Nearly three years since major flooding inundated parts of Brisbane, the damage done is fresh in the mind of Franz Braun.
“I’ve been around to some war-torn countries, and I’ve never experienced a natural disaster such as this one here,” says the Swiss-born entrepreneur.
His furniture factory in the Brisbane suburb of Rocklea was submerged by over two metres of flood water, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage and lost stock.
The most devastating moment came in June 2013, when Furniture Concepts was forced to close down.
“It was flood-related, and unfortunately it took a lot of money and the bank was unable to support me further,” says Braun.
He lost not only his livelihood, but his extended family.
“It’s been like a child dying for me,” he says. “Not so much for me but for the loyal staff, we had 50 staff.”
Many of those employees were recent migrants and former refugees.
Despite the devastating circumstances, some say the floods brought them closer to their community.
Franz Braun remembers the immense generosity of employees, friends and strangers who pitched in to get the factory running again in the weeks following the disaster.
“More and more people started to arrive, and came and helped with sandwiches, soft drinks, beer and even a BBQ,” he says. “Some of the pictures look more like a party than a disaster.”
“That’s very much the Australian spirit, get down and help each other and try to get out of the situation we’re in.”
Administration manager Leila Linsley was among those who pitched in.
“Oh my god, it was shocking,” she says. “I didn’t expect that the damage was this bad.”
Linsley says learning about floods and bushfires was the “last thing” she would have thought about when she moved to Australia from Iran more than five years ago.
“In Iran we only had earthquakes, we never had floods, so my information about flooding and how damaging it can be was very poor.”
Casual employee Alusine Bah, from Sierra Leone, says the first time he heard about the flooding in Brisbane was when he saw the water.
“It was like a dream to me, because I’d never seen it before.”
Bah and his family missed the warnings on television and on news websites. Before they left Sierra Leone due to civil war, they would rely on the local community to relate information about the immediate danger.
“You get prepared, people would talk about it,” he explains. “They would say they’re coming today, they’re coming this time.”
University of Queensland researcher Martina Baumer says it’s an “assumption” that everyone in Australia watches the news and hears emergency alerts.
“We have this assumption that people automatically go onto the internet and check the references… [or] resort to TV or radio, but that’s not necessarily the case if there’s an emergency,” she says.
“People pack up and try to leave, or they’re just surprised people are knocking on their door.”
Baumer is now investigating how those who aren’t born in Australia cope in times of crisis.
She believes there are lessons to be learned from the Queensland floods of January 2011, and ways to improve communication with those who aren’t so familiar with the land and the language.
“[I’m] not just talking about what’s going on, but [it’s also about] visually showing where we are talking about, and what place.”
She says “visual aids” could help.
Back at Furniture Concepts in Rocklea, the machines are whirring once again. The company was saved from closure by a last-minute buyer.
Franz Braun is now a consultant at the company he used to own. Still, he describes the development as “Christmas and New Year together”.
“It’s not only wonderful to see that the company’s going, that we can keep something in Australia rather than going overseas, but also the loyal staff, and some of them who’ve been here for 20 years, being able to come back here and be part of the society again,” he says.
Those interested in contributing their story to the University of Queensland research mentioned in this story can contact Martina Baumer by email on: [email protected]广西桑拿网, or click here to learn more.