The week the flood came
LATE on the afternoon of Thursday, January 24, 1974 radio and television stations issued warnings that tropical cyclone Wanda had crossed the coast at Double Island Point.
At that stage it rated only a brief paragraph – possibly because many people had no idea where Double Island Point was – so most people in and around Ipswich went to bed that night blissfully unaware of any pending disaster.
But despite warnings next morning of floodwaters descending on our region, no-one could have predicted the four-day deluge that would be forever remembered as the 1974 Flood.
Friday January 25:
My first involvement was about 9pm on Friday, January 25 when I received a phone call at my home from my editor, Greg Stephenson.
He told me Bundamba Creek had burst its banks and 400 of our newsprint rolls were destroyed in our storeroom opposite Bundamba State School. He told me to meet him at the QT office and we would drive down together.
Our journey was brought to an abrupt stop at the Racehorse Hotel at Bundamba by a massive barrier of rapidly rising floodwater.
A policeman diverting traffic told us Goodna was a total disaster zone. It was decided I should travel there alone along the only access road through Tivoli via the Warrego Highway.
The scene that greeted me was muted chaos with hundreds of stunned and saturated evacuees, mostly women and children, some holding a few minor possessions, continually arriving in small fishing boats. They were ushered away by Civic Defence volunteers to shelter areas on higher ground.
I had only just begun to take my first photographs when a police sergeant asked if I could drive a man with a possibly broken arm back to Ipswich. After delivering my patient to hospital, I called in at the QT office just after midnight to discover Saturday’s edition was printed early, meaning my photographs were not going to appear until the Monday edition. I had no other option than to reload my camera, get a dry notebook and a pen that could write in the wet and return to Goodna.
I arrived at 2am and got a lift in one of the last of the outgoing rescue boats, but my camera and flashgun got saturated so I returned to the empty QT building in the early light of Saturday for a quick change of clothes and equipment and to try and have 40 winks on the editor’s lounge.
I soon discovered that trying to sleep in a newspaper office is impossible during an emergency.
Saturday January 26:
THE Bremer River in central Ipswich had risen to 12.2m by 9am and I returned to Goodna again. On one venture we were told that a bull was on the top balcony of the Royal Mail Hotel.
Sunday January 27:
ALMOST all of Ipswich’s lower CBD was under water by midday. Local lads were making the best of it by canoeing around at rooftop level.
The west of the city was also seriously affected and the Avon Theatre and Leichhardt State School resembled refugee camps as families gathered for shelter.
I went upstream from One Mile Bridge to photograph the 1km expanse of water from the railway bridge at Sadliers Crossing.
While capturing the torrent I suddenly saw a large wooden house floating and spinning downstream towards me. I ran for my life, hearing behind me a deafening explosion as the building hit the side of the steel superstructure and disintegrated.
Meanwhile, reports filtered in about hundreds of people being evacuated from areas such as Gatton, Lowood and Toogoolawah.
Monday January 28:
QUEENSLAND Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen flew in by helicopter to Limestone Park that morning. He ordered restoration work to start as quickly as possible and began developing a scheme to help flood victims.
Tuesday January 29:
I WAS glad to receive an update that afternoon about the stranded bull on the veranda of the Royal Mail at Goodna. After the waters receded, people managed to get it down a flight of stairs before it retreated to safety.
On reflection, this terrible tragedy showed me what amazing strengths of character some people possess, especially those who can emerge from a quagmire of grief and destruction with a determination to move on.
The Queensland Times would like to thank Ipswich Library for its assistance with today’s 1974 replica reprint.