Floods - The Human Touch
by Margaret Henderson
Periodic flooding has always been part of life on the Richmond
River. The early cedar-getters used flooded creeks and streams
to float their logs downstream to mills, or to the ships
which carried them to markets in the cities. In a major
flood in 1861 a large number of logs broke loose, swept
down the River, and crashed through the South Beach at Ballina.
The logs continued on their way to become a major shipping
hazard at sea.
There were three floods on the Richmond in 1861. Then,
in 1863, Casino took the brunt of the flooding, with Lismore
again being inundated in 1864. The 1870s and 1880s saw more
flooding, especially in 1889. In 1893 there was a major
disaster when the river peaked at 29'3" (8.92m.), started
to fall, and then rose rapidly again to 34'3" (10.44m.).
As with all disasters, however, there are the accompanying
stories of courage, goodwill and humour in times of flooding.
These stories are usually remembered long after the danger
has passed, and many have been recorded in local newspapers.
In 1931 flood refugees were housed at the Lismore Showground.
The Northern Star reported that there was a mixed crowd
of about 250, together with their cats and dogs, canaries
and parrots. Constable McInnes, who was stationed at North
Lismore, was in charge of supplies and paid regular visits
to see whether anything was needed.
On two occasions he "removed undesirables to less crowded
quarters". The Railway Station Master provided some railway
carriages as sleeping quarters while some people were taken
each night by goods train to a railway shed where they could
In 1945, even the World War struggles going on in the Pacific
Islands and New Guinea jungles took second place to the
flood. The Northern Star in those days was published in
Molesworth Street, Lismore. It too was affected by the flood
but managed to bring out a special flood broadsheet with
contained only two or three small paragraphs of war news.
The June 1945 flood was one of the worst in the history
of the Richmond. Many people were caught in their homes,
especially in North Lismore. Boats were needed urgently
and Police sent out an S.O.S. Ballina fishermen answered
the call and, with their boats loaded on to Mick Feros'
big lorry, they rallied to the rescue. Hour after hour they
rowed people to safety. Then the next day they returned
with food and blankets.
In addition, in 1945 the residents of North and South Lismore
were like the Ancient Mariner, when the water supply was
cut off! The water pumping station had been considered out
of flood reach when built. However, the floodwaters rose
swiftly and it was realised that the pumps were in danger
of being covered.
With the access road covered in water the supervisor, Mr
Thorncroft, led his men up and over a hill to reach the
pumps. It was a dangerous job as floodwaters began to pour
in on the men as they struggled to dislodge the equipment.
They succeeded just in time. Presumably they then retreated
back over the hill again!
Food supplies in the 1945 flood had the added problem of
wartime rationing. The Mayor of Lismore telegraphed the
Deputy Commissioner of Food Rationing asking for special
consideration under the circumstances. In the meantime he
authorised NORCO to distribute butter without coupons.
Local communications became a problem when Radio 2LM lost
its signal from its Molesworth Street studios. This was
even more serious because the police telephones (in the
police station opposite) had ceased to function. Staff at
2LM were taking police messages and shouting them across
the road to the station staff!
The situation was solved when an emergency studio was set
up at the Goonellabah transmission station. The Lismore
telephone exchange transferred police calls to Goonellabah
where they were sent on to police via radio. When setting
up at Goonellabah staff tried to ease the situation by introducing
themselves with the theme music "Ol' Man River"!
It is not only people who suffer in floods. There are always
many stock losses. During floods in the 1940s and 1950s
stock were often seen racing down river with the current
to Ballina and the open sea: pigs, cows, horses, poultry,
sometimes on rafts and often with a snake or two clinging
to a piece of driftwood. Brave souls tore after these poor
animals and tried to rescue them, and many succeeded. At
least one bull did not take too kindly to the whole operation,
however, and, finding himself safely on solid ground, immediately
charged his saviours!
Then there are the people who think a flood is great fun.
They go swimming in the murky waters, while others go sight-seeing,
blocking emergency traffic and holding up would-be rescues.
Some paddle around the streets, while others tear around
in motorboats not thinking that the wash from their boats
can smash plate glass windows.
In 1954 and 1974 there were major floods and people coped
with them as they had done in the past. And, as in the past,
there were the funny stories. One of these concerned a bank
whose manager prided himself on keeping up with the times.
He had been advised of a new product which would completely
seal the strongroom and prevent water from entering.
For once staff did not have to move all the precious items
from the strongroom and, after the flood, the cleanup completed,
the seal was removed and the strongroom door opened. To
everyone's astonishment (and the manager's embarrassment)
a great wave of water rushed out at them, and the cleanup
had to start all over again! In addition, many hands were
apparently ironing banknotes and other precious items for
some time afterwards!
Yes, there is always a human touch to every flood!
Woodlark Street, Lismore, 1892 flood