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Anna Bligh: the calm after the storm

The recent months have been a huge challenge for Anna Bligh. As she faces the daunting task of dealing with the devastation in Queensland, Jordan Baker reveals the premier's personal that side so few of us know.
It's the Saturday after Cyclone Yasi hit North Queensland and residents of Ingham have had no power or water for three days. The evacuation centre has been home to those cut off by floodwaters and fallen trees, and dozens sprawl on borrowed mattresses or slouch in front of an old television, silenced by heat, grief and the burden of the enormous task ahead. They can't get home, think of the future or even wash. Some cannot contact the family they left behind.
Few notice the visitor arrive, but those who do shake off their stupor to crowd around her. "I congratulate you," says Garry, a volunteer from Hervey Bay, taking her hand. "All I can say is you're doing a mighty job," says Maria, from the devastated town of Halifax. One by one, evacuees and volunteers thank Anna Bligh, the woman who guided them through the most terrifying night of their lives. "She was just a different person during the floods and cyclone," says one woman. "Before, she was a politician. Now, she is a woman and a human. People are leaning on her. She just seems to be in touch with what we're feeling."
For many Australians, the stand-out memory from the floods and cyclone will be Premier Anna Bligh. She won the respect of Queensland and beyond with her empathy and sincerity at a time when other politicians seem obsessed with focus groups. Yet what few of us understood was how the experiences of her life – a childhood cut short, an alcoholic father, her years as a social worker – had forged the skills she relied upon to lead her state through the crisis. This was Anna's moment and she rose to it.
Throughout the crisis, she put herself in victims' shoes. "I imagine being on the rooftop in the dark, in the pouring rain, and no one knows I'm there, and the water's rising and you're just so terrified," she says. "Some people were elderly. I was trying to imagine my mother sitting on a rooftop in the dark at three o'clock in the morning." When floods reached Brisbane, her mother was evacuated. "It made it very real. I wasn't imagining this – I was evacuating my mum."
Sometimes, she felt overwhelmed, but never hopeless. She has been inspired by the courage of the victims and the tirelessness of her colleagues. "The sense of responsibility is what actually, for me, I think, drives me," she says. "The price of failure here is unthinkable. You can't afford to think, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' It's not an option."
Read more of this story in the March issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

Your say: Were you impressed with how Anna Bligh handled the floods and Cyclone Yasi? Do you think she performed better than Prime Minister Julia Gillard? Would Anna make a good Prime Minister?

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