Gundagai Flood Sesquicentenary

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SpeakersCarr Mr Bob; Hodgkinson Ms Katrina
BusinessMinisterial Statement


Page: 3679
    Ministerial Statement

    Mr CARR (Maroubra—Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) [2.18 p.m.]: Gundagai sits astride Mount Parnassus, high above the Murrumbidgee. It has all the colonial charm of a nineteenth-century inland town, but if you delve into the history you will quickly discover that the present town is not the original settlement. That town was swept away by a terrible whim of nature, a flood that killed one-third of the town's inhabitants and destroyed 71 buildings. I heard that fascinating story on Sunday morning on Malcolm T. Elliott's program. Malcolm interviewed Gundagai Tourism and Travel Centre manager and local historian, Mrs Marie Lindley. She claims the flood was Australia's worst natural disaster: 89 of the town's 250 people died, 27 more than were killed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, which is claimed by many to be Australia's worst natural disaster. Mrs Lindley's husband is a direct descendant of a man who was away on business in Yass when the flood hit, but whose wife and children, sadly, perished.

    The flood disaster happened 150 years ago today; it is an anniversary that we solemnly remember in this House. We remember, too, the humanity of the local Aborigines who spent that awful night rescuing survivors. We particularly honour the heroism of the local Aborigine Yarri of the Wiradjuri people and his mate Jackie, who saved more than 40 people using a simple bark canoe. Yarri, who died in 1880, was rightly honoured by the townsfolk as a hero. I am pleased to say that a marble headstone was recently erected in his memory by the local Aboriginal land council. But that was not the first part the local Wiradjuri people played in this tragic story. When the colonial authorities laid out the town plan in 1838 the indigenous people, with their ancient knowledge of the land, warned that the site would be risky. Yet the settlers planned a village on the low-lying river flats of the Murrumbidgee, and paid a woeful price for their gullibility.

    This month the flood is being commemorated by the people of Gundagai. Commemorations started on the 7 to 10 June long weekend when about 2,000 people gathered in the town, including descendants of flood survivors and members of the local Aboriginal community. A book on the infamous flood was launched. A commemorative candlelight service will be held tomorrow night. All the threads of the Australian story are here in this tale: the original people of this country and their love and knowledge of the land; the courageous, sometimes foolhardy, white settlers; the possibility of reconciliation long before the term was invented; and the harshness of this land and the respect we must learn to have for it. Above all, today is an occasion to remember those souls lost to the darkness and confusion of the surging flood waters, to remember and commend them to a peaceful rest.

    Ms HODGKINSON (Burrinjuck) [2.21 p.m.]: The past 150 years have been remarkable for the township of Gundagai. There have been many highs and many lows for the town. While I am talking about a flood, I should say that we could certainly use another couple of inches of rain. The amount we had last week was just not enough. This week Gundagai celebrates 150 years since the great flood. On the June long weekend I had the great honour of joining with the former member for Burrinjuck, Terry Sheahan, to witness a terrific play, Yarri of the Wiradjuri, that was performed at Gundagai High School. The play highlighted the importance of the Aboriginal community to the Gundagai area. Reconciliation has been well on the way in Gundagai in the 150 years since Yarri rescued 40 white settlers with his bark canoe, as the Premier said. Only recently has it become known that Yarri of the Wiradjuri had an assistant named Jackie, who also took part in the rescue of many white people.

    The original settlement of Gundagai was on the flats of the Murrumbidgee River between what the Aboriginal community described as a mother and a daughter, two arms that stretched around the area. In the early years of settlement the floods would come six inches to a foot into houses but the residents did not believe their lives would be at risk because even with a higher flood the women and children could resort to lofts or attics. The Aboriginal women warned the white women about the great flood that eventually resulted when the mother and the daughter river joined together and swept away the whole town. That was when Yarri of the Wiradjuri saved 40 individuals.

    After the flood the site of Gundagai was moved to the mountains of Parnassus and Kimo. Since then Gundagai has enjoyed good and steady agricultural growth. It lies in the heart of my electorate of Burrinjuck. As the local member I am very proud to represent the township of Gundagai. I congratulate the local community on celebrating its sesquicentenary for the entire month of June. Bob Gilholme and other members of the Gundagai Advancement Corporation have put enormous work into the celebration. I wish them all the very best of luck.