Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Richmond-Windsor District flood March 1978–(pt. 2 of a series)

I grew up in Melbourne, and not once during my growing years did I ever encounter the devastation of a flood. This is despite the fact that Victoria had her share of floods during that same period. Places such as Echuca, Horsham and Shepparton were known to be flood prone. Even in my family tree, there is the death of a boy aged about 14 that was probably a drowning due to floods in Horsham (I need to verify that point).

However, things changed when I married and relocated to the Richmond-Windsor district. First of all, in 1977, when I was living in a unit in Richmond, there was a minor flood. This happened when I was away visiting my in-laws who were living at Port Macquarie at the time. Our top floor unit was flooded due to the debris on the roof. However, it was the following year that I ended up in the middle of a flood.

It was in March 1978 that we had a week of non-stop rains. I had a newborn son (my oldest) and we had arranged that he would be baptized at the Easter Vigil at our local church, St. Matthews, Windsor. Since my husband was in the RAAF at the time, we were expecting our relatives to arrive from both Melbourne and Newcastle in time for the Baptism. What happened though, is that the region became flooded because of the heavy rains.

My memory of the whole thing has faded over time, but I do remember that there had been several deaths. Two of those deaths were a couple whose vehicle had been washed away in Toongabbie. The one that I remember most, though, was in Windsor, where a teenage boy was electrocuted when his boat touched overhead electricity wires as he was attempting to rescue people. This accident happened somewhere near a tavern known as the Jolly Green Frog which is located close to McGrath’s Hill.

This flood occurred because Warragamba dam had been full to capacity due to the rains that NSW had that year. As a result of the heavy rain the flood gates were opened and there was a spill that flowed into the Hawkesbury River. The twin towns of Richmond-Windsor are located on the Hawkesbury River.  There are several other river tributaries including the Colo River. Windsor gets cut off at one end (heading towards Colo) and South Windsor also gets cut off. Richmond was also cut off from North Richmond (the other end of the town heading towards the Blue Mountains).  South Windsor has flood plains, and even though we were on high ground we were surrounded by flood waters. There were houses at the other end of Cox Street that were flooded. Behind our street there was a golf course, and it was flooded. At our end, of Cox Street the railway line had been cut off because of the flood waters. We were cut off from Blacktown, yet we could get to Penrith via one road that had not been cut off.

During this period my husband’s squadron at the RAAF base Richmond, had been detailed to help evacuate people from their flooded houses. They worked to help these people, yet those rescued were not exactly grateful for the help that they received.

What did I learn from being almost cut off because of the floods? I learned about the wisdom of Governor Macquarie who had designated what are known as the five Macquarie Towns.  What I learned is that the NSW government had released land in an area that was a known flood plain, and that the house that had been built on the flood plain were the ones affected. For the rest of us, we were safe from the effects of the floods. This is because our homes had been built according to the plan set out by Governor Macquarie.  In other words, in 1978 some of the devastation from that particular flood in the Richmond-Windsor district was avoidable.

What was seared in my memory, however, is that the flood was in part caused by the opening of the floodgates at Warragamba dam. In other words if the dam is too full when there is heavy rain then the floods themselves are inevitable.

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