Warrant Officer Tony Young carries baby Montannah to drier land in Gatton in 2011. Picture: Jack Tran
Warrant Officer Tony Young carries baby Montannah to drier land in Gatton in 2011. Picture: Jack Tran

Ten years on: Baby Montannah’s rescue lifted spirits

She's taller than her mum now, a long-limbed 11-year-old going through a growth spurt, but look into Montannah Creaser's blue eyes and you can still see the baby who brought us hope.

At 13-months, Montannah's steady gaze into a camera's lens in the midst of chaos added to the power of one of the most iconic images of the rescue effort during the horrific floods of 2011.

She was wet and bedraggled and being cradled by a soldier.

His face was hidden by the visor on his helmet but the way Warrant officer Tony Young's hand supported her neck, a finger gently touching her face, made it clear she was in safe hands.

It was a bright moment in terrible times. Only the day before, an inland tsunami had swept through Grantham and other Lockyer Valley hamlets, killing 21 people, including children.

Seeing Montannah cared for so tenderly after being evacuated in a Blackhawk helicopter from her home town of Forest Hill, about 17km east of Grantham, gave Queenslanders a collective boost.

Today, Montannah is a polite and thoughtful pre-teen keen to tell about a recent gutser off her bike that left her with a broken wrist.

"I accidentally ran into the back of my friend's wheel and I landed on my wrist," says Montannah, who now lives in Laidley. "I sat there in pain for a little bit but got up and walked home."

It was only a week later that the tough country kid had the wrist X-rayed to reveal a break that needed a cast.

Montannah smiles, explaining that the break didn't stop her going to a local fair. "Went on a bunch of rides," she says proudly.

But no carnival whirligig could be quite as momentous as the chopper ride that propelled her into the limelight as a baby.

Montannah Creaser, now 11, from Laidley. Picture: Liam Kidston
Montannah Creaser, now 11, from Laidley. Picture: Liam Kidston

For weeks, the Lockyer Valley had endured heavy rains, saturating the rich soil and overflowing creeks. Roslyn Perry was looking after her four daughters while playing host to her mother Pat Perry who could not get home to Woodbine, about 40km from Forest Hill, because the roads were cut.

Soon after, all roads around Forest Hill were flooded. Then, on Monday, January 10, the news about Grantham filtered through.

"I started getting phone calls from relatives from about 4 o'clock, checking we were all right and saying, 'Have you heard about Grantham?'," recalls Ms Perry, 40.

She spent that night getting up at regular intervals to check if the floodwaters were encroaching on her house in the centre of Forest Hill, which despite its name, is very flat.

"The next day, the kids and I went down to the shops, about a minute's walk, to have a look," Ms Perry says. "You could see wheelie bins floating up the side roads. At one point, there was a couch floating down one of the streets."

Late in the morning, word came that residents should move to the local hall. "There was meant to be another storm coming through and they were expecting more rain and they were basically saying that what happened at Grantham was going to happen at Forest Hill," says Ms Perry.

But reaching the hall meant wading through deep water and Ms Perry was not keen to do that with Skye, 12, Crystal, 11, Tiffany, nine, and baby Montannah. They joined more than 50 other townsfolk at the school, on the other side of the railway tracks to the hall.

As they waited, someone came up with the clever idea to use a permanent marker to write each child's name on one of their arms and a parent's mobile on the other. Montannah's name can be seen on her chubby arm in the photograph.

Montannah Creaser, 11, with her mother Roslyn Perry. Picture: Liam Kidston
Montannah Creaser, 11, with her mother Roslyn Perry. Picture: Liam Kidston

Word came through about three hours later that they would be evacuated and if it was safe, residents could go home to collect some belongings.

Ms Perry was almost finished tossing the girls' clothes in a bag - "I forgot about stuff for me" - when her mum became concerned about missing the flight and decided to head back with Montannah.

By now the water was shin deep. "Mum took off with Montannah and she got through a fence, the paddock was flooding, and I don't know exactly what happened but she dropped Montannah in the water," says Ms Perry.

"Tony saw it happen and he's come over and got Montannah out of the water and taken her."

By the time Ms Perry and the other girls arrived at the makeshift helipad, the side of the chopper that Montannah and Mrs Perry were on was full and they were bundled onto the other side.

"I couldn't see Montannah straight away and I was saying, 'Where's my daughter, where's my daughter'," says Ms Perry. "I looked over my shoulder and could see her then and Tony said, 'She's okay'."

Then Ms Perry had to deal with her fear of heights, a fear exacerbated by the soldier next to her opening the chopper door a few times to look out. The land below resembled "a massive dam". She couldn't control her tears.

"You know when your adrenaline stops and reality smacks you in the face and you think, 'Holy shit, this is really happening'? I think that's what it was."

As soon as they touched down, an overwrought Ms Perry headed with her other girls to find Montannah.

"I started crying again because I couldn't find Montannah," Ms Perry recalls. "Then an SES man said, 'She's in the ambulance'."

WO Young had taken her to get checked, just to be sure. She was fine and Ms Perry and the girls were reunited.

For months afterwards, Montannah was frightened of water. "When it rained and stormed, she was petrified," says Ms Perry. "You couldn't even wash her hair without her screaming." She took swimming lessons and is now unfazed by water.

She's unfazed by her fame, too, despite the photo taken by former News Corp photographer Jack Tran reprinted around the world and used by Australia Post as a stamp.

She's far more interested in the Japanese anime and manga art forms, particularly her favourite character, Deku - "His real name is Izuku Midoriya" - from the series, My Hero Academia.

She's teaching herself to draw, is "pretty good" at maths, likes playing games on her iPad, and has a soft spot for the "Lollipop Ladies" at school crossings.

In short, she's a normal kid. It was an extraordinary time when we came to know her and now Montannah Creaser is paying back her rescuers in the best way possible - getting on with life.

News Corp Australia

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