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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 43 - Rain, Rain (Part Two)

“I was met by a scene of destruction. The tent was still standing but silt covered everything at ground level…’’ Gayle Woodward continues the story of a New Year’s camping trip that ended in disaster.

Once this man knew we were on our own, he took charge. He got some women to look after our children and sent us back to our tents to collect what we would need for a night away. We would be leaving for a safe place, he explained.

It is interesting how a great leader can take over complete control of a situation and how we all blindly trusted his judgement without knowing anything about him. He was the Reverend Elliott, decorated for bravery in the Second World War with a Victoria Cross.

Carol and I had no idea where we would be sent but dutifully handed our little ones over to other women and picked our way over logs and rocks and mud back to our tents. I was met by a scene of destruction. The tent was still standing but silt covered everything at ground level. I thought about taking toys for the boys and was clear- thinking enough to collect Jeff’s asthma medicine and Mark’s sedative. I took a few toys, books and a few clothes for the boys and with a slight loss of conscious thought, a plastic bag of hair rollers. I put them all in a bag, collected raincoats for the three of us and went back to the toilet block.

The man was speaking to a walkie talkie as everybody milled around. Stories were told of small pup tents which had been swept away into the lake; luckily the campers who had slept in them had left the camp early for the day. They would return to find their tents and belongings gone.

We had borrowed a dinghy and now noticed that it had been lifted into a clump of toi toi. Carol and I decided to collect as many of our belongings as we could carry and move them to higher ground untouched by the flood. We struggled with gas fridges, wooden cooker units, tables and folding chairs. As we puffed and limped along, we were angry to see some other campers in a high and dry campervan sit inside and watch us through their windows with not a thought of helping us out.

We covered the gear with tarpaulins as best as we could and returned to the toilet block. We were told that transport would come to take us to the disused Lake House where we would stay until further notice. We didn’t argue. I felt rather anxious about Woody. Was he OK? Was he trapped? Was he hurt and would we see him again?

Carol was worried too. She told rescuers, who by now included police and rangers, that Owen was an asthmatic and may not have had his medication with him. We struggled on board a four -wheel drive transporter. Jeff and Brent thought it was exciting and were giggling and talking. I had Mark on my knee as we bumped and slid up the muddy hill from the camp and onto the road above. There we saw trees down and slips lining the road. The driver had to get out a few times to chainsaw a log which was blocking our passage. Carol and I realised that the men must have gone the other way as this road was fairly clear. We did not want to worry the boys with the thought that their Dads were missing.

We arrived to find the Lake House full of people. Someone showed us to a room which we two families would share. There was a double bed with no bedding and there were mattresses brought in and put around on the floor for the children. We went exploring. I told Jeff that we had stayed here on our honeymoon although he showed little interest.

The rain had all but stopped and the lake looked beautiful as ever. Locals had come in to cook up big pots of venison stew, no doubt kill from someone’s freezer. The smell of it cooking was wonderful as we realised that we had not eaten since breakfast. The day had disappeared. We stood in long lines like refugees with plates in our hands to be dished up a couple of spoonfuls of the stew.

Jeff declared he was not going to eat any of THAT! A man serving said to him, “That’s all there is, sonny boy. You’d better like it.” He reluctantly took a small spoonful and although he pushed it around on his plate for a while it soon disappeared. It was delicious.

After dinner we took the children to our one room and settled on who would sleep on which mattress. The two youngest were soon asleep and Jeff and Brent had many questions for us. Where is Dad? How will he find us? How will we get back to our tent? Good question that. We didn’t know. The boys finally fell asleep, exhausted.

Carol and I went out into the dining room when I heard Woody’s voice. I hugged him. His Swanndri was wet and he had a rough three-day beard but I was so pleased to see him. He was safe at least and had been commandeered to join the rescue team made up of forest rangers and police. He told us all that Owen and he were returning to camp when they came across a concrete bridge which had logs rolling across the roadway. The stream was so high that there was now no gap under the bridge.

They stopped to decide whether it was safe enough to cross and thought that the car would be too heavy but that walking across it was safer. They both began the crossing, but Owen turned to go back to his car in order to leave a note in the windscreen saying where they had gone. Woody reached the other side and called urgently to Owen to hurry. He could see clearly from this side that the bridge would go down at any moment.

Owen turned to start his crossing when the bridge split with a crash, broke up and fell in to the raging torrent in the gully below. Woody was on one side and Owen on the other. Woody called to him, “Stay with your car! I’ll send help!” There was silence in the kitchen area as he told the story. Carol looked white with fear. Woody then began the long trek back to camp. He had seen the mess there and had received a ride up to the Lake House where the rescue efforts were being drafted.

He hugged Carol and told her that he would find Owen and we left him to his planning and went back to our sleeping children. Carol and I lay side by side on the bed staring up at the ceiling and thinking. She cried and I held her hand until she fell asleep.

After a while the house became quiet. It had been a long and eventful day. In the early hours Carol and I were woken by the unmistakeable sound of rats running around in the ceiling. We lay awake for hours, hoping they would not get down into the bedrooms.

To be continued next week….

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