People who survived devastating floods in Maitland are no longer around to share their experiences that could save people in future emergencies, a noted historian has warned.
Dr Michael Belcher, who has survived eights floods, will talk of his flood memories at a Maitland and District Historical Society meeting on Tuesday, February 2.
“The southern parts of Maitland can never be fully flood-proofed and people living there do accept things as they are,” Dr Belcher, who has a PhD in Australian History, said.
He outlined six massive floods in Louth Park and South Maitland from November 1856 to August 1857, with a devastating flood in 1955.
“Today, there are so few people who have memories of real floods – it is these experiences that can save people in the future,” he said.
“Basically, it is about knowing when to go and when to stay.
“So many people today have no idea of how bad floods can really be.”
He condemned attitudes in the floods of 2007 as a fine example of gross exaggeration – when he refused to leave his home despite warnings to evacuate.
Dr Belcher highlighted the Maitland Mercury files as an invaluable source of the area’s history in dramatic times, such as floods.
“This information about people living in the area in past times is so vital it helps historians to almost recreate the lives of these folk,” he said.
“There used to be about 150 blocks in South Maitland, many with people living on them and a lot of their stories in flood times have been lost to history.”
But some of their histories could still traced and Dr Belcher said he had found details of several interesting people.
He survived the 10 metre-high floods of 1951 and 1952 as an infant in Horseshoe Bend. He was a small boy when the 1955 floods hit, a teenager in the 1962 and 1964 floods and an adult in the 1971, 1977 and 2007 floods.
In 1955, his grandmother’s home in Horseshoe Bend was flooded to a depth of 12 feet.
* Dr Belcher will be guest speaker at Maitland and District Historical Society at 3 Cathedral Street, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, February 2.
Same old problem
by SAGE SWINTON
Photos have surfaced of Testers Hollow in 1929 when a bus became trapped by floodwater and passengers had to be rescued.
Pelaw Main resident Elizabeth Masterman has copies of photos of Testers Hollow from a Kurri Tidy Towns photo book project in the mid-1990s called Visions of Yesterday.
The photos show a bus heading towards Kurri becoming stuck in floodwater, along with passengers being carried by boat to safety and two pit horses which pulled the bus out of the water.
The images match a story in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate from Wednesday, October 16, 1929 about a bus returning from East Maitland to Kurri becoming trapped in floodwater with eight passengers who had to be carried to safety through the water.
The article had a touch of déjà vu about it, going on to say “that this state of affairs should exist on a road that links up a population of over 30,000 with the Maitland and Newcastle districts is no credit to the Main Roads Board or to the government”.
“No time should be lost in having the seriousness of the position, from a commercial and industrial point of view, placed once more before the government by the local government councils concerned, with the object of having the road raised above flood height in order to give reasonable access during floods to a great district.”
Now, 87 years and numerous floods later, the road has still not been raised.
After the bus became stuck, Rover Bus Company managed to secure a flood boat so passengers could continue to be transported according to the timetable as closely as possible.