Illustration 4: Flooding in south-east Queensland

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography and (its’ various HASS-based iterations) content description addressed in the illustration is:

  • The causes, impacts and responses to an atmospheric or hydrological hazard

Learning goals

In this illustration students have the opportunity to investigate the nature and causes of flooding, and to apply this information to the extreme hazard event that occurred in south-east Queensland in late 2010 and early 2011. Students extend their thinking to consider the impacts of this hazard event on people, and the responses of individuals and governments. As they explore these issues they develop an annotated wall display.

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • identifying the causes of flooding 
  • applying this knowledge to determine the specific causes of the flooding in south-east Queensland
  • investigating the extent to which humans have contributed to the severity of the flood hazard
  • assessing the impact of the floods and responses to it.

Geographical understanding and context

Though droughts are so common and long-lasting in Australia, it is actually flooding that is the most costly natural disaster.
A combination of low pressure systems and a La Niña event caused an extreme hazard event in south-east Queensland in late December 2010 to early January 2011.The disastrous riverine and flash floods that struck this part of Australia were unprecedented. Whole communities lost everything. With the damage to property, infrastructure and the economy, this was confirmed as the biggest natural disaster in Australia's history.

Geographers are able to investigate reasons why so much rain falls in a short period of time causing rivers to break their banks and spill onto the surrounding land resulting in flooding. Such extreme events are very dangerous and lives are lost. The damage to homes and businesses is evident when the floodwaters recede and the massive clean-up begins. Australians are very generous in supporting the victims of such disasters, but the thousands of volunteers that descended on the flood-affected areas in Brisbane in 2011 to assist with the clean-up was quite remarkable.

Understanding the scale of this disaster explains why the government found it necessary to impose a levy on taxpayers to fund the recovery and also set up the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry to investigate the floods and the adequacy of responses to it.

Teaching approaches

This teaching illustration has four parts which are presented as an instructional sequence.

  • Brainstorming – 'Too much or too little water?'

As a class, ask your students to brainstorm the type of weather-related hazards that would be associated with the two situations in the question 'Too much or too little water?' and, of these, which would be the more costly.

Ask your students to read Too much or too little water? (PDF) and watch the YouTube clip Toowoomba flood 2011.01.10 (duration, 05:56).

Divide your class into groups of four or five students and direct them to construct an annotated visual wall display on flooding in south-east Queensland.

  • Investigating the causes

Ask your students to source an explanation of the causes of flooding from Geosciences Australia's Flood basics. Their findings may be written on butcher's paper, or typed and printed out and placed on the display under a large heading 'Causes'. Students should then read Low pressure systems and La Niña bring flooding rains to Queensland (PDF) as an introduction to the specific causes of the Queensland floods. Their next task is to provide an explanation of why the flooding was so severe. Ask them to draw or print off and annotate: 

  • Tracing the path of destruction

Under the large heading 'Tracing the path of destruction', ask students to provide an enlarged map of south-east Queensland (from Toowoomba to Brisbane) sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology's website, Detailed reports on notable Queensland floods. Selecting Toowoomba, Ipswich and Brisbane, ask your students to annotate the map showing, where appropriate, information relating to:

  • dates
  • rainfall intensities
  • flood peaks
  • the number of properties affected.

Images of flood-related damage can be found using the Internet (for example, the ABC News website, Brisbane floods before and after).

  • Responding to the floods

Under the large heading 'Responding to the floods', ask students to provide a summary in text boxes about:

What you need

Butcher's paper and marker pens, or alternatively, student access to computers and a printer.
Access to the Internet.
Too much or too little water? (PDF).
Low pressure systems and La Niña bring flooding rains to Queensland (PDF).
Extracts from the special climate statement 24 (PDF).
The Wivenhoe Dam (PDF).
Extract from the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry's report (PDF).

Toowoomba flood 2011.01.10 (duration, 05:56). A YouTube video showing the flood coming down the river taken by a resident. The resident's reaction to what they see is heard.

Brisbane floods before and after. This ABC, News website shows images of flood-related damage.
Flood basics, found on Geoscience Australia website. Links are provided to the questions 'What is a Flood?', 'What causes Floods?' and 'Where do Floods occur?' A gallery of images of floods is also provided.
Timeline of events. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology provides a complete timeline of events from December 2009 to April 2012.
Synoptic chart. This shows the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's synoptic chart of Australia at 11am on 10th January 2011.
Detailed report on notable Queensland floods. This list provides links to flood information relating to identified towns, and also information relating to specific flood events.
Liberal Sprinkles. Queensland flood facts – December 2010–January 2011. A comprehensive look at decisions, damage and the relief package and impacts of the event.
Volunteers turn out for recovery in Brisbane as flood crisis spreads across country. A report from The Australian, News on 15th January 2011 on volunteer response to the event.

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum.


  • Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements to promote a point of view or enable a new way of seeing
  • Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, selecting aspects of subject matter and particular language, visual, and audio features to convey information and ideas


  • Assign probabilities to the outcomes of events and determine probabilities for events
  • Identify and investigate issues involving numerical data collected from primary and secondary sources


  • Science understanding influences the development of practices in areas of human activity such as industry, agriculture and marine and terrestrial resource management
  • People can use scientific knowledge to evaluate whether they should accept claims, explanations or predictions


  • The physical features of ancient Greece (such as its mountainous landscape) and how they influenced the civilisation that developed there
  • The physical features of ancient Rome (such as the River Tiber) and how they influenced the civilisation that developed there.
  • The physical features of India (such as fertile river plains) and how they influenced the civilisation that developed there
  • The physical features of China (such as the Yellow River) and how they influenced the civilisation that developed there