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Researcher overwhelmed by 'welcoming' flood hit community

BIG IMPACT: Lockyer Valley post flood when the Warrego Highway at Plainlands was cut off by floodwater.
BIG IMPACT: Lockyer Valley post flood when the Warrego Highway at Plainlands was cut off by floodwater. Bev Lacey

VISITING the Lockyer Valley in 2013 and 2014 to conduct research into how communities recover after natural disaster, Dr Margaret Moreton didn't expect to get a warm welcome.

She was prepared for doors to be slammed in her face and people to shout at her from across the street but the reception she received in the wake of the devastating floods was quite the opposite.

"Much to my amazement, everyone was so welcoming and really wanted to talk about it," Dr Moreton said.

"I expected it to be a challenge, it was in other ways, but I didn't expect people to be so welcoming."

Over the course of two visits, totalling a month all up, Dr Moreton interviewed the late Mayor Steve Jones and members of the community who had faced the very worst Mother Nature could throw at them.

Her aim was to identify whether the people within affected communities led their recovery process, how community leadership is demonstrated during and after disasters and what lessons can be learned by listening to those affected.

Going into the experience Dr Moreton had her doubts that Australia represented the values it once did, where people selflessly came together to help one another to their feet in the worst of circumstances.

"I thought that was no longer the country we lived in," she said.

But she was overwhelmed with the number people who came forward to share their stories and experiences of how the Lockyer Valley community worked together to help the region rebuild, even after so many had lost so much.

"Those sorts of stories stay with you... about people generously helping one another and it's not in a high-tech way, it's not a huge group of people that needs a lot of organising, it's just human-to-human contact, people willing to lend a hand... which I thought was just fabulous," she said.

"They told stories about why they care, what they did, what other people did and how it motivated them to keep getting up in the morning.

"I thought surely there must still be some communities that faced these disasters together and came together afterwards and that's what I found."

Her primary finding from the research was that people from within regional communities not only help one another in the face of disaster, but strangers with no particular connection to the community also reach out to support and assist.

Dr Moreton wanted the Lockyer Valley community to know how appreciative she was that they opened up to her.

"I'm grateful for their participation, they were first and because of them I was able to keep doing the project," she said.

"Their stories are now what I share with people."

Her time in the Valley was the start of research that then took her to Cardwell and Tully up north, Coonabarabran in New South Wales and Dunalley in Tasmania and ended with her being awarded a PhD from the Australian National University in December of last year.

She has now set up a consulting firm - Leva Consulting.

"As a result of this entire experience I have now established myself as a business and my entire purpose is to continue to share information and support community planning before, and recovery after, the inevitable natural disasters that will occur each summer in Australia," she said.

Topics:  flooding lockyer valley