World News – AU – Anna Bligh: The moment of the floods when I thought I had failed


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It was the ultimate test of leadership – swallowing your own fears at the height of a crisis and making a rally to encourage people to rise to the challenge – and Anna Bligh felt she had failed her test.

History shows that the then Prime Minister of Queensland on Dec.. January 2011 came through great delivering a speech today by a 21st Australian politician. Century is recognized as one of the most famous speeches.

The Lockyer Valley flood disaster two days ago, which concentrated in the tiny town of Grantham and claimed a dozen lives alone, was sinking into the state of Queensland, which had already been shocked by grenades.

When much of the suburb of Goodna in Ipswich went underwater and a brown tide swept inexorably down the Brisbane River towards the state capital, Ms. Bligh looked almost ecclesiastical as they both stared at the danger and raised the courage of the Queenslanders.

« As we cry for what we have lost and mourn for family and friends and face the challenge that lies ahead, I want us to remember who we are, » she said at the now famous press conference.

« I said earlier this week that this weather could break our hearts and it does, but it won’t break our will and in the weeks and months ahead we will prove it beyond doubt.  »

There was no sense of triumph, however, as Mrs. Bligh walked away from the cameras and returned to her office on George Street.

« I felt like I had a job to do and I failed, » said Ms. Bligh from Sydney, where she is now the executive director of the Australian Banking Association.

The reason? She had lost her composure for a moment, her voice breaking with the exertion of the moment and her own knowledge (after an early morning helicopter tour with General Mick Slater, who was supposed to head the Reconstruction Department) of the sheer magnitude of the damage.

But when she got back to the office, the phones suddenly rang and emails poured in as common Queenslanders tried to convey their appreciation for their moving words.

Today Ms. Bligh can ponder the emotional background of that speech and satisfy herself that she played an admiral role in the psychological preparation of the state for what is to come.

« The view you get from a helicopter is very different from the view you get from a television screen, » she said of the early morning helicopter flight.

She’d got up late the night before, sat in bed and scribbled a few notes on a piece of paper to prepare for a speech she knew she’d have to give the next day.

But after the helicopter landed the next morning, the daunting task hit her.

« I felt like I had to reach for higher emotions, » she said.

The Prime Minister’s emotions were to be put to the test in the coming months as the challenge arose of getting the state on the right track.

Ms. Bligh willingly credits then-opposition leader Lawrence Springborg for his willing collaboration in establishing the Queensland Reconstruction Authority.

« We both agreed that the powers (the QRA) were exceptional and in some cases overruled the rights of ordinary citizens, » she said.

However, the QRA was one of the great success stories of the Flood and still exists today.

Such was the success in overseeing the rebuilding of the state that the World Bank viewed Queensland as a blueprint for dealing with natural disasters that are expected to increase in the coming decades, at least in part, due to global warming.

Much of the infrastructure built after 2010/11 was far better than the previous one, and one of the many examples across the state is the northern approach to Rockhampton, which directs traffic over a giant flood plane in the past century.

« Many of these roads were built 90 years ago and there have been dramatic improvements.  »

In a broader sense, Ms. Bligh sees the months and years after the groceries as a positive experience, if only because it showed how well Queenslanders can recover from a disaster.

« But I hope that spending time with families in Queenslanders and Queensland has helped the wounds heal.  »

Well, Queensland is teetering this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history, and possibly the history of our nation. When we look across Queensland and see that three quarters of our state have seen the devastation of the raging floods, we are now faced with a rebuilding task on a post-war scale. That is how we see it and that is the kind of steely determination that is required to overcome what we have seen in the past three weeks.

There are entire cities that are now unrecognizable. Unfortunately I can confirm that we only have another death this morning to raise the toll in the valley. We have a thirteenth victim found in a field near Grantham. We also have more than 70 people who are now reported missing.

But we also know that this morning thousands of people in the Southeast … woke up to the excruciating agony of their homes, and for some people both their jobs and homes were washed away … So there is a lot of grief and there is a lot of pain, not only here in the southeast but in other parts of Queensland today.

Can I say to Queenslanders anywhere, wherever you are . . . if you are in Central Queensland, if you are in South West Queensland, if you are in West Queensland, if you are in Burnett, Darling Downs, Toowoomba, Lockyer Valley, Ipswich or Brisbane, all these places are affected by flooding, and I tell each of these people in these areas and the Queenslanders in other parts of the state: How we cry for what we have lost and how we mourn family and friends, and we face the challenge that lies ahead of us. I want us to remember who we are. We are Queenslanders; We are the people who breed them north of the border. We are the ones to knock them down and we get up again. I said earlier this week that this weather can, and it does, break our hearts, but it won’t break our will and in the weeks and months to come we will prove it beyond a doubt. Together we can do this, and I am determined to do it, and with your help we can do it.

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© The Queensland Times Pty Limited 2021. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited under Australian law and international treaty.

Anna Bligh, Flood, 2010–11 Queensland Floods, Lawrence Springborg

World News – AU – Anna Bligh: The moment of the floods when I thought I had failed
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The speech Anna Bligh made
Anna Bligh: The moment of the floods when I thought I had failed



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