Mar 27, 2022
Have you heard the proverb, “When it rains, it pours”? It’s the idea that when something ‘good’ or ‘bad’ happens, more good and bad tends to follow. While there are situations where good can certainly act as a conduit for more good, and bad for bad, sometimes it just comes down to the luck of the draw and the hand you are dealt. We’ve had a pretty unlucky few years—I speak on behalf of Cork & Chroma here, but I know that most of you reading this can relate. We’ve all had to learn to live and work in the midst of a pandemic and its many stages, and more recently, faced the devastation caused by the floods in Queensland and New South Wales. For individuals and businesses and well, everyone, it’s been an extremely difficult time to navigate, and we’ve all felt the impact in some way. If you’ve experienced this devastation and reading about the Brisbane floods hits an uncomfortable nerve, we understand if you choose not to finish this piece.
When dealt a set of unlucky cards, there are two options. Throw them in the air and give up, or keep playing as best you can. The choice to keep playing is not always easy; it’s hard not to feel hopeless when you have no way of protecting yourself or knowing what might come next. I’m sure we’ve all been that unfortunate player in a game of Uno who gets slammed with all the attack cards, plus 2’s and plus 4’s and the like, and all you’ve got in your hand are the wrong-coloured number cards and a couple of Reverses. You don’t even have a Skip.
During the various stages of the pandemic, all five of our Cork & Chroma studios across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne had to close multiple times, and some of them for months on end. While we are currently operational again in all studios, the aftermath and lingering threat of a new COVID outbreak continues to impact the company in significant ways. Just before the Brisbane floods hit, we were just starting to find our groove again and gather momentum with our bookings and events, and then whoosh—in came the flood waters to sweep us clean off our feet again.
The day the Brisbane River overflowed into the city and South Bank, and the floodwaters peaked, Cork & Chroma Director B.J. Wall let the team know that our original studio on Montague Road, which he and Hillary Wall founded in 2013, was submerged. He wasn’t able to get in, just look at it from down the street. We couldn’t access our second studio to know if the water had reached it or not, and with both workplaces out of action for the foreseeable future, the Brisbane team were stood down until further notice.
From my house in Spring Hill, a much higher part of town, it was strange to imagine our studio underwater. I was fortunate to not have encountered any flood water yet except for on the news and social media, where I was seeing my friends’ cars and homes going under. I knew I needed to understand the impact for myself, and so when the skies cleared and it felt safe enough to walk into South Bank, I went to check on the studio and see if the water levels had dropped enough to get in. Tell-tale signs of the Brisbane floods—dirt and mushrooms and broken umbrellas—were like a trail of breadcrumbs to the sunken heart of the city. That sounds dramatic, but it was. Looking down from William Jolly Bridge to the parklands below, I could see where the water had swallowed whole trees, benches, and pathways.
The water had receded just enough to enter the studio, which was still ankle-deep in muddy water. B.J. and Tegan, our General Manager, were already there, salvaging what they could from the soggy mess that overnight, the studio had become. It was hard to believe the scene before us: our two fridges and speaker floating on their sides, the wooden podium displaced, random items like plastic paint tubes and paint brushes bobbing around the room. We’d lost power and so everything was dark, and smelt of mud and dirt. On our brand new hand-painted mural, just days old, was a muddy line about 50cm high, showing where the water level had reached.
Aside from the sound of our footsteps sloshing around as we moved around the space, carrying things out from the studio, we were all quiet, silently processing the scene and the extent of the damage. The damaged items piled up as we carried them, dripping, from the pitch-black back room out into the light: canvases and materials, laptops and cords, and so much more. For me it was especially difficult to see two soaked cases of PAINT, the book I co-wrote with Hillary, that we recently launched. The whole space had this heavy, waterlogged energy about it. It felt too sad and somewhat inappropriate to take photos, but I snapped a few as we left to share with the team, and now you.
It took us almost two weeks to restore the studio to its former glory, with many of the team volunteering their time to pitch in and get the job done. With teamwork, elbow grease and a whole heap of soap, our beloved OG studio is back to its sparkly self. Though the damage was extensive, we count ourselves lucky that it wasn’t worse, and that we could still operate from our second Brisbane Studio, which miraculously was bone dry. What had the greatest impact for us, and likely for many other small businesses, was the loss of revenue. We count on our bookings to keep us ticking over, and to have the revenue rug pulled from under us, and especially after these last years, has been challenging. But when it’s a case of sink or swim… we’ll swim every time.
Hillary said in an email that recently went out to our guests: “We are a company who persists. We have carried on however possible, remained flexible and innovated in the face of adversity. We drew strength from the creative joy we cultivate in our communities.” We want to thank you, our guests and creative community, for sticking with us through the years, and for all of your kind offers of help.
The truth is, we can use your help at this time. If you are able, here are some ways in which you can support Cork & Chroma right now, financially and otherwise:
As always, we thank you for your continued support through these difficult times. The Brisbane floods may have dampened our spirits, but through creativity and connection we will pull through. It’s time to shuffle, reset, and play a new hand.
BY ERIN CORSTIAANS