1956 floods, extract 2
1956 Flood, part two
writer: Mike O'Reilly, editor: Phil Guerin, research: Diana Byrne & Graham Downie
[re-edited for extract by Sophie Boord]
An initiative of the Murray-Darling Environmental Foundation and the Murray-Darling Association Inc
Cannot be repurposed or downloaded without the express permission of Adrian Wells, executive Officer of the Murray Darling Environmental Foundation.Copyright
Murray Darling Environmental Foundation
An edited extract from "1956 Flood", a film that explores the impact of the 1956 floods along the Murray and Darling Rivers, using historical film footage and photographs, many sourced from private archives.
The full video is over 25 minutes long, and copies can be obtained from:
Emma Bradbury, Murray Darling Association, Post Office Box 1268, Echuca 3564
Email: [email protected] Phone: 03 54803805
NARRATOR: At the flood front, it was action stations. At the first sign of flooding, Wentworth's emergency service swung into action. Bulldozers were called in. Sand bags came from more than 300 miles away. The town was surrounded with levee banks. Volunteers worked 24 hours a day in shifts, building and patrolling banks. Boats were made available to evacuate the town, and many rescue plans formed if any one of the banks should give way and the entire town be flooded. One of the centers of flood activity was the Wentworth District Hospital. Men worked for weeks with tractors building levee banks to prevent the hospital being flooded. Wentworth was an island, in an inland sea.
MAN: This was a People's Army of many languages. Men, women, grandparents, and children, working side by side against the swelling tide of Australia's greatest river as it grew slowly out of control. Communities banded together in a massive human response-- the greatest peacetime mobilization of men and women working along the river's length for half a year. A voluntary military operation to build levee banks from anything they could find-- sandbags, tree stumps, cow bodies, using their bodies at times to stem the wildcat break out.
GIRL: In 1956, my uncle lived at Curlwaa and remembers picking oranges and grapefruit from boats. He had a big boat, in which he would go from the levee bank towing smaller boats, in which they would then climb into to go around the trees. His mom and a friend soon learned how not to go in circles.
WOMAN: I was 8 years old when the 1956 flood was on. When the flood was heading towards our house, my mother sent my step-father off to hire a truck to bring out all our furniture and possessions. Instead, he took the money and headed for the hotel.
MAN: Oh, I don't know. Well, I remember one incident was when we three blokes launched our boat with a valuable Aberdeen Angus bull tied on behind. And we were also trying to move 60 head of cattle across flooded creeks and the odd piece of dry land. Took us nearly all day to achieve that, but we did. My wife used to take the Fergie and drive across the paddocks to the back road to pick up any mail or bread. And the kids went by boat to a pickup point to go to school. They saw heaps of big brown snakes, and there were hundreds of rabbits and 'roos.
WOMAN: The cemetery being on the hill was our savior. It was like an island. My husband was the church sexton and helped with funerals. The minister would hold a little service before my husband and the undertaker would take a small rowboat towing the coffin across the large expanse of water. My husband had to dig the hole, and then go home and get dressed in his grey coat, and row over for the service, and then row back to the cemetery.
MAN: I was an Adelaide journalist. When I arrived, there was a great stretch of water in the whole valley. There were various plans to evacuate people, but it was a constant state of tension and alert. The remorseless Murray crept up the main street of Mannum to unimaginable heights. The river drove up drain pipes and exploded in geysers in streets. It was night that everybody dreaded, because the river would start to infiltrate. Some of the outer banks went, others nearly went, but were saved by the crash crew. They were the commando force, ready to be rushed to anywhere the bank had weakened and was ready to break. The river was sly and treacherous. I knew as the days passed and the river peaked and the fight was won, that I had been covering an epic of human endeavor, one I never forgot.