The stench of slippery mud swallowing everything in its path is what gets you first. Then the piles of useless junk and garbage piled high on the footpath. Then the bewildered looks of once proud homeowners followed by the brave smiles of friends and complete strangers arriving as one to clean up the mess from the Queensland floods.

Clean-up Saturday was a day for me in Fairfield helping friends Sal and Pat salvage what was left of their beautiful home. Just weeks before, we had been there for a Christmas drinks get together, meeting new friends, celebrating. Now, these same people are here, shovel, broom, gerny in hand working as one.

I arrived as the sodden timbers of the once proud kitchen were being deposited on the footpath.  I had tasted the delights of this kitchen, a taste now eons away. An army of helpers of all ages were cleaning, shoveling mud, lifting possessions; things were being dumped or stacked for salvage. Furniture, electrical, linen, this can all be replaced but it is the knick-knacks, those meaningful ornaments and precious items with a memory connected that can’t. Retrieved from the mud, these things were queued for water blasting before a wash in detergent before being lodged in the “Clean Room” affectionately known as “Clean World”.

What happened next might have an archaeologist on a dig yell “Find!” A chest of photos and some sodden photo albums with wedding photos and memories of a lifetime were discovered, wet, muddy and in search of loving attention. The photos in the albums needed to be carefully removed, washed, dried and sent to “Clean World”.

An hour before, I had seen a new packet of pegs, where were they now? Found them. Now, all I need is a clothes line, Pat somehow found a length of line from in the back yard, magic. With our limited resources we began a process of a careful wash, rinse, hang and air for each print.  And on it went. Soon, I had a few helpers. My line was inside, away from the blast of the gernys out on the verandah. Before long, rows of images of happier moments from the past were on display. Workers passing would pause, look, ponder and laugh at tragic fashions from the past.

As I washed each image, I wondered about the moment in front of me.  Some had captions on the back with names and dates of long ago. What was this moment I am seeing and rescuing form the mud? The symbolic nature of rescuing photos cannot be underestimated. Maintaining a connection with the past, our history, our relationships is vital and one flood victims are often denied.  Speaking with Sal at the end of the day, she said “Words cannot express what you have done today, keeping our memories alive”.

Time to go home and you could see where the volunteer army had been. “Clean World” had many new residents, much mud had been returned to sender and a clothes line of photos was hanging proudly as a triumphant symbol; life can and will go on.

Volunteering can be amazing and you just never know who will be there for you. Sal and Pat had so many people helping doing awesome work. Ironically, an accountant was helping Sal sort sodden records, a professional photographer was washing photos and a food writer was coordinating the “Carport Café” and food deliveries from Danielle, the coordinator for #bakedrelief. The tasty treats made by people wanting to help by supplying food and refreshments kept the volunteer army energised and refreshed. Special thanks must go the girls (Angels) walking down the street at the end of the day passing out XXXX tinnies to the thirsty. Cheers!

This flood could have a silver lining. The community spirit on display, joining together as one is the hero of this flood. Perhaps this is the first time in generations that so many Queenslanders of all ages have worked together with a common cause. The future of our community is indeed looking brighter.

More photos of “Clean-Up Saturday” in Turner Avenue Fairfield can be seen here.