Leading article: Australia is keeping its head above water

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If an area the size of France and Germany disappeared under water in most parts of the world, the consequences would be shattering. A special session of the United Nations might well be held as aid agencies scrambled to draw up emergency strategies.

This being Australia, it's a different story. The government in Canberra has neither sought, nor been offered, international help, and is managing the disaster in Queensland solo. Given the scale of the destruction and the number of people who have fled their homes, the death toll is astonishingly low. So far, only two or three deaths from drowning have been reported. It deeply regrettable that anyone should have drowned in these floods. But when it is recalled that about 22 towns around Rockhampton have been significantly affected or inundated by floodwater, what is striking is the stoicism with which the people of Queensland are going about their business.

Some will draw comparisons with the events of five years ago in New Orleans, after the levees broke. The floods in Louisiana led to scenes of chaos, while the outcry over the US government's failure to better manage the disaster shook George Bush's presidency. Thousands of former residents of the city have never returned.

The difference in reactions in the two countries at least partly reflects their different mentalities. Americans once were a nation of pioneers, ready to rough it in their log cabins and brave the elements. But it would seem fair to say that most Americans these days pride themselves on their ability to micromanage their domestic environments – from intruder alarms to garden sprinklers and air-conditioning.

Among Australians there is still a residual recognition that they live in a fairly inhospitable corner of the world as far as humans are concerned, and that Mother Nature will always have the last word. As the world's climate becomes more unstable and as natural disasters such as floods and typhoons become more common, perhaps we could all learn something from the gritty determination of Australians to get on with it.

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