Monday, April 13, 2009

An Eightieth Anniversary - Missed

I've been idly speculating on what culinary specialities have marked the last days: I have certainly enjoyed hot cross buns at breakfast and/or lunch; and Good Friday marked the reappearance (after no breakfast, two buns only for lunch, and apart from that only cups of tea or coffee) of a family favourite, curiously otherwise only served on Christmas Eve - fish baked in individual ramekins, these having been greased with butter, and then the fish immersed in cream, with almonds and finely chopped onion, salt and much pepper on top. This morning, after Mass and prior to a good long walk around the Cataract Gorge up to Duck Reach and back, I had breakfast out, with coffee and a plate of mushrooms cooked in butter, salt and pepper, plus English muffins and a bit of English spinach (it is Easter Week, after all).


But I really meant to blog on an anniversary missed, which I only discovered to-day after reading Health, Wealth and Tribulation: Launceston's Cataract Gorge, a copy of which I bought this morning (at the café). Perhaps my being away to Hobart last Sunday had meant that I missed the significance of the date, but strangely the local papers apparently missed it too, and I certainly read Monday's news.

Of what the eightieth anniversary? Black Saturday, 6th April 1929: the Great Flood. Mention "the Flood" in Launceston, and anyone will know what happened that dismal day.

The rainstorm came on Wednesday 3rd April: such a deluge! 500 mm - 200 inches - of rain fell in the high country over the ensuing three days. Every river and stream in northern Tasmania swelled to bursting. Come Thursday afternoon, the dam above the mining town of Derby broke, and the raging floodwaters drowned fourteen. On Thursday evening, eight were drowned - seven of them children, six of them from one family - when their car plunged into the Gawler River when the driver failed to see in the rain and darkness that the bridge had been destroyed. God rest their souls.

On Friday, Launceston prepared for the oncoming flood down the North and South Esk Rivers; but most of the folk in lowlying Inveresk and Invermay, behind levee banks that enclosed their suburbs (drained swampland, actually below high tide level to this day), refused to evacuate despite warnings. The rivers rose and rose. At 11pm all power failed - the city's pride, its municipal power station at Duck Reach (established 1895) was submerged in the onrushing waters filling up the Gorge. About 4,000 cubic metres a second (140.000 cubic feet per second) was surging downstream. At 1am Saturday, the town clock began to ring continuously, the pre-arranged signal of disaster: the levees were overtopped, the suburbs flooded, and 4000 had to be rescued, first by cars, then by boats. Miraculously, no one perished; but many lost everything, and had no insurance.

Amusingly, in the aftermath, which was well-organized and funded by generous donations both locally and throughout the Commonwealth, many of those whose houses were condemned were temporarily relocated to what was unblushingly called a "concentration camp" at Elphin!

I must say I'm glad my sister has recently sold her home in Invermay and relocated to higher ground: the City Council has been ineffectually squabbling for years about fixing the levee banks, which are so decrepit as to be actually sliding into the river in places, and which one fears would not sustain a new flood threat some eighty years on. When New Orleans was devastated, I think many in Launceston felt vaguely worried. The Council, true to form, sent a fact-finding mission there to see what could be learnt about levee banks and what happens to them!

As it is, the Tamar (the estuary formed where the North and South Esk meet where the city lies) is filling so full of mud that I've never seen it so bad, and I grew up here: it certainly wasn't this bad 2 years ago. It ought be explained that the Tamar is tidal, with a range of over 3 metres, and the rivers bring down about 39,000 tons of silt every year, so without continual dredging it soon becomes a disgusting sight at low tide. Of course, a flood like the 1929 one would at least solve the mud problem...


Anonymous said...

most interesting; thank you!

I do hope the Forth never floods, though when I was wee we always had to leave details at school of someone who lived on higher ground...

Joshua said...

Thanks, Mark!

My aunt has friends in England and Scotland (from when she spent two years in Edinburgh, in a suburb or adjacent town called Musselburgh I seem to recall), and some of them were affected by the last bad floods over in Britain a year or so ago.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes Musselburgh had bad flooding. The river Esk burst its banks if I recall...