Northern Floods of 1921.
Floods in South Australia are not uncommon. Even the dry and arid north gets a fair share of them. We have all heard about northern floods which have filled Lake Eyre with floodwaters from the north and from Queensland. By the end of February 1921, the north had received a monthly total of 267 points. This naturally made every farmer and grazier happy, but when more than 798 point came down during the first week of March the mood changed rapidly. The floods which resulted created large problems and damages.
The Transcontinental newspaper from Port Augusta of Friday 4 March, 1921 stated that 'an official who returned last night from the floods, states that it is all beyond description. The rails are swinging for a chain and a half. The railway embankment has disappeared and the line for a considerable distance moved out of its track. Dead sheep and cattle are to be seen everywhere. At both ends of the bridge the earthworks are gone. About a mile of telegraph line, with poles, etc., have been washed away'.
Special arrangements were being made for passengers on the stranded East-West train, who were expected to arrive at Port Augusta tonight, to bring them to Adelaide. They would be transferred from one train to another at Bruce, where the difficulty in connection with the washaway still exists.
The Quorn Mercury reported; The Great Deluge, Heaviest Rains on Record, Willochra Plains one Sheet of Water, Much Damage to Property and Stock. A few days later the Register of 8 March reported the disruption of all the mails in the north. It quoted the Deputy Postmaster-General (EW Bramble) who advised on Monday that daily mail communication is being maintained with Quorn and Port Augusta, the mails being conveyed between Hammond and Bruce by railway sectional car; but correspondence is subject to 24 hours delay.
Mails for Hawker were forwarded by road from Carrieton via Cradock, last Friday, but those for other offices on the great northern line are still delayed. It is expected, however, that such mails will go forward from Quorn tomorrow. The railways authorities have advised that, according to the latest news from Port Augusta, the passengers on the Trans-Continental train, which is held up through washaways, will be landed there not later than tonight.
The trouble north of Hammond has not yet been overcome, and travellers are not able to go beyond that town. The through line from Peterborough to Port Augusta is still blocked. Mails for Melrose will from tomorrow be sent via Gladstone and Murraytown each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday until the railway communication is restored. The mail from Alice Springs due at Oodnadatta last Friday arrived on Sunday afternoon, having been delayed by floods.
Owing to the non-arrival of the train from Adelaide and the still swollen state of the rivers, the return mail will not leave Oodnadatta until Saturday week. The letters from Coober Pedy, due at Kingoonya last Wednesday, have not yet arrived. The mail for Yardea left Port Augusta last Saturday, but owing to washouts on the road, it had to be returned the same evening.
Mails for places as far as Nonning will probably leave Port Augusta on Wednesday. It is anticipated that the mail will get through to Yardea next trip, leaving Port Augusta next Saturday. The Warrakimbo mail was unable to proceed beyond Yadlamulka, 38 miles from Port Augusta, the flood waters being miles wide, and returned to Port Augusta last night. All telegraph communication has now been restored.
The Recorder from Port Pirie of 9 March had a little better news informing its readers that work connected with the restoration of railway services continues steadily. All the breaks in the line from Pirie to Booleroo Centre on the Wilmington tract and Peterborough have been repaired, and yesterday afternoon at four o'clock and 5.15 goods trains left Pirie for Peterborough.
At present the quantity of coal awaiting transit from Pirie is pretty big, it continued. About 300 truckloads of coal was in the railway yards yesterday morning and only a few of the wagons were taken away. The two goods trains carried mostly general freight. The accumulation of coal is due to an effort to clear the gantries bins, before the Iron Monarch gets to Pirie. On the great northern line, trains can proceed from Peterborough as far as Bruce. Not so good was the news that 'The track from the latter station to Quorn has not been repaired yet and it is impossible to say when it will be reopened'.
The Advertiser of 10 March was able to report that the restoration of the East-West railway service was announced and would leave Adelaide for Perth at 7.20 a.m. The Quorn Mercury of Friday 11 March 1921, summarized the catastrophe as follows; For the past few weeks a drizzly rain has been falling in and around our district, but on Monday last the storm broke forth with all its vehemence. For about three quarters of an hour the heavens waged war, and many people appreciative of nature, were seen witnessing same, and from a spectacular point we venture to say it was unique in history.
Little did one think such serious complications and damage would follow. Right through the night it rained and at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning 191 points of rain had been registered for the proceeding 24 hours. Tuesday was even worse than Monday, as 486 points were registered, making a total of 677 for two days.
Our first inconvenience arising from the flood was that the Adelaide train had not arrived at its scheduled time. Upon making enquiries we discovered that damage had been done to the line around Stirling. The train eventually arrived at 2.45 p.m. instead of 7.57 a.m. and did not proceed farther South than Quorn. The North train due to have left at 8.45 a.m. has not left the yards. We received word to say the East-West express was held up at Wynbring owing to damaging rains. This has not yet proceeded onward, and it would be hazardous to predict the time of its arrival in Adelaide, owing to the serious damage at the Bruce bridge.
The North Line; It was clearly conceivable on Tuesday morning that the north train would run, and a special train left to proceed to Willochra. This returned again, about 7 p.m. and it was reported that the houses at Willochra were, under water, and the residents in danger of their lives. Very quickly were the Port Augusta authorities communicated with, and at about 11.30 p.m. a special train carrying a little boat arrived in the Quorn yards.
This left immediately with a willing band of workers for Willochra, and the services of the boat were requisitioned and one man was safely rescued from his perilous position. This train returned again at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning, and at 7.15 a.m. a ballast train left, and has been doing so every morning since, and returning again in the evening with the workmen. The work of repairing the line is proceeding satisfactorily, and it is expected a train will run through to Oodnadatta on Tuesday next, but it will be a long time before the line is as good as it was prior to the floods.
South Line; The south line between Quorn and Hammond is seriously damaged and traffic has been held up for a week. No mails had arrived from Adelaide until Friday night, and these had to be taken overland from Hammond to Bruce. The Oodnadatta train arrived at Hammond on Wednesday night, and has not yet proceeded. The Bruce bridge is indeed a sorry plight, and it is considered same will take 2 or 3 months before being again in proper working order. Although hopes are entertained for its temporary use in the near future.
Our Ford Wrecked; Since Tuesday last a constant stream of spectators has been visiting the ford to witness the sight. It was indeed wonderful. When the water came down in full force the foot bridges on either side were completely wrecked, and strewn all across the centre, making all traffic impossible. A few men living over the hill tried to cross on horseback, and one young man had a narrow escape.
Damage to Stock and Property; Several people report heavy losses to their stock. Mr J Stokes has reported having lost 200 head of cattle, but we are informed that he has been fortunate in securing 60 head. Besides these there were several other losses not reported. Practically every fence in the district has been carried away and several houses on the low-lying land have been badly damaged.
Stranded Travellers; The usual fortnightly batch of commercial men arrived on Monday night in addition to a great crowd of other travellers. These have been stranded here ever since. The first to get away were on Friday morning when a party of about eight left on the ballast train proceeding to Bruce. Of this number one gentleman arrived safely at Hammond, but the others were compelled to walk the distance the following day.
Bennett & Fisher's sale Cancelled. Bennett & Fisher's usual monthly market was supposed to have been held on Tuesday, but owing to floods it was postponed until Friday when it was eventually held.
The Observer of 12 March also gave its summary and views of the disaster. This time it showed that there is sunshine behind every cloud.
Perth to Adelaide; 100 passengers stepped out on a platform at the Adelaide Railway station at 8 o'clock on Wednesday night, looking none the worse tor their experience. Indeed, they grabbed their luggage with extra vigour, and then turned to recount their adventures to their friends. If there were any on the train who regarded the "sticking up" as more or less of a holiday, it was the children. The small boys revelled in the unexpected holiday, and the small girls were not far behind.
A representative of the Register, who was listening to the story of a Federal officer and his wife, was interrupted by the exclamation of a lively little girl of 'Daddy, don't forget the yellow bunny we caught!' The passengers left Perth on February 26 and Kalgoorlie on the next day. The weather then was fine, but indications of a storm travelled up behind the train and overtook it. Torrential rains fell at Wynbring, and the express was 'stalled' in consequence of washaways of the line. The train crept on by degrees to Tarcoola, and could get no further.
A Stay at Tarcoola; We did not need the train men to tell us of our plight, said a Federal officer. We could see it for ourselves. But this I will say that a better lot of train attendants I have never met. They could not do enough for us. We reached Tarcoola on Thursday night, and were delayed there for three days. While we were at Wynbring we received supplies of food from Tarcoola.
Twenty years later, Daisy Bates would live at the Wynbring railway siding, in a tent, until ill-health forced her back to Adelaide.
We got to the latter place to find the residents ready to receive us and do their very best. Committees were formed, and we enjoyed all sorts of sports and games, usual and unusual. We held dances in the train, on the platform, and in the Tarcoola Hall. I think that we outdid the Tarcoolians. The ladies and children gathered quandongs and after they had chewed off the red outer rind played marbles with the nuts. The men went rabbit shooting, and quite respectable bags were made. We also played cricket against the Tarcoola Cricket Club, and if you really want to know who won you asked the Tarcoola folk.
Rounders with blackfellows' waddies as clubs was popular with the ladies. The Tarcoola ladies were the essence of kindness. They seemed never to tire of doing something for us. I don't mind the experience, for I gained some idea of what an outback Australian welcome means. We passed a unanimous note of thanks to the Tarcoola residents, but I believe that the matter will not stop there and that the passengers will later send along a tangible proof of their gratitude.
As to food, we had plenty of mutton and rabbits, thanks to the cooks and most tasty dishes they made. Butter was short, but there were other stores in abundance. There was no chance for Australians to starve, even in an Australian desert. I don't regret the experience. In conclusion, let me state that the big rain did a wonderful lot of good to the far back pastoral country.