Nikki Upton (on right) and her mother Pam Dallas reflect on their experience in the summer floods in Rolleston.
Nikki Upton (on right) and her mother Pam Dallas reflect on their experience in the summer floods in Rolleston. Daniel Burdon

Floodwater higher than ever before

IT WAS about 3pm on Boxing Day, 2010, when the telephone rang in the Upton family home in Rolleston, Central Queensland.

Heavily pregnant with her third child, Nikki Upton answered the call.

On the line, a distressed landholder upstream warned her about a "tsunami of water" that was likely to hit the town in the next few hours.

While there had been reports of heavy rain overnight, that momentous phone call was the first warning of the disastrous scale of the coming flood.

Nikki said that until that moment, no-one in the town was quite sure what to expect.

Specifically set back from the banks of the Comet River, the Upton's family home was well past the furthest flood water had ever reached in the town.

But in the hours that followed, the river would break its banks and eventually rise to flood the Uptons' home and several others in the town, some two metres higher than any flood in living memory.

Nikki said: "It was Christmas time, so we only had about 30 people in town over those days.

"But that first night, when the water came down and me and others got phone calls from landholders upstream, everybody in town came down to help.

"As the water was rising, everybody was down at our house and others helping.

"They worked all night basically, putting things up high inside the houses.

"But soon, we realised that wasn't going to cut it, so we had to remove almost everything from our house and others."

Nikki's mother, Pam Dallas, has lived in the town for 50 years and could not remember a more destructive, rapid flood.

Pam said that as night fell, the community used a tinny to get to the Uptons' house, climbing from the boat through the windows to get in to the house.

She said the team formed a chain gang, moving beds and other furniture out through the windows of the Upton's house and onto the tinny.

Pam said: "There had never been water even up to most of the homes in town that it went through, and in Nikki's house, it was up around the window sills.

"Another house just down from Nikki's had water up to the eaves."

By 5am on December 27, there was more than a foot of water through Nikki's home and by about 1pm that afternoon, the flood peaked in Rolleston at more than 4.5 metres.

Nikki said: "Nobody thought it would come as quickly or and high as it did.

"The whole town was cut off for three to four months, except for a couple of days here and there.

"At the peak, there was 30km of water stretching south from town, water blocking the Injune Road (Carnarvon Highway)."

By New Year's Eve, Nikki, then 35 weeks pregnant, flew to Rockhampton to have the baby, spending five weeks in the city while her husband cleaned the mud, sludge and slime out from their home.

She said: "My husband was lucky to make it for the birth - the only way out was north, and so he drove the long way around, up through Emerald, Clermont and Mackay, then back down to Rocky."

After the tumultuous first weeks of the flood, the Uptons were finally able to turn their attention to insurance.

Nikki said: "I think over the past year, the insurance has probably been our biggest source of angst.

"It was seven months before the insurance came through, and because the floods were just so big, it was hard to get builders for quite a while.

"We finally moved back into our house at the start of November - but some homes in town have still not been restored, and others have been demolished."

Nikki said the loss of sentimental belongings was the most difficult challenge for her after the floods.

She said while they were able to save many big-ticket items, it was the small things that meant the most.

School books, awards and certificates left in shoeboxes - all but forgotten - can never be replaced.

But Nikki said: "It was definitely a tough time, but when we saw what happened at Grantham, that really put it all into perspective for us.

"We may have lost some houses and some personal things, but thank God we still have our family."

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