DISASTER ZONE: The view in East St, looking towards the David Trumpy Bridge, as floodwaters rose into the Ipswich CBD in January 1974.
DISASTER ZONE: The view in East St, looking towards the David Trumpy Bridge, as floodwaters rose into the Ipswich CBD in January 1974. File

Memories of 1974 flood still vivid after 40 years

Timothy Malony Park became a lake in front of St Mary’s.
Timothy Malony Park became a lake in front of St Mary’s. File

THE sight of river water lapping at the foot of her street at the beginning of 2011 brought back vivid childhood memories for Beryle Manz.

Mrs Manz may have been only five years old when Ipswich was hit by the deluge that led to the 1974 floods but the impact the disaster had on her family has also left a lasting print on her memory.

One of five children, Mrs Manz lived with her mother and father in a two-storey house in Parrott St, Raceview, when Deebing Creek backed up from a raging junction with the Bremer River, flooding most of the Ipswich Cemetery and all of the area between Briggs Rd and Warwick Rd, which is now an industrial estate.

"I knew it was serious, I can still remember sitting on Mum and Dad's bed as she packed up some clothes," Mrs Manz said.

"I can remember being carried down the steps as the water began to come up to the house - by that time it was actually coming up the front steps."

With barely enough time to get out all five children, the family left most of its possessions behind, before fleeing to a relative's house on higher ground at Brassall.

Mrs Manz's mother Robyn McCarthy said her primary concern was to make sure she got all her children - who at the time were aged between seven months and seven years - out of the house safely.

With water rising quickly up into the second floor of the home, the family lost most of its furniture and possessions, yet the decision to get out as quickly as possible is still one that Mrs McCarthy is glad she made.

"The kids were fine and that's all that mattered to me - the children were my priority," she said.

"We just took what we had ready at the time. It was scary but we made it."

It was Australia Day - a Saturday in 1974 - when the rain just kept coming and coming.

The Brisbane and Bremer rivers began to flood that afternoon and they wouldn't recede for another four days.

The Bremer reached 20.7m at its peak - more than a metre higher than the 2011 level - with flood waters affecting about 2000 homes in Ipswich alone.

Two people died.

Although only in his early 20s at the time, Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale marks the 1974 flood recovery as the catalyst for his political career.

He took time off from his job in Brisbane to take a hands-on approach to the clean-up.

"I remember driving a truck, delivering furniture to people, with a police officer sitting in the passenger's seat," Cr Pisasale said.

"After a while he asked me how long I'd had a truck licence for and I told him that I didn't even know I needed one.

"He told me to pull up near the police station and, a few minutes later, he emerged with my new truck licence.

"I also remember a bloke going mad at us for throwing out his mattress, which turned out to have his life savings hidden inside.

"We had to go back to the dump to retrieve it."

The Mayor said the tragedy and hardship of 1974 was counterbalanced by the many mateships and bonds that were formed in the aftermath.

The home of Robyn McCarthy and Beryle Manz in the 1974 flood.
The home of Robyn McCarthy and Beryle Manz in the 1974 flood. Contributed

"When 2011 hit and I was in the thick of it, I used my gut instinct because I'd already seen first-hand what people need in that situation."

The 1974 floods were also a catalyst for the creation of the SES.

Long-time Ipswich SES members Russ Ladley and Ross Elliot volunteered in late 1973 when it became clear the city was in for a big storm season.

Back then they donned the blue overalls and red helmets of Civil Defence and, at the peak of the floods, one of their jobs was to stand guard on Chermside Rd to keep looters at bay.

Both men were among the first 200 people to join the SES when it was formed after the Cyclone Tracey disaster later in 1974.

They were soon joined by fellow long-termers Arie van den Ende, Andy Millar and Beth Suhr

Bureau of Meteorology records for the Amberley weather station show an astronomical 635mm of rain fell during January, 1974 - nearly six times the average.

Mrs McCarthy said her family's home was so badly damaged by mud and water that it was unsafe to go back inside after the water receded.

The family spent about three weeks in Brassall, firstly waiting for the water to subside, then holding out during the subsequent clean-up.

It was during this harrowing time the family got to experience some of the better attributes of the human spirit.

The story of how the family's house was restored in 1974 is reminiscent of what was witnessed across Ipswich in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

Mrs Manz's late father, Bob Wyatte, worked at Kingston and Wallace furniture factory at the time, and the Raceview company and its employees went out of their way to make sure the family home was liveable again.

The Hotel Grande submerged by floodwaters.
The Hotel Grande submerged by floodwaters. File

"My husband's work sent a crew out for the clean-up," Mrs McCarthy said.

"We had lost everything and what wasn't already lost was floating away.

"The whole house had to be cleaned out and we had to get rid of the water-logged floors, furniture and clothes.

"The house also had to be re-wired."

Kingston and Wallace donated new furniture, helping the family get back to normality as soon as possible.

While both Mrs Manz and her mother were within a stone's throw of the high-water mark three years ago, they were lucky enough to escape a repeat of the devastation that hit them 37 years earlier.

Mrs Manz was living in Walloon at the time, with water from a swollen Bremer River lapping at the start of her street, but not making it near her home.

"I was panicking at one stage, because our dog was pregnant at the time and I was worried that we would have to evacuate," she said.

"It brought back memories of 1974 but, now that it has been and gone, I guess we know now that we are relatively safe here.

"I do still get a bit anxious about flooding though."

Mrs McCarthy did her research before moving into a higher part of Basin Pocket in 1989.

Her experience paid off, with the 2011 flood not getting close enough to threaten her property.

"When I bought the house in 1989 I made sure it wouldn't flood," she said.

"2011 was a bit iffy for us but it did not come up as high as the 1974 flood."

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