Friday, February 4, 2011


A few days after category-five cyclone Yasi had crossed the North Queensland coast at Mission Beach on Tuesday 1st February 2011 at about midnight, causing substantial damage to the regional villages, towns and their surrounding crops, a journalist was inspired to ask the question: “Why do buildings fall down in a cyclone?”
The journalist put the question to a University Professor to get the answer.
The cameras rolled and panned in on the professor’s serious face and then pulled back. The professor moved learnedly across to an open laptop, the new symbol of scholarship, that was conveniently showing the map of a brown Australia with the huge white swirl of the cyclone moving across Queensland, and sat down.
He then began the explanation using his hands to illustrate the forces involved: “When the force of the cyclone is greater than the resistance of the building, the building falls down.”
Cut to a short silence, almost as if dismayed by the erudition of the answer.
Well, now we know.
What was not said is that we are Queenslanders and will want to rebuild.
As Premier Bligh said, lips aquiver “We are Queenslanders. We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border. We’re the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.” (reported in The Australian Literary Review, Volume 6. Issue 1, February 2011, p.24). – and, one wonders, to be knocked down again?
The wisdom of this platitude never seems to be questioned. In the context of a pub brawl, it seems foolish. In the context of not learning from experience – or wanting to - it appears extremely silly.
We need a discussion on all of these matters:
Why rebuild? Where to rebuild? How to rebuild?
Then there is a further, more subtle and complicated layer: what to rebuild? People’s lives are involved here – their relationships to place, to landscape and to each other. The matter is not just one of falling buildings – yes, they fall down because a greater force than can be resisted pushes them, like being shoved in crowd. There are many more, and more complex questions to be answered to determine appropriate future actions. How can the future be made better than just doing the same again and again? The question should have been: “How do we rebuild again after a cyclone?” Then a more meaningful and useful response might possibly have been given. The question certainly engages a set of more challenging possibilities involving people and place. Universities should be aware of this and should be doing more than passing off simplistic explanations as gems of wisdom.

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