Riparian purloining

Reading about looters and other riverine lowlife emerging from the floods made me think of the opening scene of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which introduces Gaffer Hexam, a man who makes his living from the river’s dead.

A boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in. […] The tide, which had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched every little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight head-way against it, or drove stern foremost before it, according as he directed his daughter by a movement of his head. She watched his face as earnestly as he watched the river. But, in the intensity of her look there was a touch of dread or horror.

Back in Queensland, it’s hard to stomach the truly Dickensian villainy of these marshy scavengers, but I think John Birmingham summed it up admirably in his blog post: ‘The bad stay bad, but floods make good people great.’ The kind of thief who sees his chance in disaster will see it anywhere, but ordinary decent folk find in disaster the chance to become something better.