear Orly, how are you?

Firstly, I want to thank you for making the video ‘Kindness Boomerang’, I have been showing this to my students, I know many have been showing the video to their friends. A bit of an intro, I am a teacher, and a physics PhD student. I live in Queensland, Australia. I have a true story to share with you:

In January 2011, I lived in the Lockyer Valley, in between Brisbane and Toowoomba. I had just moved in after having surgery, I was still in pain, but coping okay and looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation and finishing my Masters degree. All this before I was due to start work at the new school later that month. January is usually hot, as it is high summer here – but this one had been not too hot, but unusually stormy. Then in early January, the impossible happened… the Queensland floods, sometimes referred to as the ‘inland tsunami’.

This started in Toowoomba, then roared through the Lockyer Valley, literally sweeping entire towns away. I remember being in my house on a hill, the lightning was deafning and the thunder shook the house (as did the small landslide across the street). As I looked out my back door, I could see a sheet of water across the backyard.

Here is a video tribute of the floods and what happened next.

The next day, my neighbors and I realized that our little town was cut off, the highway was ruined. The phone networks went down, even the water was cut off at one stage. There were dozens of truckies in the truckstop down the road, stranded.

All of Queensland suffered, an area the size of Texas flooded.

But it was then, that a ‘call to arms’ spread, what became known to some as the ‘mud army’ rose, some say up to a million volunteers (though it would be impossible to truly know the number), helping their neighbours, helping strangers, sharing what they have, giving what they can. I did my little bit, 10 or so hours shovelling mud out and moving furniture out of my new neighbour’s business, only stopping when the pain (from the surgery) got to the point that I could barely move. I went home, looked in the mirror and saw that I was covered in mud, my eyes were red, I was bruised and exhausted – but I was smiling.

A couple of days later, I went out again – this time, joining a group of people (who I met on facebook of all places) giving what we could to people in an evacuation centre in a hard hit town (that we could reach on the ruined highway) – we found it hard to get a parking space, as there were so many people coming in to help. One of the shirts that I gave went to an elderly gentlemen… he and his wife barely survived the devastation that as brought upon Grantham – the hardest hit community.

A week later, I started work at my new school.

When I left that town at the end of 2011 – I gave away all my furniture to some locals – and moved to where I am in central Queensland, in another town that was hard hit (80% under water), I came here with my clothes, books, a first aid kit and a shovel … just in case.

My motivation? There are 3 main things that upon reflection caused my willingness to help – first and foremost, everyone was needed, secondly, I was brought up to help when and where I can and finally, I have been given so many acts of kindness, just a few months earlier, I was seriously sick and people who I just met supported me and helped me get through a very dark time in my life.

My story is just one of so very many, of the million or so that lent a hand – I believe that the small acts of kindness performed by many many people did a lot in Queensland’s eventual recovery.

I just thought I would share that with you. Oh and I finished my Masters degree and got into the PhD program!

A Queensland Resident