I heard folks say that the weather in the north of Tasmania last week was worst in living memory. Is there no-one left to remember the 1929 floods?
The rain started on Wednesday, and went on for three days. In that time, Burnie and Ulverstone recorded 500mm of rainfall; in one day, Mathinna copped 337mm.
On Friday, April 5, 1929, Launceston was abuzz. The Examiner’s printing presses were employed in publishing single-page evacuation instructions. Both ends of the Esk River were rushing at an alarming speed. Chooks, horses, and even pianos were seen floating around the city’s streets and parks. And then, as evening fell, the power station at Duck Reach was washed out, plunging the city into darkness.
The evacuations began at 2a.m. The working-class suburb of Invermay was on the way to becoming an island; thousands of residents there had to be taken to higher grounds, sleeping in churches and schools in other parts of Launceston.
Most of the casualties happened outside of Launceston, the biggest town in the north. A truck carrying eight passengers was swept off a bridge in Ulverstone. Fourteen people died when a newly-built dam in the north-east of the island collapsed.
When they woke up, the people of northern Tasmania woke up to scenes of destruction. In every town, road and rail bridges had been knocked down thousands of tonnes of moving water. 5000 people were left homeless; the Launceston Bowls Club had lost their building; the Tamar Rowing Club lost most of its boats.
It was the middle of a global recession; between 1928 and 1933, Launceston’s total trade decreased by 29%. Banks wouldn’t loan money to restore lost savings; it took more than a decade for the town to fully recover, and by that point, World War II had begun.
But that morning, as the rain stopped, and the river-water lazily sat above the levels of its banks, slowly subsiding in the streets, there was – I suspect – an eerie sensation of peace.
Down in St. Mary’s, a baby was crying. He’d been born overnight, in a truck. His parents would later tell him that he wasn’t born, but rather, he’d been swept in by the rushing rivers.