Remembering Mount Isa

Prompted by this article in the Guardian and the sense of how “biblical” things are getting I have been revisiting one of the places of my childhood, Mount Isa.

“It’s not too late for Australia to forestall a dystopian future that alternates between Mad Max and Waterworld.”

It was / is a pretty extreme place to live, and this satellite image shows the pervading red, not much green outside the city. I remember it being baking hot and playing under the house, the houses were on stilts to guard against flooding.

“Watch out for the red-back spiders!”

When the floods came they snakes etc. would invade the houses and many of them were deadly.

I found these images.

I am not completely convinced of my chronology but we there when cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin back in the 1970s.

I remember TV images of water after water and people stuck on the roofs of houses, waiting for rescue.

I remember the rain bouncing over a foot off the ground and it being too painful to play in.

Some quotes I found giver a flavour always there was one eye on the water level in the reservoir:

“In early 1971 Mount Isa showed up the truth of Dorothy McKellar’s land of droughts and flooding rains.

Graziers and townsfolk were panicking when Lake Moondarra’s capacity went down to barely 20% amid predictions it would be dry by July. On January 23, council warned residents to expect year-long water restrictions.

Then in early February the heavens opened and in next to no time the city was flooded and cut off. A second more ferocious flooding in March trapped many holidaymakers along the highway, though it was a while before local water restrictions were lifted.”

“1973 was Mount Isas golden jubilee year and it kicked off with a mention in the Guinness Book of Records which named the Isa as the world’s largest city by area, holding 15,822 square miles. Mount Isas 180km road to Camooweal was also hailed as the longest main road in the world.”

“August 1973 was designated as let’s get crazy month by the council. The Rodeo would be the centrepiece of a cavalcade of jubilee events including steam train rides, art exhibitions and a musical pageant. Over 40,000 packed out the jubilee rodeo as 21-year-old Terry Drennan rode the ride of his life to win the saddle for the Open Buck Jumping competition. Cricketing legends Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh dropped by to join the party in October, the same month as the city’s fifth hotel, the Overlander opened.

New Year celebrations in 1974 were barely over when tragedy again struck in an air accident. Ian Smith, 29, of Mount Isa tried to land his single-engined aircraft at Barkly Downs stations in heavy rainfall when it crashed killing all four aboard. Smith and three teachers were travelling to a friend’s wedding. Initially there was confusion as family of the Cloughs who owned the stations thought the missing station owners were the victims. But the Cloughs had just spent the night at the house of friends on their way back from a family holiday.

Mount Isa was trapped by floodwaters which devastated much of Queensland, including Brisbane that summer. The city survived with three food drops a week.”

I remember the rodeo. I helped carry ice for the bars and saw grown men utterly pissed sleeping out overnight and starting over the next day with a tinny for breakfast.

I was scorched by this place. Few of my UK based acquaintances would understand what it means to live in a place like this. And many of the itinerant Australian bar men I worked with in London used to shudder at the idea of living way out back.

And when we finally came back to Heathrow, I could not believe that anywhere could be so green. Apparently, I would not shut up about it all the way to Wales.

Yep, things are getting biblical, fire and brimstone, and flooding.