An emotional time covering the floods in Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley


Sophie Benjamin and the floods

Reporter Sophie Benjamin interviewing people after the floods

By Sophie Benjamin

I’m a multimedia journalist and so I’m not restricted by word counts, bulletin times or the limitations of any medium on its own.

Even though I’m young and just barely into my career, I can’t imagine wanting to work in any other field of journalism.

I’d started work with APN Online three weeks earlier, working as a multimedia journalist for their Finda site in Toowoomba.

The job was similar to my previous job as a cross-media reporter at the Toowoomba ABC, but it always takes a while to feel comfortable in a new job.

Sophie Benjamin

Reporter Sophie Benjamin

However, the floods came and I had to get out there, look convincing and do my job.

My workmate Steph and I hit the road in the work four-wheel-drive, wearing Doc Martens and navigating the numerous road closures.

We shot video, took photos and interviewed business owners in the Toowoomba CBD whose businesses had been destroyed by the terrifying flash flood that had ripped through the city.

We visited the Lockyer Valley when the road down the Toowoomba range opened a few days later, which was just heartbreaking.

We got the car bogged, drove through flooded creeks (don’t tell my dad!), took directions from truckies (bad move) and walked through a toxic mixture of mud and raw sewage inside the home of a flood-affected family.

Generally I spoke with people while Steph did the photos and videos. This worked out well, since I like talking to people and Steph shoots better photos and video than I do.

We saw a woman come to clean up her mother’s house in Postmans Ridge, only to find out that the house had been swept off its foundations with her mother inside it.

She wandered around shell-shocked, holding her father’s war medals which she’d found in a clump of mud by the side of the road. A photographer from The Courier-Mail and I jostled for position to take photos.

It is hard to walk into a stranger’s ruined home or business and initiate conversation. I felt like a parasite. I’d introduce us and ask how they were going, what it felt like during the flood, what they felt like now, were they insured and tonnes of other questions.

Generally once you got someone talking, they’d give you more than you needed. We weren’t there to comfort them, we were there to listen to them and tell their stories.

These people had nothing, but they gave us their time and energy. I’d get out of the car dreading what we had to do and get back in completely energised and humbled.

I’ve just finished a series of follow-up stories one month on from the flood. In a way they were harder to do than the original stories.

I walked through Grantham, where every single building is damaged beyond repair. I don’t know how you can rebuild a community that has been so deeply hurt.

Depression is beginning to set in as people begin to realise that their neighbours are never coming back, their insurance isn’t going to pay up and the government isn’t fixing things as fast as they’d like.

It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.

An archive of my flood stories are on my website: www.sophiebenjamin.com.