Friday, May 27, 2011

The 1974 Brisbane Flood - My Memories





Memories of my Suburb in the 1974 Brisbane Flood



Right: Jindalee after the January 2011 Flood.








2011



In January, 2011, the Australian state of Queensland experienced disastrous flooding. I was holidaying on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane and watched on the television, as the city in which I had grown up, succumbed to muddy flood waters. A combination of water rushing from the flooded Lockyer Valley and overflow from the Wivenhoe Dam caused the city of Brisbane to be inundated with water just below the levels of a devastating earlier flood which occurred in 1974. Watching the flood waters rise brought back emotional memories for me. Jindalee, the suburb in which I had lived in 1974, had been devastated by the flood which occurred in that year. Although I had told my children the story of the '74 floods, they only fully comprehended my story as they watched the televised media coverage of the 2011 Brisbane flood.



The photograph, above right, was taken in Jindalee in January 2011, during the cleanup following the flood. In this blog, I am going to relate my memories of the 1974 Brisbane flood, as seen through the eyes of a teenager who was privileged to be a part of a team of volunteers who worked to help the suburb of Jindalee during a time of crisis.....



The 1974 Brisbane Flood



In the latter months of 1973, South East Queensland experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall. In January of 1974 a cyclone named Wanda, moved toward the coast causing a deluge of rain for five days from the 24th. As always, the suburb in which I lived was quickly cut off from the Centenary Highway and the rest of Brisbane, as a creek flooded the only entry into and out of Jindalee. This was nothing new to the residents of the suburb who, unaware that dangerous water levels were building up in the Bremer and Lockyer Creeks, and that flood water was making its way towards Brisbane, regarded being 'cut off' as nothing more than an occasional inconvenience. I can recall being pleased that I had an excuse not to attend my part time job of music teaching, and I looked forward to a few days of leisure time.



Jindalee



On the morning of the 27 th of January, three days after the deluge of rain began, a gravel barge broke it's mooring up river from Jindalee. My sister and I were listening to the radio and heard the news. We rushed down to the riverbank near the high bridge which crosses the river on the Centenary Highway, and watched in horror as the huge barge slammed into the side of the bridge. We felt the ground beneath our feet shudder as the barge collided with the two lane bridge and the extent of the structural damage was immediately obvious. With the barge lodged firmly beneath the upstream side of the bridge there was no choice but to dynamite and sink it before it demolished the bridge altogether. As teenagers, my sister and I watched all of this with the excitement of youth. We had no idea that a disaster was to befall Jindalee in only a matter of days.








Right: Photograph, Courtesy of the Qld State Library. My own photograph, taken at the moment of impact has been lost along with others that I took during the 1974 flood.


In the early hours of January, 29th, 1974, I was roused from sleep, by the sound of large trucks in the street outside my home. Wondering what was happening, I went outside into my front yard. I can still recall my disbelief as I gazed upon Bangalee Street filled with large army trucks and it seemed, hundreds of men in army uniforms. An officer shone a torch for me to enable me to look down my street and what befell my wide eyed stare, defied belief. I could simply not believe my eyes. Water covered what had been, only the evening before, many homes some of whose occupants I knew well. The officer explained to me that the flood had been caused by the creek and not the river and that they had been summoned to assist in rescuing people whose homes had flooded while they were sleeping. I don't think, looking back that anyone had any idea of the magnitude or sheer amount of water which was rushing toward Brisbane, or that it would bring with it a disaster on a scale which the residents of Jindalee had never known. There was a row of homes on the river bank which were not yet flooded but were cut off and left standing isolated between the raging river and the heavily flooded creek. With water on both sides of them, these home owners, many still asleep and unaware of any danger, needed to be rescued by members of the army. The Post Office gauge recorded that the flood waters peaked at 6.6 metres (22 feet) at 2.15 am on January 29th.


With the river rapidly rising and by now, water only several houses from my home, my family was instructed to gather a few valuables, to place everything in the home as high as possible and to prepare to be evacuated. Army trucks were evacuating as many people as possible. My father was away from home at the time and I recall my mother asking an army officer to help her to lift her precious Yamaha Organ onto our dining room table. My mother was a music teacher and the instrument was her pride and joy. My home was at the highest point on a ridge in Jindalee and by daylight the water was in the home below mine. The army was forced to abandon any more attempts to evacuate people since by morning the water was too deep for the trucks to re-enter the suburb. Help was gone and for the people of Jindalee, it was clear, we were now going to face the flood on our own.








Right: The scene which greeted me on the morning of January, 29, 1974. My home was on the left above the water level. The tyre marks on the road were left by Army Vehicles. The flood from the river was yet to arrive.











When my family moved to our home at Jindalee, we had not bought a house that my mother liked. My father had stubbornly refused to live in any house but one which he believed, would be high enough to survive a 100 year flood. At the time, my mother was not very happy with this decision. But my father was aware of something which was to stand our family in good stead. My great grandparents, Hugh and Sarah White, had owned a number of parcels of farmland which included the riverbank which is now the suburb of Jindalee. They had known well, the danger that the Brisbane River afforded the area. The land at what was known as Seventeen Mile Rocks had been severely flooded in 1930 and in 1841. Although my mother had not really wanted to buy that particular house, she was to thank my father for his decision, during this time of devastation in Jindalee. As the flood level rose perilously, the muddy waters only entered the rear of our property and my father, to his relief, was proven right. My family was one of the few fortunate ones in Jindalee, however, as much of the suburb quickly succumbed to flood water.










Right: A Map showing the parcels of farmland owned by my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White (marked in red). Map courtesy of The Centenary Historical Society.









In 1974, there was not the extensive media coverage that beseiged our television sets, radios, newspapers, twitter and facebook and which infectiously spread the word about flooding, as it did in 2011. Word of impending disaster did not reach the ears of Brisbane residents in 1974, in time for them to prepare for a flood of devastating proportions. Nor was there an army of helpers available to help families to remove furniture and possessions from their homes. As in the terrible 2011 Grantham disaster, a raging sinister menace, that was flood water, slipped into homes, in this case, in the dark middle of the night, taking families by surprise. 14 people lost their lives in nearby Brisbane suburbs and in the city of Ipswich. Jindalee at least was spared a death toll, because the creek had risen first, alerting residents of the suburb to possible danger. Because no one in Brisbane, realised the extent of the damage caused by floodwater in the outer suburb of Jindalee, for several days, there was no help from outside the suburb. Those families unaffected by the muddy river water, took it upon themselves to help others less fortunate.


Graham and Joan Nimmo, primary school teachers at the Jindalee Primary School and leaders of the Uniting Church Youth Group remain among a group of unsung heroes for their untiring efforts to assist the people of Jindalee during and after the 1974 flood. On many occasions, the members of the Jindalee Youth Group, myself amongst them, went on fishing or crabbing excursions in Graham's boat. We were frequent visitors to the Jindalee boat ramp, launching the boat for a day of water skiing or tobogganing. During the 1974 flood, Graham gathered a team of teenagers to go out every day in the boat with him to help the people of Jindalee (pictured above right).








I will never forget the shock of boating alongside power lines. That flood water could reach the height of the top of telegraph poles had never occurred to me. As we approached home after home to assist people stranded on verandahs and roofs, the full magnitude of what had happened to my suburb struck me. One photograph, which I took from the boat and which I have unfortunately lost showed a telegraph pole which had been washed high onto a roof and left there as the waters slowly receded. I watched from that boat as items of furniture which had been placed on roofs of homes on the riverbank, were taken away with the raging torrent. I recall vividly that we had to avoid being hit by a fast moving lounge as it went with the flood water. I couldn't help but feel for people who had lost everything in that murky, swirling current.


The owners of the local nursery in Jindalee set up a 'shop', a centre to provide food to residents of the suburb. Both of the shopping centres in the suburb were well under water so Graham took his boat out and we dived into that filthy muddy water to remove louver windows from a supermarket and swam inside to retrieve canned foods. Baby food was a high priority as in 1974 Jindalee had a young population. Looking back, I find myself shuddering at the thought of entering such sinister looking water, but young people have a high sense of adventure and I think that adventurous spirit, allowed us to ignore any danger. Graham and Joan were always mindful of all of their young charges and a were an inspiration to us all during that difficult time.


My mother was contributing, also, by cooking meals for many people. We had a gas stove and as there was no power, she had quite a heavy workload. We also had nine kittens born during the 1974 flood. Our cat, Hortense decided to give birth in my mother's wardrobe, however, she was so busy that she didn't mind at all. She placed a nice warm blanket in alongside her clothes for the 10 cats.


The Sinnamon family were pioneers of the 17 Mile Rocks area. Herc Sinnamon who still lived in one of the original farm houses which remained on dry land (only just) on the other side of the Centenary Highway, milked his cows daily and a group of us went with Graham by boat to collect the milk in buckets. With quite a few babies in Jindalee, Herc's fresh milk was much appreciated. Who would have thought that I would watch my first cow being milked during a flood.


Once word reached authorities about the flooding in Jindalee, we began to receive air drops of food and other essential supplies. Army helicopters made their drops on a small area of dry land. Graham took his boat to meet them and we carried the food to the nursery where it was distributed.


Joan Nimmo also played an important part in keeping the children of Jindalee busy during the 1974 flood, for which she later received a letter of praise from the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. Joan setting up a school in her backyard and providing fun activities such as painting and craft, not only entertaining the children but allowing flood affected parents the freedom to concentrate on cleaning up the badly damaged suburb.

As the flood waters receded and the cleanup began, many people rallied together to clean metres of thick mud from inside homes. Because the Jindalee was a newer Brisbane suburb, the houses did not fare well after a week of flooding and relentless rain. Plasterboard walls and ceilings disintegrated and the damage was seen to be extensive. Every day people who did not know each other arrived at homes to help in the seemingly impossible cleanup. Jindalee buzzed with a spirit of generousity as everyone worked side by side to repair the damage caused by floodwater and mud.






When I was in Jindalee, this year, after the 2011 flood, I was overwhelmed by the familiarity of the smell of mud. I recognised that smell from 1974. Memories are often triggered by smells as well as sights and sounds. I don't think that I will ever forget the smell of mud in the homes in Jindalee following the 1974 flood.









Right: Burrendah Road as the flood waters receded and Graham's boat.









Many people helped others less fortunate in Jindalee during the 1974 floods. My story is just one of many stories.


























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Monday, May 2, 2011

A Mother's Parting Gift: A Christening Gown





The Christening Gown - a Mother's Final Gift and a Family Heirloom






My beautiful mother, Alwynne Jean MacDade [Reece-Hoyes] was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease at a very young age. She was only in her early forties when we first noticed signs that something was wrong. As the disease progressed, she continued to be cared for at home for as long as was possible however, sadly at the age of 52 had to be placed reluctantly by my sisters and myself, into a nursing home to prevent her from wandering and endangering herself. My sisters and I all had young babies and as the disease was far advanced by then, we could no longer care for her. It broke our hearts each time we visited her and watched, as we faded from her memory.


My mother was well admired for many things, among them her great generosity, but she was especially known for her beautiful sewing. In 1982 after the birth of my daughter, Rhiannon Sarah Sharne, my mother set about to design and to sew a christening gown. She was 51 years of age, and with well progressed Alzheimers, no one expected that she would accomplish the task. But against all odds, she selected the delicate fabric, lace and made up her own design for a Christening Gown which she was able to tell me that she wished to be passed down in the family. It was obvious that this was an important gift which she wanted to give.


The gown was truly a labour of love, for many times during the three months in which she crafted the gown, she telephoned me in tears to say that she was having difficulty with the delicate tasks of pin tucking and hand picoting. As we were having a double christening for our three year old son and three month old daughter I bought outfits for both of them but I did not buy another Christening Gown. Somehow, I knew that my mother would not fail to present this gift that she was so determined to give.



Several days before the Christening, my mother was flown to Sydney from Brisbane and when she arrived she presented me with a most exquisite and beautifully sewn gown for my daughter to wear. I was simply speechless. How this amazing lady who could no longer take care of herself and who had difficulty in speaking, had achieved this truly magnificent act of kindness and perseverance was beyond comprehension. The Christening Gown was finished in time for the Christening, but my mother was extremely distressed, because no matter how hard she tried, she could not complete the matching Christening Bonnet. She no longer remembered how to sew a simple stitch. The most difficult part for her was that she could not understand why. In the two months before the Christening, my mother had designed, made and finished sewing the beautiful Christening dress, and this feat was nothing short of a miracle.

Determined that my daughter would wear both the dress and bonnet, I sewed quickly a tacking thread through the front of the bonnet (I did not inherit my mother's sewing talent or the patience for it). My poor mother's frown when she saw my effort with the christening bonnet said everything! But my daughter wore our new family heirloom and I was perhaps the proudest mother at a baby's Christening ever!



The Christening Gown was the last thing that my mother ever sewed for me. She was unable to remember how to sew at all immediately after completing her final labour of love for our family. Dementia took the mother we had known very rapidly away from us after the Christening, and less than a year later, tragically, she did not recognise anyone in our family at all.






Pictured right, is my beautiful mother, Alwynne Jean MacDade holding baby Rhiannon in the Christening Gown which was an amazing and very special gift from my mother to myself and my children. It is our most treasured possession and will undoubtedly become our most precious family heirloom.















Right: The beautiful Christening Gown worn by Rhiannon in October 1982 and big brother Hamish being Christened in his navy velvet knickerbockers.






The Christening Gown was worn again in October, 1986 by our third child, daughter, Siobhan Kaitlyn Jemima. The bonnet was too small for her to wear, but she looked beautiful in her grandmother's very special gift. My mother did not see her little grand daughter looking angelic in the very special Christening Gown, but we were all thinking of her as we witnessed our baby being christened in the beautiful dress she had sewn.






















Right: Myself proudly holding Siobhan in the Christening Gown, October, 1986.



















Our fourth child, daughter, Briallen Sian Hannah was the last baby to wear my mother's Christening Gown, in October, 1990. By now, my mother was very ill and I was even more proud to have the Christening Gown she had sewn for Briallen to wear.




I have carefully packed away the Christening Dress to be passed on to my children and hopefully to their children. My mother, her kindness and her wonderful talent will live on through the beautiful gown which she sewed and gave to me as a final gift before she succumbed to the complete loss of memory caused by Alzheimer's Disease, aged, in her fifties.









Right: Briallen's Christening, where she is wearing the Christening Gown my mother made; now our special family heirloom.


THIS POST IS IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER, ALWYNNE JEAN MACDADE [REECE-HOYES]



































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































The White Cane Pram: a Family Heirloom.








The White Cane Pram





For family historians, heritage is of great importance. Our heritage is not only about our ancestors. It embodies places, traditions, ceremonies and tangible 'things' from our past.



The value of things passed down from one generation to the next, cannot be measured in dollars. Their value is found in the continuity of history, especially of our own family history. Family heirlooms, no matter how big or small, come with rich narratives about past lives.

The pram in the photograph above right, was bought for my mother-in-law by her parents before the birth of her first child David, who is now my husband. The white cane pram was used by my husband David and his three brothers as babies. David is the baby in the photograph, pictured on the balcony of the family's first home at Ashfield in Sydney.

The pram moved with the growing family to a house in Concord West, where, with its big rubber tyres, and bouncing suspension, it walked four babies to the park to the local shops. The four baby boys in turn, were 'aired' as was the fashion in the back yard in the big cane pram. A mosquito net thrown over the pram provided protection from insects whilst outside.

After the big cane pram had finished walking these four babies and rocking them to sleep, it was passed on to other family members. Cousins, nieces, nephews and family friends added their own stories to the pram's history. The lovely big, white cane pram finally found its way to our home after the birth of our second child. By now it was dirty and damaged through much loving use. We had the pram restored to as close to its original condition as was possible and the big white cane pram began a new chapter of its history.

Many a night I rocked my daughter Rhiannon, to sleep in the old pram. Although I had a modern pram to take, more conveniently, to shopping centres, I used the old cane pram to walk my baby daughter to our local park. Because my baby daughter suffered from painful reflux, she spent so many nights sleeping in the big pram that it became her bed. The pram was more spacious than the lovely old cane bassinet which had also been used by my husband as a baby, and allowed me to gently rock my baby to sleep.

Once again as our family grew, the pram moved with us and became a part of our next child's life. We had a large back yard at our new home and the cane pram spent many hours outdoors with baby Siobhan watching me hanging out the washing or enjoying her big brother Hamish pushing her around the garden in.













Siobhan sitting in the big cane pram looking just like her dad!





After our fourth baby, Briallen, outgrew the white cane pram, along with the old cane bassinet, both now a fine old age of fifty years, it went to a new home once again. This time the cane pram was used for many years by a cousin to hold her precious collection of porcelain dolls and held pride of place in this home as well.

The beautiful white cane pram is now back at home with us awaiting a new and exciting chapter in its life. The birth of the pram's next baby will be our first grandchild. With new tyres and a new interior, the pram is eagerly awaiting the day it will once again be put to good use. The pram is 57 years old now and there is no doubt that it will continue to rock babies in our family, to sleep and take them for walks for many years to come.