We had planned a school holiday trip away in our caravan for mid-January, to coincide with me attending linux.conf.au. All went well for the length of the conference, until the following morning when Liz and I were awake early, and noticed two things after the utterly insane rain we had had overnight:

  • We weren't wet! Well done squashy the wind-up caravan!
  • Lots of people seemed to be moving around the caravan park very early, very quickly.

Turns out that the approximately 300ml of rain overnight was considerably more than the river could hold, so it happily broke its banks and started flooding campsites. It's far from unusual for caravan parks to be built on flood plains. Since they are temporary dwellings then they can be moved with enough warning away from the danger zone far easier than a house or cabin could be. That part of the logic is sound, however it relies on that warning part.

And the warnings never came. Some people closest to the river had flooded already by 4am, however as of 5am the water was still rising and most people were still asleep. About that time people started leaving in a rush, tearing out power cables, destroying parts of their vans like stabilisers and awnings that hadn't been retracted properly. We looked at each other and decided to act.

Luckily for us, we had booked one of the highest sites in the area. When we turned up they had actually moved us to another much lower site, presumably so a group could be together. But I insisted on getting the site we asked for, as we had stayed there before and knew it worked well for our five humans and two dogs. So they agreed to move us back, and we were set up on a hill of sorts.

We first tried to pack the van up (not a fast action with the style of van we have, unfortunately) so that we could drive through a small amount of water, but between 5am and 6am the water apparently rose about 4 feet, and there was no chance of us driving out. Instead, we moved the car and van as high as we could get them, and put the two youngest kids on other helpful camper's shoulders, took one bag of valuables, and waded through the water. I carried one dog, and the other swam the best swim of his life. Liz had our son on her back.

It actually didn't occur to me until afterwards that the power that runs to a box on every site that vans plug into and lights sit on top of was on the entire time. It would only have taken one dodgy cable in one van (a very common occurance) for the water to go live. We wandered up to the office, only to find nobody but other cold and wet campers there. After some time staff arrived and appeared to start some basic steps like opening the common room, finding some food and beverages, etc.

So, to recap - we had 400 people camping in a flood plain, a predicted epic downpour, no warnings, no water level alarm (I have these on my property and they cost <$100!), no evacuation procedure to wake campers and take basic steps like switching off power, no staff visible on site for hours after the event started, and, rumour has it, this isn't the first time it has flooded so reporters were kicked out by security lest they ask questions.

After that we elected to leave the park a day earlier than planned, and head towards home. A holiday cut short, but one that could have had a far worse outcome.