Local Identities

We Love To Volunteer

Geoff Helisma

In January 2011, Col and Liz Jealous spent “about 18 days all together” helping the victims of the floods that swept down the Toowoomba range through the Lockyer Valley and onwards to Brisbane, killing people and devastating the region.

For their service, performed with the Red Cross, they were each awarded the National Emergency Medal. On January 11, the day after parts of Toowoomba and, subsequently, Murphy’s Creek and Grantham at the base of the range were devastated, Col and Liz received a phone call. It was an unusual present for Liz, who was celebrating her birthday, but they were soon driving to Brisbane.

“We got a call from Red Cross to say, ‘don’t come into Brisbane, the streets are flooded you can’t get in here, find a motel and put yourselves up overnight’,” says Liz. “The next morning we got a phone call to be at the Brisbane airport by 8.30am. So for my birthday I got a trip to Brisbane, I got a meal out in the local pub and a night in a motel.
“Then, to top it off, the next day when we got to the airport, they put us on the emergency service helicopter and flew us out to the Ipswich.”

Col says seeing Brisbane inundated by floodwater from above was a memorable experience, but what awaited them upon their arrival was unforgettable. “As we came into Ipswich showground, because Ipswich was underwater, we landed on the bottom paddock in the sopping water; and about 100 of the 3,000 people there were cheering as we climbed out of the helicopter. We spent the next five days looking after those people with registrations, accommodation, clothing and food.”

“Red Cross Emergency Services goes out and sets up evacuation centers,” says Liz. “They set up recovery centers, too, to help with paperwork and all that sort of stuff after the event, when people have been able to go home. The recovery centers have in them all sorts of things. Lifeline is there if you have a need to talk to somebody. We have to have very broad shoulders in those sorts of situations; because we hear a lot of stories which you have to dump pretty quickly, otherwise you go mental. Lifeline is there and the Department of Primary Industries, Centrelink; they’re all there to help these people get over what they’ve been through.”
Liz turns to Col asks: “It was really rewarding work wasn’t it!?”Col: “Yeah. When the flood goes down you get set up into teams and you go out and walk the streets to make sure people are alright.”


An image of Liz, photo contributed

Liz has fond memories of former Governor General Quentin Bryce’s humble visit to the evacuation center. “She arrived a day after the Prime Minister [Julia Gillard] when it was a big hullaballoo and media and all that rubbish,” she says. “When the Governor General arrived, she came in through the backdoor of the kitchen and served the evacuees their meals and there was no hullabaloo. She was just someone behind the counter in a Salvation Army tabard. I walked over and looked, and I looked again, and I said to a fellow standing there, who was probably [her security]: ‘I can’t resist this I have to take a photo.’ He said: ‘Go ahead, she would love it.’ When she finished serving, she just grabbed [a meal] and went down and had lunch with the evacuees. There was no obvious security.”

Unfortunately, Liz and Col’s memory of that moment will remain just that – the picture has been lost. “I’m still spitting chips that I have lost those photos,” says Liz.
Col: “We don’t know what happened to them.”
Liz: “I’m sure I had them on a USB stick and I was sure I had them on a disk; both. I have searched high and low and they’re just not there. I am so, so dirty about that. We took 50 or 60 photos out of the helicopter going to Ipswich … I’ve lost the lot of them. There’s one photo surviving that whole trip: Col and I working on the registration desk.”

Col and Liz rate themselves as “serial volunteers who just can’t help themselves” and say that there are “quite a lot of married couples volunteering together in Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigades – and getting along – and quite a few in the Clarence Valley”.
“For years we’ve volunteered in different organizations together. We were in the Australian Army Cadet Corp and Liz was in charge of a unit when we were living in Queensland for about four or five years,” says Col, “and we volunteered for the SES (state emergency service) and Red Cross emergency services.”