Rocky flood flashback: Chaos runs through the town (1918)
THIS year marks the 100 year anniversary of the great Fitzroy River flood of 1918.
It broke all previous records and remains the highest flood recorded in Rockhampton.
The Fitzroy River first peaked at 8.89 metres (29ft. 2in.) on January 23, before receding and rising again to a peak of 9.73 metres (31 ft. 11 in) on February 1 and the river remained at major flood level for several weeks before receding to normal.
The flood was the result of a large cyclone which crossed the coast at Mackay on January 21, devastating that city. Rockhampton was not immune from the aftermath of the cyclone and the massive volume of water which fell in the Fitzroy River catchment.
Eight people lost their lives in the Rockhampton region due to the storm and floods, hundreds were forced from their homes as the waters rose and business came to a virtual standstill for several weeks.
Rockhampton lay isolated from the rest of Queensland, except for the telegraph, for some three weeks until the railway line south was repaired and reopened to traffic.
This feature re-prints extracts from key stories published in The Morning Bulletin between January 22 and February 22, 1918 which chronicled the effects of the flood on day-to-day life in the city and its surrounding districts.
Thursday 31 January 1918
THE FLOOD IN THE FITZROY
The position created by the recurrence of the flood in the Fitzroy River ascended a more serious aspect yesterday, when business, generally speaking was at a standstill. The members of the mercantile community affected by the flood waters worked feverishly all day in removing goods by means of lorries and boats to places of safety or making better provision for stocks not able to be removed. Others temporarily out of employment on account of the conditions or too concerned to devote themselves to their various professions and callings watched the river, with its attendant incidents, almost unceasingly, large crowds surveying the situation from early in the morning until late in the evening.
A large shed filled with hay was lifted bodily from a farm on Scrubby Creek and transported half a mile down the creek on to another farm as if it had been erected there. On top of the hay there was a hen on some eggs. Quite unconcernedly, it appears the fowl remained on the eggs all the time during the trip on the water and was still sitting when the shed again got to mother earth. Whether there have since been any chickens is not reported; but the truth of the story otherwise is vouched for.
There need be no cause for alarm in regard to bread, there being ample stocks of flour on hand. The flood waters extended into Mr. W.T.D. Smith's bakehouse at the corner of William and Gladstone Streets yesterday, and the men were working 1 ft. deep in water. The bread supply, however, was got out. Mr. Smith has made arrangements to bake his bread at Mr. J. Rickart's bakehouse today, where a double shift will be employed. Mr. Smith states that there need be no worry over the bread supply.
The butchers are still working under great difficulties. The position, if anything, was worse yesterday. The carcases for the Co-operative Butchering Company were carried by men across the Alexandra Bridge; but, through the instrumentality of Mr. W. Hindley, North Rockhampton, a railway truck will now be despatched across the bridge to Glenmore Crossing.
SEVERAL HUNDRED CATTLE WASHED DOWN
In the course of the day several hundred cattle, mostly alive, and also a small number of horses, came downstream. Despite the conspicuous posters, spectators flocked on to the Fitzroy Bridge, oblivious of all danger, in order to get a better view of the struggling cattle, which looked up appealingly as they were swept under the structure. Vividly recollecting the severe shortage of beef, early attempts were made to lasso bullocks as they passed by. With some dexterity, several were lassoed from the bridge itself and others from motor launches, also from flat-bottomed boats inside the sheds . Twenty-five or more were safely landed. Those secured here yesterday were fairly fresh. In all probability they will be slaughtered, the owners being afterwards compensated.
A few exciting incidents occurred. Two or three individuals in a dinghy fastened a rope round a bullock's horns near the sheds on the lower wharves and gleefully towed the beast to the bank. There the rope broke. The bullock got to the bank and was given a very wide berth until it was observed that it was somewhat weak in the knees. A hundred or more people frightened it along Quay Street. Followed by a few horsemen, it ran down Denham Street to Messrs. Stewart and Co.s premises, but suddenly changed its course to the Post Office steps. It was then driven up, the lane into the police barracks yard. Even there it was not resigned, for it charged one of the constables, who got over the fence in a twinkling, and showed a dislike to other members of the force.
BUSINESS SECTION SERIOUSLY INCONVENIENCED
Few of the business premises in East Street, about midday between William and Denham Streets were free from water on the right-hand side of the overflow. On the opposite side bags stacked across the doorways prevented encroachments up til six o'clock in the evening. The water covered the front portion of the premises of Williams Limited, and was exactly 8 in. deep through Messrs Flavelle, Roberts, and Sankey's jewellery establishment adjoining, and fully 1 ft. deep in Messrs Carter and Sons' corner early yesterday afternoon. It was also over the bottom shelves in Mr. F.J. Pfitzenmaier's shop intervening and fully 2 ft. deep on the footpath at the intersection. The teller at the Bank of Australasia was standing in water. The water, after covering the ground floor of Cook's Buildings, ascended midway between the second and third steps of the stairway of the Agricultural Society's offices. From this spot to the corner of East and Derby Streets the water was up to over the hips of a medium-sized man. Messrs J.M. Headrick and Co.'s offices were 1 ft. 4 in. under water; but the store was 1 ft. 2 in. above the level of the flood. Slight damage was, however, sustained in the firm's bonded store, where there was 4 in. of water. The wheels of the lorries under the covered way were almost covered. The overflow up along Derby Street to Quay Street submerged Messrs Walter Reid and Co.'s offices to a depth of 3 in.; but the goods were 1 ft. clear.
The water was deeper on Messrs. Denham Brothers side, being 5 ft. At the corner. Inside the premises the water was 2 ft. 8 ½ in. over the floor. Messrs. Denham Brothers suffered some loss in the flood last week. A large quantity of goods was then removed. The second flood has been an extreme disappointment and has meant a very hard struggle for all the firm's staff in removing or planking a great proportion of the stock that had not been shifted. In the event of a much further rise it will doubly increase the strenuous work of the employees. The manager, Mr. J.J. Macaulay, who was hopeful that the flood waters would soon be stationary, has not spared himself in endeavouring to save the stock. Had it not been for the kindly offices of Mr. N.H. Caswell, manager of the Australian Estates and Mortgage Company in placing his company's spacious wool warehouse in Stanley Street at Messrs. Denham Brothers disposal, the losses would have been very heavy. So far the loss sustained by the firm is small when everything is taken into consideration. On the window of one building a wag has chalked up "Out". As a matter of fact, all the premises affected by water are closed. Quite a number of youths in bathing costumes were swimming in the stretch of water in East Street, between William and Derby Streets, yesterday as well as in other parts of the town.
It was a strange spectacle to see a four horse-power launch, capable of holding twenty people, pull up close to the main entrance of Mr. E.N. Symons's Chemist's shop, the floor of which is 1 ft. 5 in. under water. This launch brought a boatload of people to this spot. It also breasted the bar of the Saleyards Hotel in Gladstone Street, the nose protruding over the counter. An even larger launch, the property of Mr. T. Bedford, came to Mr. Symons's corner on the course of the day.