Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

A day in Charlton

I spent yesterday in Charlton, halfway between Melbourne and Mildura, two and a half hours north of where I live in the Macedon Ranges. The water has receded, leaving mud over everything, with tide marks on the walls showing how far the flood climbed. Furniture sits outside houses: in the garden if there’s a chance of it being dried out and used again; on the nature strip if it’s ruined. Trucks constantly circle the streets collecting the rubbish.

The Shire Hall has been set up as a Relief Centre: people gather for meals; come to collect groceries and clothes from the Red Cross; meet with government representatives about emergency grants. The locals are running a volunteer bank, with those whose houses escaped and visitors from outside the town volunteering to help others clean up. People whose houses are intact are billeting their neighbours, twenty to a house, feeding and doing the washing of those whose houses went under.

People are shocked and full of disbelief. There has never been a flood like this; the extent of the destruction is absolutely unprecedented. Some of them are worried that their insurance won’t cover them – we’re all beginning to learn the difference between a flood and a river rising. Others are aware that the value of their properties have now plummeted. If they are so traumatised that they decide to sell, it seems unlikely that anyone will buy.

But no one died. Everyone was evacuated safely; members of the community are caring for each other; and help from outside has arrived.

I spent the day sitting down next to people: as they took a break from cleaning sitting outside the Shire Hall in the sun; as they waited in the queues to register for Centrelink help. That’s all I did: sit down with a tabard saying “Chaplain” on it. And people talked. They always said that others were worse off and they just had to get through it; but they also talked about how the flood has affected them, and a little about their fears for the future.  And I listened; and said almost nothing.

I have a weird role in emergencies. I don’t feed people or clothe them or protect them or help them clean up – although I’d be happy (ecstatic!) to do any and all of that. What I do is sit down next to people and listen to them. I’m never quite sure that it helps; I can only rely on studies that say this sort of “psychological first aid” is useful. I always envy the Red Cross people who do practical stuff and can see the difference they’re making. I don’t get that. But this is what I’ve been asked to do, so I do it. And then I come home; and I wish I’d been more useful; and I spend a few days doing my ‘real’ job; and I get ready to do it again.

At this stage I’ll be back up at a Relief Centre, Charlton or another, on Tuesday and Wednesday. And then we’ll all see what happens next, how long this emergency lasts, and for how long we’re needed.


January 22, 2011 - Posted by | Life, etc., Ministry | ,


  1. A great reflection Avril- I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with my congregation in our pew sheet this week- properly attributed, of course! 🙂

    Comment by Caro | January 22, 2011 | Reply

    • Of course, feel free to share it – I don’t think there’s anything in there that could identify people, or much about the content of what people said.

      Comment by avrilhj | January 22, 2011 | Reply

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