Saturday, 25 January 2014

Youth: The Australia Day Floods 1974

So 40 years ago, my best mate Ken was helping his lovely lady Carol shift from Brisbane to a rented house in Kilcoy. She was about to start teaching at Kilcoy State High School. 

There was a cyclone coming down the coast....   so what? How could this go wrong?

Let me count the ways.. and tell you the tale.

It was just before Australia Day 1974 and Ken and I piled a lot of Carol’s belongings into the back of his ancient Series 2 LWB Land Rover. The previous owner had fitted a giant alternator to this machine. So large in fact that you really couldn’t move it to tighten the fan belt. We drive on through the night to Kilcoy in light rain. 

The furniture is unloaded and we are about to return home. It is a week night and I have work tomorrow. 

And.. the Land Rover has a flat battery! 

It was about 1:00 AM when I sleepily climbed out of Carol’s Isuzu Bellet at Clayfield. Ken had borrowed the car to get us both home. Little did I know what the next day would hold for us all....

The Land Rover had originally come with a generator. At work I found one that would fit and did a quick and dirty rebuild on it; but alas... no regulator. A quick phone call to good mate Peter at Kedron Car Electrics and I had a regulator that would work electrically, but not mount on the car. No problems.. we’ll put it on the front seat and run the wiring through the firewall!

That night as heavy rain started to fall we headed to Kilcoy. Ken was driving his Torana GTR and I was following in my SWB Land Rover. 

(Well what did you expect.. a Land Rover leading a GTR on a merry chase?)

We worked until around 10 PM installing the new generator and regulator and then, amazingly it all worked. Ken tried to tow the Land Rover off the grass to get it to roll start.. But his Torana was not up to the job.

Lucky I had the Landy!

Long story short.. we have both vehicles mobile and headed out of town. (Ken left his lovely GTR behind for the time being)

The rain is belting down, the wipers are not up to the job and the Cibie Super Oscar driving lights are no use in seeing where we are going. When we come to the flats of Mary Smokes Creek.. the water is over the road & too deep even for our vehicles.

Quickly we hatch a plan to return to the house in Kilcoy and leave again at day break to get me to work on time at Woolloongabba!

Men make plans; and God laughs! 

How true this is!

Up at 05:00 and fire up the Land Rovers.. Ken’s takes a bit of cranking but finally we see that magic puff of blue smoke as she fires! Head down to the main road and... bloody hell; the creek here is flooded. We are indeed now on Kilcoy Island for the duration.

So for the next 2 days we just remained in Kilcoy.. much to the amazement and shock of the locals. They were “shocked and horrified” to discover that 1 woman and two men were under the same roof. It really became an issue; so much so that Ken and I had to sleep at the local High School to appease the locals.

We were pointed at by the locals at the bakery as they whispered about these two long haired louts and “their” girl friend.

Talk about narrow minded bigots!

Well the rain finally stops and we head for home. We get as far as Mary Smokes Creek and the water is still over the road. Ken heads in first in his Landy but the fan picks up water and throws it all over the ignition leads and he stops!

I drive back into Kilcoy and “steal” a giant cardboard box that used to hold 24 packets of Corn Flakes from the back of the local Super Market. We unfold this and Carol sits on the bonnet of my car holding it in place over the grill as a water shield. Into the swollen waters I drive. My feet are wet as water is now flowing into the cab of the car.

As I come up to the rear of Ken’s car, I stop.

And somebody runs into the back of me!

Cannot believe it.

A drunk in a Morris 1100 was following in my wake. Of course once I stop his car fills with water. We open the bonnet and look at this BMC 1100 motor totally under water. His main concern is his bottle of Bundaberg Rum which has floated out of his car and is now headed the long way round  to the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps it is still out there!

It must have been quite a sight to see. A Land Rover towing another Land Rover which in turn was towing a Morris 1100 for over 500 metres or so up onto dry land. 

We left the Morris owner to his own devices and spent nearly an hour on Ken’s car before it would start. It ran on 3 cylinders nearly all the way back to Brisbane before it dried out enough to run on 4. At another creek crossing I slowed to check the depth.. Ken had forgotten to dry his brakes and I got a big shock to see him charging up the inside of me at high speed as he couldn’t stop. A close call but it all ended well.

Back here in Brisbane our family home was high and dry but our workshop at Buranda was flooded. We couldn’t work so we made rafts and took turns paddling around the flooded streets.

In May that year, Ken and Carol married and she was transferred to Brisbane. 

When I look back at those events of 40 years ago I think about 2 things:

The way people pulled together to help each other; total strangers just turned up with brooms and shovels and helped out those whose lives had been ruined by this flood. And I was proud as a 20 year old to be in their number. (I sat in an aluminium dinghy at Yeronga as a guy in our boat used a broom to lift the power lines up as we passed under them on our way to rescue a dog from a roof)

And the other thing is.. how narrow minded and bigoted  the people of Kilcoy were at the time when we three, the Teacher, the Doctor and me, the Auto Electrician were held captive in their town by mother nature for 48 hours. 

They didn’t mind taking our cash in the shops.. but they still had their snide comments.

I certainly hope things have changed now.

Me and the Landy at Colleges Crossing.