So many of us here in this country wanted to offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in this appalling tragedy. We’ve all been watching with mounting dismay and concern the appalling nature of these floods. It’s the sheer scale of them I can’t get over, when you think of the metres in height of the flood waters. We have floods here but nothing by any means in comparison to what is happening in Queensland - the sheer size of the area, the size of France and Germany together, that’s the extraordinary thing. And what people are having to endure - watching their homes being swept away and destruction on all sides, coupled with thousands of snakes that appear, crocodiles, you name it. What they have to endure is extraordinary.
Having got to know Australia over the last 45 years, having visited Queensland on various occasions, knowing Brisbane - I was there in the Royal Navy in the 1970s - it’s almost impossible to imagine the floods where they are now in Brisbane itself, but also all those outlying regions. All the people who’ve lost their cattle, their sheep, their horses, their businesses, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
I also wanted to say that I realise only too well that so much is dependent on the actions of the state emergency services, the armed forces, the Queensland police who I know in so many ways have made a fantastic difference to people’s lives in these sort of disasters. I realise only too well, we all do, that the aftermath, the cleanup, the reconstruction, all this effort is going to be vast. I am so glad to hear that a Queensland fund has been set up - to which I am only too happy and proud to contribute something - that I hope will help a little bit towards this massive effort on reconstruction.
One of the things I think is so wonderful is seeing how people are reacting, hearing how all the people are coming in to help others who are in a terrible state, cleaning up their houses, their streets - complete strangers coming in to help. It is wonderful how the good old Aussies operate in these circumstances!
Australia is an extraordinary continent, I remember it so well. In that poem by Dorothy Mackellar ‘My Country’ and its description of a country of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ she describes ‘her beauty and her terror’ - there is that extraordinary combination. Again I remember, back in I think it was in 1974, the terrible cyclone which destroyed so much of Darwin. I visited in 1975 and there was massive damage there. But the clear up occurred and the reconstruction occurred, there is life and hope thank God. But meanwhile, while all this suffering and horror is going on, all of us here in the United Kingdom feel deeply and just wanted to express our solidarity, and send our prayers and our hopes and good wishes, and pray that all will be well in the end, but it isn’t much fun while it’s going on.