Back when I was married, my husband’s work moved us from the leafy North Shore of Sydney to a suburb in the west of Sydney. The moment we heard about this move we curiously looked at our UBD Street Directory to see what was over on that side of town. It looked wonderful! Just one block away a wide river ran parallel to our street and at the end of Hollywood Drive was a caravan park. Naturally we assumed this must be like a holiday destination.
When we arrived we were taken aback by how wrong we were. The caravan park was for people who couldn’t afford to rent a house, the river was green and polluted with dead fish floating by and there was a sadistic murder down by the riverbank, near McDonald’s at the other end of the street. While we slept peacefully, some sick criminal had crept up on a young couple who were kissing in their car. The criminal dragged the man out of the car and tied him to a tree, forcing the young man to watch what was done to his girlfriend. She died, he did not.
My husband and I spent a lot of time away from home but on one, wintry, rainy weekend heavy rain had us inside, watching TV for most of the day. At about 4pm we noticed the water wasn’t draining away and our street had a shallow river running in the direction of the caravan park. My husband drove down to have a look at how the caravan park patrons were getting on and found that most had been evacuated. One van was still occupied, with an elderly lady and her adult son inside, water lapping at their door. By 5 o’clock my husband had their van set up outside our house – running a power cord from our house to their van.
The lady came to our door with her arms full of wet blankets, which I washed and dried before bedtime. Once the blankets were in the washing machine she sat down in our loungeroom and chatted to me while I was putting everything up on to higher positions, like the kitchen table, benches, chairs and on top of cupboards – in case the water invaded our home. Her son, Frankie, was out in the driveway with my husband, fixing Frankie’s car.
Strange, the old lady picked everything up and looked underneath. She checked under my magazines, behind cushions and photo frames and even behind the curtains. I asked what she was looking for and she said, “I’m only giving your nice things a bit of a looking over.” which probably meant she was curiously looking at my stuff.
Before long, the men came into the house and we ate dinner. We talked about how far the water had risen, noted that the river must have burst its banks and that we could hear the water lapping on the floorboards of our house, which was a little lower than the caravan on our front lawn.
While eating, the lady commented that this food was alright but her Frankie preferred pork chops. My husband looked at me with a quizzical expression – neither of us understood what this lady’s comments or her constant searching were all about. At 8pm she suddenly stood up and began to make her way to our front door.
Frankie jumped up and asked, “Where are you going Mum?”
She replied as if she was in a terrible mood, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed!”. My husband and I felt a huge relief when they disappeared out to the caravan.
Next morning the sun was shining and the water had receded. They knocked on the door at 7am, and the lady came inside to have a cup of tea and some breakfast while Frankie and my husband decided to fix Frankie’s car so they could drive back to the caravan park sooner – rather than later. Alone again with the old lady I sat and made conversation about the weather, how many floods she’s ever seen, how long she’s lived in Sydney and all sorts of small talk. All of her answers were abrupt and I felt really uncomfortable because this wasn’t like talking to my Nana or my Grandma at all.
Suddenly she stood up and shouted, “Where’s your toilet? The dunny? Where’s the toilet block?”
I stood and pointed my arm and hand down the hallway and she quickly shuffled past. While she was in there I tidied the kitchen, checked that my handbag was still safely hidden in the top of my wardrobe and peeked out the back to see how the men were going.
She was taking a long time and I wondered if I should go down there and check that she hadn’t suffered a heart attack or something. I called out to her with no response. Standing in the hallway, I stretched my neck to see through the crack in the bathroom door, which she had left ajar.
What I saw stunned me into silence and shocked me into frozen disbelief. I rushed forward and pushed the door to see more clearly – confirming that she really was wiping handfuls of fecal matter all over my walls, the side of my bath, my bath towels the toilet flush button, the taps and then the door as she made her way out, towards me. She used the hallway walls to steady her every step, which left hand prints and smears all the way from one end to the other. I’d never seen such a shocking thing and had no idea that adults ever did this.
I ran out the back to my husband, crying and asking him to get them out of my house. The men came in to find the lady sitting in the armchair, wiping the sticky, brown mess off her hands and on to the fabric furniture. The poor son apologised and took his mother out to the caravan – then took a bucket and some disinfectant to clean our bathroom.
There’s no way I could sit in my house with the smell, the smears and the horror. Instead, I sat outside on my concrete front door step and cried while my poor husband cleaned it up with Frankie. Helping people wasn’t supposed to be like this… where were the grateful hugs, working together and happy endings? My armchair and two seater couch were carried out of the house and dropped onto the lawn – I didn’t want to ever sit in those chairs again. Miserable and sobbing I heard a loud truck rumbling down the street and I looked up in time to see a huge van slowly driving by. It had railing around the top and men sitting up there behind the railing. Written on the side of the van was advertising for the Channel 7 Newsteam and I figured they were driving down to the caravan park to film the flood damage.
Later that night, with only our dining chairs to sit on and after a sponge bath in the kitchen sink we were watching the news. The item about the floods was up first and, to my surprise, their footage showed my house with my loungesuite out on the lawn. The camera zoomed right in on a head and shoulder shot when the narrator said, “The devastating effects of the floods took their toll on homeowners, who broke under the strain of losing precious belongings to water damage.” My face was contorted and tears streamed down my face as my mouth gaped open, sobbing, because there was no holding it back.
Nobody watching the news would have had any idea that I didn’t lose anything to water damage – it was the poo.