//
you're reading...
Big Issue Australia Magazine

Murphy’s Law 03 River Deep


Murphy always admired the work of the emergency services. Seeing them on the news trying to locate a woman missing in floodwaters in Queensland, his stomach tightened as he felt the familiar certainty that nothing good would come of their search. It was partly a survival instinct he had developed after 30-odd years as an emergency worker himself.

He shook his head as he remembered another woman, another flood. It was in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, in the city of Goulburn, where Murphy was a member of both the bushfire brigade and the State Emergency Service. This particular flood had been a ripper. Worst in decades.

A farming couple wanted to cross a swollen creek at a causeway they had used daily for 28 years. But the little creek had become a raging river. The husband knew it was dangerous but thought his new 4WD was up to the task. After all, it had cost him $50,000. His wife wasn’t so sure.

“If we take it nice and slow, and turn the wheels into the current, this baby can handle anything,” Joe declared. But as he edged into the water, he felt the power of the torrent and knew it was too strong.

An hour later, Joe was sitting on the riverbank with the SES volunteers. The car had washed off the causeway, travelled 50m down the river and become wedged in a tree in the middle of the surge. The vehicle was three-quarters submerged, so they couldn’t see Joe’s wife.

Murphy doubted that she was still alive, but for now he had to assume she was. He tied a rescue harness around himself and secured it around the thick trunk of a tree just inside the new bank of the river.

He felt the water trying to snap the rope upon which his life now depended and trying to drag his body under. He felt a moment of panic as he realised just how much power he was fighting. But he needed to know if the woman was still alive so he kept going.

Kicking his feet hard, he reached the car and dived. He could see her through the window, staring straight ahead, wide-eyed. Her vacant expression seemed serene against the fury of the water outside. Her hair floated in the still water that filled the cabin. This was no longer a rescue but a recovery mission.

With sudden urgency, Murphy struggled to resurface and gasped for air. He knew that if he tried to get into the car, someone else would have to recover his body as well as the woman’s. He would be prepared to take the chance if she was still alive, but not to retrieve a corpse.

He knew they needed to recover the body as soon as possible though, or it could be lost for days. He hooked a cable from the front bullbar and slowly dragged himself back towards the tree, with the muscles in his arms and upper body screaming as he worked against the raging torrent. Connecting the cable to the SES troop carrier parked on the riverbank, he hoped it would stop the submerged vehicle from being washed further downstream.

This done, he and the other SES members decided to drive the 6km back to the bridge, cross over, and try from the other side. If only the farmer had made the same detour…

When they came to a stop on the opposite bank, someone said, “Hey, Murphy. The f**kin’ tree’s gone.” Yep, the tree he had been tied to, had been washed away. He imagined it smashing his body and breaking his bones as it hurled down the river into him. No chance of survival if it had come loose while he had been in the water. Only 20 minutes ago.

“Okay, trees are off the list of safe things to tie yourself to,” Murphy said with mock cynicism, their way of coping with the danger and deaths. Just so long as it was out of public earshot, especially the relatives and victims.

It wasn’t until the next day that they were able to recover the woman’s body. It was just something they felt they wanted to do. Had to do. Part of it was a sign of respect, and part of it was a sort of atonement. The deepest part of it was so she wouldn’t be alone in the river. They were keeping her company. They were coping. The loss was theirs as well; a personal loss, even though most of them didn’t even know her.

Watching the news report, 20 years on, Murphy considered the volunteers. Most of them were unpaid, and many lost wages from their regular jobs while they were out serving their community. It was dedication; a need to help those who needed helping.

The reporter commented that the rescuers were wasting resources. The woman’s body had just been found; surely they could be doing something more useful for the living. Murphy gave the volunteers a little mental salute and forgot the commentator in an instant.

by Craig Hill illustration by Matt Clare

Original story published in Big Issue magazine 2006

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law 03 River Deep

  1. I just thought that I should tell you that the link that I rec’d via email to the the second “Murphy” article does not work. Otherwise, I enjoy I do enjoy these short stories.

    Posted by mulrickillion | February 17, 2012, 02:37

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Murphy’s Law 03 River Deep « M. Ulric Killion's space - February 19, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 14,836 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

China decides to engage with Afghanistan’s Taliban to further persecute Uyghurs

China decides to engage with Afghanistan’s Taliban to further persecute Uyghurs

With the United States withdrawing and the Taliban having swept to control of about half of Afghanistan, few observers give the Afghan government much chance of survival. September may be a decisive month, when the withdrawal is complete and American air operations against Taliban positions end. That is the background to Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s […]

Cadence Column: Asia, August 2, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, August 2, 2021

British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is trudging through China’s backyard. Chinese government news “Global Times” describes Britain as trying to relive its old days. China was never happy about getting its ass whipped twice in the Opium Wars, which China provoked with its economic philosophy that “sliver-in, tealeaves-out” was sustainable trade. China, now with […]

Attacks on foreign journalists in China cast shadow over Beijing’s upcoming Olympics

Attacks on foreign journalists in China cast shadow over Beijing’s upcoming Olympics

After promises during the 2008 Olympics, “[f]ew could have imagined the CCP stooping to the level of running campaigns against individual news reporters and outlets, resulting in harassment and death threats against foreign reporters,” writes William Nee. On July 20, in the central plains of Henan province, one of China’s most important regional cities, Zhengzhou, […]

Tibet and China clash over next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama

Tibet and China clash over next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama

A couple of years ago, during a meeting of Tibetan leaders in Dharamshala in India, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was asked about his reincarnation. Addressing the room of monks, religious teachers and Tibetan politicians, the Dalai Lama asked them to look into his eyes. “Do you think it’s time now?” he asked. It […]

China orders one member of each Tibetan family to enlist in the military to fight against India

China orders one member of each Tibetan family to enlist in the military to fight against India

China has been hatching several conspiracies since its defeat on the eastern Ladakh border against India last year. Considering the fact that Tibetan youth can play a vital role in fighting India in the Himalayan mountains on the borders of eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, China has made it mandatory for one member of every […]

China warns UK as carrier strike group approaches South China Sea

China warns UK as carrier strike group approaches South China Sea

China has warned the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth not to carry out any “improper acts” as it enters the contested South China Sea. ‘The People’s Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness’ says the pro-government Global Times, seen as a mouthpiece for the […]

China Has Reportedly Launched a Little Baby Version of the US X-37B Spaceplane

China Has Reportedly Launched a Little Baby Version of the US X-37B Spaceplane

A Chinese aerospace manufacturer hailed a successful test flight of a new spaceplane that will broaden China’s reusable spaceflight capabilities. The unnamed craft reportedly takes off like a rocket and lands like an airplane, much like the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B (pictured above), but can’t go all the way into orbit like the American spaceplane […]

China Discovers the Limits of Its Power

China Discovers the Limits of Its Power

Beijing’s confrontation with Australia should have been an unequal contest. That’s not how it worked out in practice. “Chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes.” That’s how Hu Xijin, the editor of the Chinese Communist Party–run Global Times, described Australia last year. The disparaging description is typical of the disdain that China’s diplomats […]

China looking at expropriating foreign-held tech shares

Those foreigners who hold shares in Chinese tech companies are being warned that all is not well. It is China expert Gordon Chang who explained at Gatestone Institute, where he is a distinguished senior fellow and a member of the advisory board, that the nation controlled by a repressive Communist regime is “on the road […]

Cadence Column: Asia, July 26, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, July 26, 2021

While a typhoon largely evaded Taiwan over the weekend, tragedy struck the mainland. Shanghai faced flooding and death while India suffered a landslide in the Himalayas. In a shocking video, one boulder took out a bridge. Several people died. But, speaking of Taiwan’s tendency to fall out of manure smelling like roses, there’s nothing like […]

%d bloggers like this: