Category: Small Town Stories

The Town on the Flood Plain

The Town on the Flood Plain

Gundagia

Gundagai Flood 1900: National Library of Australia

 

Australia’s worst flood drowned one third of the population of Gundagai in 1852. The town was originally built on low-lying areas around a natural river crossing and Morley’s Creek. The inhabitants were used to being cut off by floodwaters, taking refuge in their lofts when the water rose.

Yet on June 24 1852, the rain kept falling and the river kept rising. By late that night, two metres of water had inundated or swept away many of the houses and huge floating trees were pummelling what was left.

When the sun rose the next day, eighty-nine people were dead, and dozens more were left clinging to trees and rooftops. Rowboats were useless in the swift water.

Yarri, Long Jimmy and Jacky Jacky, local Aboriginal men who had been warning Gundagai residents for years that their town would be washed away, launched their bark canoes in a desperate rescue attempt. Over the next two days, with the river now one mile across where the town used to be, at least forty, perhaps sixty more people were saved by the efforts of these Indigenous boatmen. Long Jimmy died from exposure after his efforts on the flooded river. Yarri and Jacky Jacky were rewarded with bronze medallions.

The town was eventually rebuilt on higher ground, but it still suffers from the occasional inundation, with water entering the main street in 2012, thankfully without loss of life.

 

Written and Researched by Greg Barron.

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at http://ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones
Click here to view the sources for this story.

Lost

Lost

FREDERICK MCCUBBIN LOST
Lost, by Frederick McCubbin.

It was May 1885, and twelve-year-old Clara Crosby was boarding with a local family at Yellingbo, Victoria, when she decided to visit her mother, who lived some two kilometres away.

Setting off across paddocks and bushland, Clara was seen by several locals, including the publican, as she left town. She failed to reach her destination.

By nightfall the police had been alerted. Troopers, blacktrackers and local bushmen combined to comb the area, but heavy rain obliterated any tracks. After days of intensive searching the party dispersed, and it was assumed that Clara had died in the heavy scrub that surrounded the town.

Days of grieving passed by, and slowly the little town began to recover from what seemed like a senseless tragedy. Then, three full weeks after Clara had first wandered off, two road workers were looking for a horse in thick scrub far from the town, when they heard a human-like cry.

In the hollow trunk of a dead tree they found a starving, naked girl, streaked with lacerations and so weak she could not stand. Clara sobbed with relief as they wrapped her in their jackets and took her back to their camp for food and warmth. By nightfall she was recovering at the Woori Yallock Hotel, with her mother in attendance. Within days she was being hailed across the country as a miracle.

Clara had taken a wrong turn and walked blindly into the scrub. She had lost her clothes trying to cross the near-freezing waters of Cockatoo Creek, and kept herself alive on water and leaves, hanging her petticoat over the opening of her hollow tree to keep the warmth in.

Later, a Melbourne waxworks induced Clara to recount her story for a fee, and over time, some 150 000 people paid money to hear her story. Later she was married, unfortunately into an abusive relationship.

Well known painter, Frederick McCubbin heard the story in 1886. He was, at the time, in one of his “bush camps” in company with other artists like Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder at a farm near Box Hill. His painting Lost (main image) was based on Clara’s experiences, and was followed a few years later by a companion piece, called Found.

 

Researched and written by Greg Barron.

Click here to view the sources for the story.

Learn more about Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History by Greg Barron.

James “Jimmy” Darcy

James “Jimmy” Darcy

Fred Burnett
Fred Tuckett, the Halls Creek Postmaster (Photo courtesy National Library of Australia)

The year was 1917, and it had been a long day in the saddle for Walter and Thomas Darcy. They drew first turn at the night watch, keeping the cattle contained on the river flats, while the rest of the crew slept.

A rider came in from Wyndham with terrible news. Walter and Thomas’s brother Jimmy, also a stockman, had fallen from his horse on Ruby Plains Station and had been taken to Hall’s Creek on a cart with severe internal injuries. 

The brothers wasted no time in going to Jimmy’s aid. Making sure the cattle were in safe hands they mounted fresh horses and rode for 140 miles before stopping at Turkey Creek for remounts. By the time they reached Hall’s Creek they had covered 250 miles without rest. The last 110 miles they smashed in just 15 hours. 

Finally, arriving at Hall’s Creek, they found that, with no hospital in the town, Jimmy was in the care of the Postmaster, Fred Tuckett. After a visit with their brother the boys were troubled. Jimmy’s lower abdomen was swollen and red, and he was barely conscious. There was no doctor for a thousand miles and the situation seemed hopeless. 

‘He looks like he’s dying Mister,’ they pleaded with the postmaster, ‘you have to save him …’ 

‘I’ve sent a telegram to Perth. They’ll send someone on the steamer.’ 

The brothers groaned. ‘That’ll be weeks. Jimmy could die by then. He needs surgery.’ 

Another telegram was sent to Perth. This time to a man who had instructed Fred in first aid a few years earlier. Was it possible that a surgeon in Perth could help with the patient via telegram? This novel idea bore fruit, and a back-and-forth diagnosis of a ruptured bladder, complicated by infection, was made. The pressure had to be released, and only Fred could do the job! 

While the brothers waited anxiously outside, the postmaster made an incision with a razor blade, then painstakingly stitched the wound back up, with a drain in place. The rudimentary operation helped at first, but over the following days there was little improvement. The Perth surgeon decided, via telegram, that a major operation was needed. 

By this time major newspapers across the country were reporting the story, and Dr Holland was making his way up the vast Western Australian coast by boat, still much too far away for the operation to wait. 

Again Mr Tuckett sterilised his razor, and with the wires running hot, completed a difficult operation that was basically successful. Australians all across the country, welcoming the respite from war news, breathed a sigh of relief. 

It would have been nice if Jimmy made a full recovery, but unfortunately his condition was complicated by the malaria he had been suffering from for months. Again he deteriorated until his life hung by a thread. 

Yet Dr Holland had by then arrived in Derby, and a team of experienced bushmen were standing by with a Model T Ford to carry him to Halls Creek. 

model t
The Model T Ford that carried Dr Holland (Photo courtesy National Library of Australia)

Walter and Thomas Darcy urged their desperately ill brother to hold on, that help was on the way. But the wild Kimberley landscape was not kind to motor vehicles. The Model T limped closer, plagued by engine trouble and flat tyres. 

Jimmy Darcy died the day before Dr Holland arrived. His grieving brothers laid him to rest in the Hall’s Creek cemetery. 

The events of those weeks affected Holland so deeply that he became a founding member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which would go on to save thousands of lives, many with similar injuries to Jimmy Darcy. 


Written and researched by Greg Barron. Sources here.

Whistler’s Bones by Greg Barron, the story of Charlie Gaunt, is out now. You can find out more about it here,  purchase a paperback copy here, or buy the ebook version here.

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