Maitland Flood Fiftieth Anniversary

About this Item
SubjectsFloods; Maitland; Australia: History
SpeakersPrice Mr John
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 14122

    Mr JOHN PRICE (Maitland) [5.19 p.m.]: I wish to talk about the 50 years commemoration of the 1955 Maitland flood—one of the worst floods in the recorded history of this State. It is hard to believe 50 years have passed, but I recall as a youngster riding my pushbike up to the transmitter of radio station 2HD and observing the rowing boats that were tied up to the railing around that installation. I recall watching the military trucks attempting to go along the then New England Highway through Hexham with their extended exhaust pipes to try to counteract the problems caused by water washing over the engines, only to see them fail and therefore be unable to get supplies through. It was also the flood that completely washed out the second Ironbark Creek bridge.

    We also lost in that flood our first airborne relief: a helicopter crashed when it hit live power lines while winching signalmen off the signal box at Maitland station. Those persons were killed. It was some months before the crashed helicopter was discovered in the mud in the aftermath of the flood. I recall also going to Raymond Terrace with the local scout group to help clean out houses, hose down walls and otherwise tidy up and deal with the damage that had been caused. This was a huge flood. It advanced on the lower Hunter on a 40-mile front, extending from mountainside to mountainside. No area was spared. It was an extraordinary flood in terms of the speed at which the water rose, the height of the floodwaters, and the damage that they caused.

    One proposal resulting from the flood was that the city of Maitland be relocated. Fortunately, in my opinion, that did not happen. But the flood was that serious. I am sure many who have seen old newsreels of that flood will recall seeing the rowing boat tied to the first level of the staircase in City Hall while the mayor and his secretary maintained some sort of control in the flooded area. Initially their only access was by boat, but eventually relief came through to the town in the form of the military and the old amphibious ducks from Newcastle. Those were assisted by local surf clubs because surf boats were found to be the only effective way of coping with surges in the floodwaters. This was a traumatic time, and one that Maitland people have not forgotten. An entire street of houses was washed out in the area of the long bridge. That leaves an indelible mark on people's memories.

    That flood is being commemorated by displays in all shopfronts. Most have photographs of areas that were flooded, of people assisting with the damage control, of people supplying goods, and of parachute drops of food and fodder into the area. That pictorial scene is duplicated in the Maitland City Art Gallery, which has an excellent photographic display already under way. The efforts of State governments of all persuasions over the years have been recognised. The old Hunter Catchment Management Trust, which was put in place immediately after the floods of 1955 and 1957, spent tens of millions of dollars on flood mitigation. Even in my time as member for Maitland some $11.5 million has been spent between Murrurundi and Raymond Terrace, most of it in the Maitland city area, to try to control and/or contain floodwaters.

    There will always be floods, and we will probably get another 1-in-100 year type of flood one of these days, but hopefully the actions that were taken by the original trust, and more recently the continuing actions of the Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority, will go a long way to mitigate flood damage. The authority will expend money on tributary rivers that run into the Hunter. I should mention that $100,000 has just been allocated by the State Government—75 per cent of it coming from State coffers and 25 per cent from the authority's own resources—to map a flood management program that will extend into the Hunter Valley, but specifically for the Upper Hunter area, because the new trust area takes in the Manning Valley and the Central Coast. The program will be exciting. The Minister for Emergency Services will be there. I give full credit to the State Emergency Service for the efforts it has made to make sure that this is an event to remember.