He was on the Grantham railway bridge when a biblical deluge smashed the town. Ten years on, what he saw still haunts him.
He was on the Grantham railway bridge when a biblical deluge smashed the town. Ten years on, what he saw still haunts him.

View from a bridge: Hell and high water

When hero firefighter Geoff Purton recalls the devastating floods at Grantham he thinks of just one word: resilience.

Which is not to say he has left behind the horrors of January 10, 2011, when the historic town in the Lockyer Valley bore the brunt of that epic flood that swept through the state's southeast.

The inland tsunami that roared into the Lockyer Valley claimed 12 lives in and around the Grantham district and destroyed nearly 150 homes.

Amid the horror of that day, Mr Purton was on the railway bridge with floating cars crashing around him, working courageously to pull residents out of the swirling brown tide.

 

Geoff Purton at the railway bridge today. Picture: John Gass
Geoff Purton at the railway bridge today. Picture: John Gass

 

Then he manned a fire station radio until the early hours of the morning, directing rescues around the flood-stricken district.

"I was down at the railway line as it started to unfold," Mr Purton recalled.

"I can just see all these cars washing down where Railway St was with the wall of water that came through.''

Mr Purton always took comfort in living on the higher side of town.

He always said that if his house was flooded, the whole state of Queensland would have to be underwater.

Yet during the 2011 flood, water was lapping at the steps of his very house.

"Around 78 per cent of Queensland was under water, and the water came up that far," he said.

"So that comment I made, just off the cuff, sort of rang true."

 

Debris including cars washed on to the bridge in the 2011 floods
Debris including cars washed on to the bridge in the 2011 floods

 

Yet the resilience of the town is what stays with him 10 years after the devastation, as it does with fellow firefighter Geoff Dixon.

Mr Dixon doesn't want to talk about his bravery medal, or how he helped save a fellow firefighter from floodwater or even the tsunami that came crashing down on his truck at Murphys Creek, leaving him and two other firefighters fearing the worst.

He prefers to talk instead of the late mayor, Steve Jones, and the town's relocation and then almost miraculous recovery.

Cr Jones, who died in 2016, is perhaps the greatest unsung hero of the state's summer of disaster, partly because of his foresight in creating a new community master plan that spread the town upward to a new town which floodwaters will never reach.

 

Disaster victim identification police scour the debris at Grantham.
Disaster victim identification police scour the debris at Grantham.

 

With the help of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority, Cr Jones and his council secured $18m in Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements funding for the town's renewal after the flood.

On November 22, 2011, the first homes were relocated to the new "Grantham Estate'' - the first of 100 old and new homes which occupy the new estate in what was an Australian-first land-swap deal.

"The main focus is the resilience of the people, they really did come back quickly… I've never seen anything like it," Mr Dixon said.

And the town never lost its sense of humour.

The coffee shop that was washed off its stumps was repositioned and rebuilt.

"It's actually changed its name," Mr Dixon said.

"It's called The Floating Cafe."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as View from a bridge: Hell and high water



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