Memories of flood rescues still strong for Ipswich ‘angel in the tinnie’

Ten years may have passed but Flinders View man Jim Runham still recalls how high the water rose whenever he drives the city’s streets.

“Whenever I drive around, places like Redbank, Goodna and Riverview, I think about how high the water got and the memories do come back,” he said.

Mr Runham SC, AFSM, OAM was a part of what The Queensland Times dubbed the “angels in the tinnie” during the 2011 flood.

Together with a group of volunteer navy cadets that he led at the time, Mr Runham helped carry out 56 evacuations using flood boats, including several life-saving rescues.

Some evacuations were straightforward, many were not and all involved significant risk as crews navigated a raging Brisbane River laden with debris, whirlpools and live power lines.

Rivers and waterways were littered with dangerous debris.

“They all came with their own challenges but a couple in particular have always stuck with me,” he said.

“One at Riverview, we arrived to help a man who had climbed onto his roof and needed rescuing and when we got there he was very distraught.

“He told us his wife couldn’t get up onto the roof and had drowned in the house.

“I don’t know what it was exactly, but after we got him off the roof something told me to go back and check the house so I did.

“I was calling out her name and then I heard a voice say, ‘I can hear you Jesus, I’m ready to go’, and she was stuck in the water up to her neck, and I said to her ‘I’m not Jesus, but I think he must have sent us’.”

The crews freed the woman who survived.

Boat ‘The Witch’ provided life-saving support during the flood.

“The other one that comes to mind happened when we were tasked in the afternoon with helping about 30 people stranded at Goodna,” he said.

“The conditions were horrendous, the Brisbane River was roaring, but we got down there and it turned out they were mostly okay.

“They had supplies and were in no immediate danger so a decision was made to leave them there.”

Crews were heading back to their launch point at Kruger Parade when word came through that a Goodna woman – not one of the initial 30 people the crews had been sent to check on – had suffered a heart attack and needed help.

It was right on dusk and helicopters in the area had been grounded due to fading light, but the crews did not hesitate and volunteered to turn their flood boats back for a return trip to help the woman.

“The boats had to navigate their way to Goodna in the full force of the floodwater in the Brisbane River and it was difficult to remain on course,” he said.

“The boats didn’t have lights and so the only light we had was a small penlight torch.

The crews who were dubbed ‘angels in the tinnie’ during the 2011 flood for their efforts to help stranded locals.

“It was only with God’s permission that we got through and we all knew if something went wrong with one of the boats that there wouldn’t be any help until daybreak.”

The crews found the woman’s house despite all road signs being submerged and were able to bring her to life-saving medical treatment.

It was pitch black by the time they completed the rescue.

Mr Runham and others involved were awarded bravery medals for their heroism during the 2011 flood including the Royal Humane Society of Australasia Bronze Medal, a Queensland Flood and Cyclone Unit 2010-2011 citation and a National Emergency Medal.

While Mr Runham remembers the challenges and heartache the flood brought, it is the sense of community spirit that stands out the most for him 10 years on; the sentiments of which are perhaps best captured in his recollections of a poignant moment with a grateful new Australian following a rescue.

“This Indian guy who had only been here for 12 months hugged me, he gave me this immense hug and he had tears rolling down his cheeks and he said this to me, ‘Australia is the greatest country on earth’.

“My initial response was ‘settle down mate, you don’t need to give me a hug’ but I did ask him ‘why do you say that’ and he said, ‘If we were back in our home country a million people would die and no-one would care. You people don’t know us and yet you came and saved us, this has to be the greatest country on earth’.

“I just said to him ‘well that’s what being Australian is all about’.”

Also read:

>> How Ipswich is preparing for future flood events

>> Mayor pays tribute to community’s strength and resilience

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