The steady “drumming of an army” of rain drops on the tin roof above temporarily lifted, providing a welcome respite. A night sky was silent and threatening with faint moon beams casting their deathly shadow through the clouds over the murky brown waters below cascading in endless eddies of debris and swirling mud.
It was just a few days ago that a blue sky was endless, pastures beckoned, cattle grazed beside a tranquil river, that flowed leisurely behind our Fawcett Street Home in Kyogle. Returning from school each day I would rush out into the paddocks with my companions and go on to the river bank to play imaginative adventures of conquests and danger. The grazing cattle were wild animals, trees our refuge, dog and cat our guardians and wooden swords our protectors.
At the same time each day my mother would shout from the porch “The Search” a signal for us to return and listen in bated breath to the radio series “The Search for the Golden Boomerang”.
Our family house had been purchased on the basis it was flood free. As an added precaution it was built on high stilts. Despite the cyclonic rain on that fateful day it was not thought our house would be flooded and hence we were not concerned. As the floodwaters entered our backyard I imagined myself as fisherman and dangled my fishing line in the brown waters. However soon the rising waters were inching their way up our back steps so we evacuated to neighbours on higher ground. My father told us he was staying on to protect our furniture and effects.
That night I peered out over the murky waters to see my Father swimming around in the flooded house, placing objects onto higher vantage points in a futile attempt to avoid the ever rising floodwaters. The waters were rising at an alarming rate and it was with some relief, we watched in silence as my father finally wearily swam out through the bedroom window and with measured strokes struck out for the bank and safety at last. Fully clothed, cold, exhausted but determined he slowly hauled himself up onto the bank to join us on the veranda, in time to see our house disappear under the mighty waters of the Richmond River.
In other parts of town tragedies were occurring:
People watched helpless from the Kyogle railway station as six persons drowned when their home was washed away. A mother and her two children drowned when a small rescue boat capsized in waves on Fawcett’s plain. An aboriginal man was caught in floodwaters and drowned. Others were washed away but survived by clinging to trees until rescuers arrived.
I can still remember afterwards that smell from the flood and the endless mud. There were pieces of corrugated iron from rooves around and it was soon turned to good use in makeshift canoes, folded over and sealed both ends with tar, to deliver milk and supplies. I remember search parties each morning looking for bodies and everyone helping one another.
Amongst the sadness there were stories told of courage and heroism as men and their boats tried to rescue people in desperate trouble. The two most courageous were Eddie Towns and Max Biggs who later received a Bronze Medal and Certificate of Merit of the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of NSW. Amongst the people who assisted with the clean-up was the 1st Kyogle Girl Guide Company, who was later awarded with the Walter Donald Ross Trophy. Only one Girl Guide Company is the recipient of this International Award each year for Outstanding Community Work. Each received a memento bracelet
My parent’s sold there house at a tremendous financial loss and decided to leave Kyogle not long after.
If you click on the icon or the link you can see pictures of the Kyogle Flood of 1954 including the Fawcett Street plains.