Thursday, April 16, 2009

I was carried on Bob Semple's shoulders

A childhood memory is the great flood in Little River. Periodically, Lake Forsyth if full and not released began to back up the main river. If this coincided with heavy rain in the hills then the village got flooded. During the war one such flood occurred after steady easterly rain turned into a downpour. With slips galore on the hills, the creeks couldn't cope with the rush of water, mud, rock and log. Soon willows torn out by the force of the water jammed across other trees or bridges, diverting the flood across paddocks and farmland, where it swept stock away to pile them dead against the fences. Normally a placid little stream, the creek between our house and Pop's farm became a belting torrent. Blocked by a pile-up at the railway line just below our place it spilt across Pop's hay-paddock and our section. People were boating along the main street, but we had serious concerns. Pop couldn't get across to help. We began stacking furniture. Other neighbours arrived with sandbags. When the water began lapping at the door-step, they evacuated Doug my younger brother, Mum and myself to Aitken's our neighbours up the hill.

In the morning the rain had abated and an insipid sun shone. Stone and silt covered Pop's flat paddocks and Mum's flower garden had been stripped away. The water had not entered the house, another inch and it would have. We lacked piped water for a month - the feed upstream completely twisted around - but the rain water tank was full. Likewise, even more impressively, the railway lines had similarly bent and buckled. Meanwhile, with the lake let out and the dammed up water drained away from the village it left foul smelling silt everywhere. The main river had altered course and swept bridges away, wrecked fowl-houses, undercut barns and tipped vehicles on their sides. The hills, scarred with weeping slips, had lost their aura of permanence and certainty. Our creek was now a shallow trench, Mum's old stove buried under the debris. Pop dragged sheep carcasses off the fences and attempted to burn them, but there was no dry fuel. He covered them with logs, but for days the stench lingered. They could not be buried because the soil was so waterlogged; nor could a machine be brought in to dig a hole. We sloshed around in gumboots for it seemed an eternity.

Bob Semple, Minister of Works, an old friend of Pop’s, visited to inspect the damage. The two men talked about boring a tunnel through the solid rock at the end of the lake to provide a permanent outlet. They climbed the hill to survey the devastation, Semple carrying me on his shoulders across slurping mud and slippery slopes. The tunnel was never cut. Instead the local council cleared most of the willows and straightened the river. "It'll happen again", the old folks said, "You can't control the elements". Now the commuters build close to the streams again. And they are flooded occasionally. I can hear Granny’s scorn, “townies.”

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