Going home a trial amid mud
"EVERYONE was displaced, and the displacement brought its own problems."
That was Theodore's Jenni Hora, co-ordinator of Home and Community Care at the town's retirement village, talking about the loss felt by the aged residents after the summer floods.
On December 27, 2010, the Central Queensland town of about 300 became synonomous with the Central Queensland experience of the summer floods.
The entire town and many surrounding cotton properties were cut off and as the flood waters closed in, the aged, the young and even family pets were flown to safety.
Some 17 residents of the Theodore Council on the Ageing's village complex and the six residents then living in the town's only assisted living hostel were evacuated, with some heading to the Biloela Hospital and others to friends and family across Central Queensland.
Theodore Council on the Ageing chief executive Tammy Malings said most residents were allowed back on January 7 to begin the clean up.
She said the entire complex was covered in a thick, oozing layer of mud and slime that ruined the furniture, walls and carpets of every building.
"The whole village was flooded, it was disgusting the amount of mud, and having had to leave everything locked up for all that time, we opened the windows for quite a while just to let it all air out.
"We were very lucky that we had a lot of people come and help clean the place up, and not long after, the Department of Community Services brought in 10 dongas for us to house some of the residents for a while.
"They were basically like self-contained units for the elderly, so from about March to June, we had people start to move back, into the dongas."
Tammy said it took them and the local State Emergency Services team and rural fire brigade about a week to finish cleaning up the retirement village.
Tammy said: "I'd never want to do it again, everyone was exhausted - many of the residents had lost everything they had."
It was hard going for everybody involved, all of whom donated their time to help the retirement village get back on its feet.
But from the flurry of activity that was the initial recovery effort - there was a silver lining for the retirees and their worried families.
Tammy said within weeks, the insurance came through, bringing with it refurbished units, new and better furnishings and a fresh coat of paint.
But for many of the residents, after weeks of living away from their home, they returned to a home they neither recognised, nor felt comfortable with.
Jenni said the displacement and loss of belongings they experienced was one of the toughest challenges they had faced.
"At first, we couldn't put our finger on why they weren't all happy to be home, but we realised that it was because they didn't feel like they did return to their homes.
"For weeks, they had been thinking about the familiar surroundings, how their units looked and what photos hung on the walls.
"The homes they returned to were completely different."
In all, the re-build cost about $4.5 million, Tammy said.
But it had seen the centre go from an outdated retirement village, to a new "21st century model" for aged care. "We were very lucky that the insurance decided to build it to the specifications of a high quality city retirement village,'' Tammy said.
Jenni said: "Most people from small, rural towns want to stay close to their families, to be where they are.
"And that's where I think we're really lucky - the community has supported this village for many years, because it lets people have an option to stay in their home town, close to their families.
"That's where everybody's support is, and they can watch their grandchildren grow up, and they can visit their friends, and not have that worry about meeting new people.
"I think really, it's the people who make this place what it is."