National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

All-weather friends

May 2014

by Rebecka Colldunberg

The 2011 Queensland floods caused major devastation and disruption. But even though this is still evident three years later, the people of the Ipswich parish are looking beyond their own troubles to help others in need.

‘I love a sunburnt country.’ Every Australian worth their Vegemite knows these classic words from the iconic Australian poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar. The young author continues … ‘of droughts and flooding rains’ … before painting a romantic picture of drought-parched plains soaked by rain, drying up once more, before being saturated again in an endless, repetitive cycle.

You could easily forgive Queensland farmers if they fail to see the romance in this. As of March this year, 80 per cent of the ‘Sunshine State’ was droughtdeclared— the largest drought-stricken area recorded in Queensland history. Crops are perishing and desperate farmers are being forced to shoot their livestock, once-healthy beasts now reduced to skin and bones. Most distressing of all is that a growing number of farmers, lost in desperation and depression, are choosing to take their own lives rather than wake up every morning to an outlook more desperate than the day before. Just three years earlier, 75 per cent of the state was declared a disaster zone for precisely the opposite reason. As devastated Queenslanders trudged around their homes in filthy, mudcovered gumboots, drought was the last thing on their minds.

But time moves on. The earth has dried and, for most of us, the floods are a distant memory.

This is not the case for the Ipswich Lutheran Parish in Queensland, however.

‘Don’t believe what you read’, says the normally upbeat Rev John O’Keefe. ‘Everything is not okay again. Many homes and lives are still in a state of total disrepair.’

Pastor O’Keefe is now serving as LCAQD Director for Ministry and Mission, but in 2011 he was pastor of the Ipswich Lutheran Parish and witnessed the devastation of this natural disaster firsthand. From day one of the flooding the people of the Ipswich Lutheran Parish were there to serve those affected by the floods—and they haven’t stopped since. In fact, in 2011, the parish took their mission to bring aidto the community so seriously that they employed tireless member Betty Taylor in the role of crisis care coordinator. Betty describes how, in the early days of the disaster, most affected people assumed that their insurance claims would be paid. Unfortunately, many claims were denied as insurance providers found loopholes in their policies.

‘This was a shock for so many people’, sighs Betty. ‘Even some of the families who had insurance claims paid are still struggling to have work completed, and some families who had their claims declined will probably never be able to completely repair their homes. I am still in contact with many of these families.’

Throughout 2012 and 2013, well after flood news stopped selling papers and the media scrum had departed, the parish continued to assist the community. During this time many floodaffected people found the stress and the mountain of work ahead of them too much to bear. Seeing the anguish, the parish took on another staff member, an experienced counsellor.