Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE….



The high building in the far background is the Regatta Hotel, Toowong circa 28th January 1974


On the verandah of the Regatta Hotel during the 1974  January flood

The Regatta Hotel on the corner of Sylvan Rd. & Coronation Drive, Toowong
Getting one's priorities in order!
This block was next door to the block of units in which I lived in Cadell Street; both were similar in structure
 
A similar house to the one at the rear of the property I lived in at Cadell Street, Toowong

The memories of certain events during our lives never leave us. Those of us who were around when JFK was assassinated will always remember where we were and what we were doing when the shocking news came through. Who amongst us, if around on the 20th July, 1969, could forget what we were doing or where we were the day man first set foot on the moon?  Similar indelible memories apply to the day music died when word came through that Elvis had finally, for the last time, left the building. 

I was staying briefly with a friend in Collinsville when the sad news broke about Princess Diana’s untimely demise.   

I will never forget the night I watched in disbelief the grotesque images flashing across my television screen.  Hour after hour I sat glued to my TV and to my computer – while at the same time actively participating in a Chat Room throughout the night with my on line friends in the States.  I believe it’s safe to say we were all in shock. The shock remained; sorry and anger joined it. There was no way I could go to bed that night. (It was Monday night here, Australian time). The tragic events of 11th September, 2001 will forever remain with me…undiminished horror.

 This past Australia Day weekend….Australia Day falls on 26th January…was the 40 year anniversary of the 1974 devastating flood that struck Brisbane, catching many with their pants down and up; and washing on their clothes’ lines!



There was an excited buzz going through my workplace.  The 1974 Australia Day long weekend was looming.  Australia Day falls on 26th January; and in 1974 that was a Saturday.  Monday, 28th was the public holiday.

It seemed everyone had their plans set in concrete.  Even though we were having a wet summer and rain had been falling fairly steadily for the previous three weeks leading up to the long weekend dumping 1.5 metres or 60 inches of rain upon us or our umbrellas during those weeks, the power of positive thinking was in motion; it was not to be denied.

Holding onto the hope the weather would clear, family barbecues were on the agenda for some; days spent under the sun at the beach for others.  I’d made no specific plans for the long weekend, other than to relax and enjoy it to the best of my spontaneous ability; whatever came, would come; and I’d go with the flow; perhaps an unfortunate, prophetic plan on my part. 

The weather bureau was paying keen attention to a tropical low out in the Coral Sea.  It was cyclone season, after all, so there was nothing unusual about its formation. Tropical North Queensland expects cyclones to hover off its coast between the months of November and April each year.  They’re almost second nature to those who live in the northern regions. And, of course, humans being humans, we can become a little too blasé about them, I guess. 

I lived for 13 years in North Queensland, but in 1974, my home base was in Brisbane, south-east Queensland; and those of us living in the southern areas of Queensland probably are more nonchalant about cyclones than our laid-back northern counterparts. There are times cyclones are brazen enough to cross the coast and pay unwelcome, destructive visits to areas.   

When the low in late January, 1974 formed into a cyclone the Queensland Weather Bureau christened it “Wanda”.  Little did we know early and mid-week that “Wanda” would wantonly and recklessly wander further south. "Wanda" may have been whirling like a frenzied Dervish, but she wasn’t a very angry Dervish. She was whirling at about only 90kms an hour, which was pretty mediocre as far as cyclones are concerned; not an excessive speed.   

Prince Charles had not long paid a visit to Brisbane. If he wasn’t concerned why should we be?  Our Lord Mayor was over in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s south island enjoying the Commonwealth Games.  Nobody, no matter what their station in life, knew the heavy, dark clouds looming on the horizon and those already above us intended to treat us so harshly. 

It was Friday 25th. 

Onwards and upwards, our daily work chores had to be attended to and completed before the week’s final curtain fell.  We had a business to run, and a long weekend to look forward to, so wondering about the wandering of Wanda at that point in time wasn’t a major concern to us Brisbane dwellers.

Spring of 1973 had been an exceptionally wet one in Queensland; similar conditions continued into summer.  Our rivers and creeks were running at their peaks; and the ground was fairly sodden.  And when the monsoonal trough appeared it did the job it’s meant to do here in summer…bring the rains over the northern and north-western regions.  When Cyclone Wanda approached, she pushed the monsoonal rains further south. There was nothing unusual or uncommon about that; similar occurs every summer.

By Thursday 24th January, Wanda was 380kms north-east of Gladstone, teasing and annoying the central coast areas of Queensland.  As cyclones are prone to do, at times with little forewarning,Wanda kicked up her heels and gathered speed when she decided she was sick of central Queensland, She wanted to see Fraser Island and areas south of the Sandy Straits.  At 9pm on the 24th Wanda wandered across the coast just south of Fraser Island, at Double Island Point, a little north of Noosa Heads.  She had good taste, really…Double Island Point and Noosa Heads, in my book, are far nicer areas than Fraser Island…but that’s just in my own opinion.  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been fond of Fraser Island; but many thousands of others would dispute my personal opinion about Fraser…as is their right to do so.

Wanda wasn’t a powerful cyclone, but she was a very wet one!

Actually, from all the reports coming through, the heavy rain was to ease, we were told. Some clouds and showers would remain, but on a whole Brisbane was going to be in for a mostly fine weekend.   

“Yippee!” The would-be celebrators of Australia Day yelled in unison. 

Friday, January 25th arrived; the rain hadn’t ceased.   

Concerned my boss, John and I kept our ears on the radio listening to the regularly updated weather reports.  Flooding, flash and otherwise was occurring throughout Brisbane.  Putting our heads together John and I discussed the situation at hand.  Without further ado, we [promptly came to the decision it was time to send our staff home before the flooding got worse.  Some of them looked at us as if we’d gone crazy and were over-reacting, but if it meant they had another half day added to their long weekend, they weren’t going to argue the point.  We shut down our office, showrooms and warehouse; and everyone was sent home shortly before noon.

John lived with his family at Kenmore, a western suburb of Brisbane; and I lived at Toowong; an inner city western suburb that is on the way to Kenmore.  I didn’t own a car at that point in time.  John offered to drop me off on his way home.   

Already one of the main thoroughfares between Fortitude Valley where our offices, showrooms etc., were situated, the CBD and the western suburbs is Milton Road.  

 By noon that Friday Milton Road was impassable.  We had to take a different route up through Paddington into Rainworth and back down through to Toowong to reach my unit block in Cadell Street, Toowong; a street that runs parallel to Milton Road at the furthermost end from the CBD. 

After depositing me at my driveway, John continued on his way safely and dryly to Kenmore.  I settled myself in with my two cats, Sasha and Smocka; a good book; a pot of coffee; stereo cranked up; quite contented to enjoy a rainy afternoon doing rainy day things.

The rain continued relentlessly – taking no prisoners. Enoggera Creek and Kedron Brook had broken their shallow banks during the afternoon.  Streets in the suburbs of Wilston, Windsor, Enoggera, Ashgrove, Herston and the outer western suburb of Moggill began to flood. Evacuations had already started.  It was fortuitous we’d closed our business premises and sent our staff home when we did as it turned out! There were some who wouldn’t have made it to their homes, otherwise. 

During Friday night all the taps/faucets in the sky were turned on at the same time; and someone forgot to turn them off!  Showing no mercy, the rain pelted down relentlessly. Record flooding was already occurring in certain areas. Some Brisbane suburbs had become islands overnight. Worse was still to come; although we didn’t know it at the time.

Oddly, upon waking Saturday morning the sky above remained cloudy and grey, but the rain had ceased.  A collective sigh of relief echoed across Brisbane.  We believed we’d seen the last of Wanda’s remnants. We’d had enough of her left-overs.  However, water was flowing like a raging, unforgiving torrent from the upper reaches of the Bremer and the Brisbane Rivers; the flooding hadn’t abated; and it wasn't going to go away without putting up a fight.

The Elite Picture Theatre, one of Brisbane’s original suburban movie houses was showing “The Wizard of Oz” on Saturday, 26th January, 1974…Australia Day.  The Elite, with some of its seating still the old canvas-covered, deck chair-styled seats was situated at the Toowong end of Milton Road; just around the corner from where I lived.  

I rang John and his wife, Shirley to ask if they’d like me to take their two little boys to see “The Wizard”.  At the time, their eldest son was eight years old and his younger brother was five, turning six in the following April.  They’d never seen the movie.  I spent a lot of time with the family and the two boys and I got on extremely well.  They brought out the child in me; that “kid” is never far below my surface. We used to have lots of fun together when they were little kids. Pillow fights were our speciality!

John dropped them off at my unit. His plan was to pick them up again a couple of hours later after the boys and I had tripped along the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her friends.   

Good to his word, not long after the boys and I sung “Over the Rainbow” in perfect harmony and pitch-perfect as we strolled home from the picture theatre to my townhouse, John arrived to collect his sons.  No further rain had fallen through the Saturday afternoon; and I’d not even seen a rainbow.

The weather had something else up its sleeve, though.  It wasn’t finished with us just yet.  We’d been lulled into a sense of false security.  Saturday night arrived; and so did the rain.  The heavens opened up once again and dumped their load, showing no pity upon the city of Brisbane or its inhabitants. About 12 inches, 314mm of rain poured from the sky overnight.

Come early Sunday morning, I moved what I could from the ground level section of my townhouse to the upper level.  What couldn’t be moved, I had to leave in situ. All I could do was keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best!  I could do no more.  Mother Nature was on her own course, and there was nothing I could do to stop her.

At the time I also managed the block of units in which I lived.  My townhouse, the only one in the block was at the rear of building.  All the other units were single level.  The tenants who had remained present at their units that weekend, or had been trapped, all congregated at my townhouse mid-Sunday morning to discuss the situation at hand; and what our options were.  The rain had ceased again; still teasing everyone. We knew not how long the status quo would remain so the first, most important option we decided was to take a walk to the Regatta Hotel to see what was going on down that end of Sylvan Road. The Regatta Hotel, a grand old structure is on the corner of Sylvan Road and Coronation Drive.   

None of us cared if we got wet. It was the middle of summer, after all.  No umbrellas or raincoats were considered. Somebody had heard that the river was lapping the verandah of the beautiful old pub.  So off we went to see what we could see.  I think already by that stage, our brains were water-logged.  We started singing “The Happy Wanderer” as we walked along Sylvan Road.  Between “The Happy Wanderer” and “Over the Rainbow” it was turning into a musical weekend, as well as a very wet one!

When we reached the hotel, water was, indeed, lapping its verandahs. People in the house next door to the hotel were already being evacuated by a small motor boat.  Opposite the Regatta Hotel in those days, on the banks of the Brisbane River, were the ABC Radio and Television Studios.  The building was under water.  Caring not, we stood amongst the patrons in the main public bar surrounded by the aromas of rum and beer.  It was the rum that tempted us most of all.  However, between us we didn’t have a brass razoo.  

Going to the pub to have a drink hadn’t been our intention; we’d only wanted to see the height of the water to give us some idea of what could be in store. Not one of us had thought to take our wallets or purses along; but we were soon overcome by the mood of the merry revelers at the bar, and the scents of good old Bundy filling the air.   

One of the fellows in our group explained our dire situation to the bar person, saying he, the barman, must recognise at least one of us as being a “regular local”; and if that turned out to be the case; and describing with great sincerity the height of our characters, our fellow happy wanderer offered his watch to the barman to be held in lieu of cash; to be kept as a guarantee for when the flood waters receded.  We solemnly declared we would make good our promise of payment when the world returned to some normality.   

Our intrepid fellow offered his watch in exchange for a round of rum and Coco Colas; just the one round; one drink each, and then we’d be off on our merry way back to our respective apartments.  

The fellow who so gallantly offered to pawn his watch for drinks wasn’t one of my tenants in the units, but he was a friend of one of them. Because his lodgings were already inundated with muddy flood waters his friend offered him a safe, dry place to stay.

The barman was an amiable bloke. He took the watch offered him, and poured each of us a Bundaberg rum and Coke!  I doubt I’ve ever tasted a rum and Coke quite as good before or since that Sunday morning at Toowong’s Regatta Hotel. Soon after we'd downed our bartered-for drinks, we were on our way back home again quite chuffed at our bargaining prowess!  

As an aside, less than a year later when my now ex-husband Randall arrived back to Australia from almost a decade living in New York City he for a brief while became bar manager of the Regatta Hotel.  One busy Friday night during his tenure a couple of his staff failed to turn up for their shift, so he rang me around 6.45 pm asking if I’d come to the hotel and help tend bar…the main public bar!  I’d not long arrived home from my own job; and at that stage, I’d never worked in a bar in my life, let alone one in a very busy, popular hotel…on a Friday night of all nights!  But…a challenge is a challenge…and I came to the aid of the party, not knowing what I'd let myself in for.  

However, that's another story for another day…(the rate I’m going, I’ll need many “another days”…I seem to have a lot of stories still to be told)!

By Sunday afternoon, the 27th January, 1974, the house on the block of land behind the property in which I lived had water lapping its floorboards; and it was a highest old-style Queensland, similar to the one pictured above, except my rear neighbour's house was a little higher off the ground to the one shown.   

The land the units were built on and that upon which the house was built was level, flat land. To the naked eye one could not see any difference in the levels, yet there the house already had water starting to flood through it.  The flood water had reached its floor!  The inhabitants were forced to evacuate. 

They had to pass my unit many times as they went by armed with what they could salvage. Until that day, we'd hardly exchange a word, if any.  I asked them to tell me when they’d made their last trip, so I’d know if anyone else passed by I would know immediately they shouldn’t be there – that they had no right to be anywhere near the property.   

If anyone else wandered down past my townhouse they’d most likely be scum of the earth looters, and if they were, they’d have to get past me first!  And I promised the home-owners there was no chance they’d get past me!  There are many things in this world that make me very anger…looters are on my list!

There was the house behind me facing Bayliss Street, the street that runs at rear of and parallel to Cadell Street with water flowing through it; and then the house next door to my units, which was built further forward on their block of land with its frontage quite close to Cadell Street had water about 18 inches deep throughout their back yard, lapping at their back door and laundry.   

Yet, all throughout those dreadful days, the water came within one inch of my back stairs, only; no further. Two concrete stairs led from the ground up into my laundry. My laundry room was level with and led into my kitchen, dining and lounge area.  The water sat just below the second stair. It didn't even enter my laundry. It was an education, really, to see how water finds its own level.

Between 24th January and 29th January, 1974, central Brisbane received 650mm (almost 26 inches) of rain.
Looters were out in force…they are lowest of lowest of creatures.  Preying on the loss, heartache and hardship of others is something I will never comprehend.

Lives were lost. Almost 7,000 homes were flooded. Around 13,000 buildings were affected in some way. The CBD was hit badly.

The “Robert Miller” a 67,320 tonne oil tanker broke free from its mooring in the Brisbane River at Kangaroo Point.  The large tanker became adrift in the river. A major disaster was fortunately averted with the help of two powerful little tugboats which were needed to control the 15m high, 239m long oil tanker.  The “Robert Miller”, at the time, was the largest ship ever built in Australia. It could have come to a very sticky end, indeed, and not before causing major problems.  Luckily, through the skill of the tugboat skippers that didn’t occur.

Thousands of property owners who never believed they’d have water views from their kitchen windows suddenly were surrounded by water views; all unwanted!

Land subsidence and slippage caused much damage to many houses, also. Chaos ruled.

Not only Brisbane suffered during the 1974 floods; but the flooding in the city surely did surprise us all.  We weren’t prepared for what occurred in any way.

The block of units I lived in weren’t affected; we were lucky; and we knew it.

After taking the boys to see “The Wizard of Oz” on the Saturday; and then the brief visit to the Regatta Hotel on the Sunday morning, the rest of the time I remained at home, listening to music, reading, watching television, keeping up to date with what was going on around me. Sasha and Smocka, my two cats kept me company.  They weren’t keen to go outside and get their paws wet. 

We didn’t re-open our work premises again until Wednesday, 30th January.  John and I had contacted our staff and we’d asked them to bring to work old rags and towels, detergent, disinfectant, buckets and other cleaning items.  We collected and put together as much cleaning equipment and products as we could. One of our young staff needed help.

During the Wednesday morning John and I drove out to Graceville, a western suburb to hand over the rags, disinfectant etc., to the home where Carol, a junior staff member lived.  She was a boarder in a private home at Graceville.  The house had been inundated with water, mud and all other kind of stinking debris. 

 John and I waded through thigh-high water to reach where Carol and the owners of the home waited for us.  It was heartbreaking to see the suffering people were going through.  We had enough gear with us for the home owners to share with some of their neighbours.  It was the least we could do; and it wasn't a lot.

There was a feeling of helplessness, and perhaps, even some guilt amongst those of us who hadn’t been directly affected by the devastating flood.   Where to start....

The following Saturday, I gathered together similar equipment and went to the home of friends in St. Lucia.  Their home, too, had not escaped the unforgiving waters of the Brisbane River during the 1974 Australia Day weekend.

It took years and years for those affected by the 1974 floods to get over them, both physically and mentally; some never did; or never will.  And, to me, that's understandable.


21 comments:

  1. Whoa. I remember being in Hurricane Alicia in Houston as a kid. The weird, weird thing was that for a month before it hit, I kept having nightmares that it flooded and I cried and freaked out every time it rained.

    I didn't know until I was an adult that 23 people had died in that storm.

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  2. That's the most graphic account of the '74 flood I've read, Lee. I wasn't living in Australia then but it reminded me of a couple of the floods we had on the farm.

    I was pregnant with my youngest daughter and past my due date. We were marooned for three days and my ex rescued a couple whose car had become stuck in flood waters. He brought them up to the house, wet and bedraggled, on the tractor at first light when he was on his way back from milking. They stayed with us for two nights, their car was towed up to our place and dried out after which they went on their way.

    All the kids in the district were rapt because they couldn't get to school but after three days of being inside they were eventually glad to go back. Their parents were glad to see them go back too!

    The 2011 Brisbane flood was. of course, not as bad as the '74 flood but it did show the city fathers had learn nothing from previously...amazing!

    Great yarn, Lee :)

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  3. Hi there RK. Yep...when Nature decides to play her games of havoc, there is little we can do to stop her.

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  4. Hey Robyn...everyone was taken by surprise by the '74 flood. No one was prepared for what happened. I think we were all stunned for quite some time.

    That couple were very lucky your ex rescued them, and so fortunate they got stuck near you guys, who so generously put them up until they could get on their way again.

    Did you ever see or hear from them again?

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  5. When I bought my house in Wilston in 1988, I knew exactly where Kedron Brook had flooded in 1974. In 1974, we were travelling between Charters Towers and Emerald on holidays. We got stranded and I had the mumps and a high fever. Mum took us back to my grandmothers in Emerald, while Dad got a lift across the food in a semi trailer to get home to work.

    JFK ~ my mother wrote me a letter in December for my birthday reminding me that when JFK was assassinated, she was in hospital with me ~ she had toxaemia.

    Diana's death, I was at a street festival in Wilston on a Sunday afternoon. A year later, Brody's father died.

    I enjoy reading your stories Lee. I don't know how I missed this one this week ~ I didn't see it come through my newsfeed for some reason.

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  6. Good to see you, Carol. I'm glad you enjoy reading my stories...thanks.

    Some events certainly do impact upon us...and it seems, you're like me...you have a very good recall. It's as if we have a recorder in our section of our brains that stores certain memories and they can never be erased.

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  7. Wow! That was quite an experience! The Regatta Hotel reminds me of buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

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  8. Hi Lynn...Yes, the Regatta Hotel has a lot of that iron-work on its verandah not dissimilar as you say to New Orleans' French Quarter. It's a lovely old hotel; and a much loved one in Brisbane.

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  9. I had a comment for this weeks ago, why did I not post it? Such a terrible time, floods ruin everything.

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  10. Probably you didn't comment on this post, Adullamite because I didn't write it weeks ago...I only wrote it a couple of days ago! ;)

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  11. It would officially freak me out seeing a large ocean-going ship floating down a city street.

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  12. I think it would freak anyone out, Jerry; but this one was loose on the river, not on the street. If the problem hadn't been rectified and rectified quickly, who know what would have happened.

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  13. Sure...similar did in 2011, Cosmo. But in the 1893 flood it was even worse than the 1974 or 2011 watering.

    The combination of a cyclone hitting further south along the Qld coast, closer to south-east Queensland and king tides...it's a volatile relationship!

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  14. You've sure had your share of life's experiences. I have seen rushing waters borne of a flood and I don't envy your situation there as you had it. All we hear now on the news is how hot it is there in Australia. Seems that weather extremes are everywhere today. We've had the most snow in January than any month previously here in Michigan.

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  15. Hi Dave. Yes there are some areas here in Aus that are experience very high temps at the moment. Fortunately, it's not like that here where I am. We had a couple of bouts of very hot days...but, fortunately, those excessive heats only lasted a couple of days when they did hit; not like in some areas down south.

    The US has had (and still is) some incredible cold weather...the images we see here on TV are enough to make one feel chilled without physically experiencing it.

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  16. I remember just not believing that Diana was dead. I couldn't figure out why the radio was just playing serious music instead of the usual programmes, we were driving along in the car at the time.

    Floods - they're at the top of our news programmes now. I've never been caught in one but the more I hear the more alarming they sound. I am not surprised the 1974 flood was burned on your mind.

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  17. Your story reminds me of the terrible May 1st flood we had a few years back. Some as you say have never recovered and we did loose some good people to those swift dark waters. Peace

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  18. G'day Jenny....I think we were all stunned by the news about Diana..I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

    I was one of the lucky ones who weren't directly, personally affected by the floods. I'd hate to have to deal with something like that.

    Nice to see you, Jenny. :)

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  19. Hi there Lady Di...the loss of lives during such natural disasters is so very sad. We, as humans, are putty many times at the hands of Mother Nature.

    Thanks for coming by, Miss Kitty. :)

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