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Barraba experiences flood event

By Jane Harris

Barraba saw significant flooding last week, with inevitable comparisons being made with the record flood of 1964. On Friday there was inundation to a handful of homes, as well as damage to stock fences and flood fences. Property loss was minimised by a community effort by local volunteers assisting affected homes. Seven people from low lying Starrs Lane were rescued by local man Will Rixon on his Deutz tractor. 

Baraba saw 135 mm of rain last week, while Cobbadah saw 173mm and Lindesay 174mm. Ninety mm fell on Friday in barraba. With the ground already soaked from the wet season, the runoff made the rivers swell, breaking their banks in many places. The Horton river rose 3.81 metres, peaking at 4.61 metres on Friday morning. The Manilla river also peaked on Friday, rising 6.46 metres at Barraba. The peak at Manilla later around 7am on Saturday was 10.2 metres.

The Barraba peak of 6.46m was around 1.6m below the 1964 flood event which saw widespread flooding of the township. In 1964 the town was cut off for around a week by floodwaters.

Starrs Lane rescue

Will and Helen Rixon were watching conditions closely and feeling concerned for neighbours along Starrs Lane. Will, a local paramedic, is on annual leave and was at home at Barraba Station which sits alongside the Manilla River. Will was at the edge of floodwaters assisting neighbours move some cattle when other neighbours alerted him that people were in a van swept off the road by floodwaters, and there was concern for their safety.

Will got back on his tractor and headed down to the van. Will was relieved to find out the couple had managed to get out of the van and wade to dry land through waist deep water, having had to leave four dogs in cages in the rear of the van. 

“We also didn’t know if the river was going to keep on rising so I took an opportunity to get the people out onto higher land, while I thought the going was good,” said Will.  

“I went down and found the pair and they got on the back of my tractor,” said Will. “We couldn’t get the dogs. The water was running too fast around the van. Plus people are first priority. So I got one person on the back of the linkage arms and another person into the cabin.”

Will said it was only possible to undertake the rescue as he could see the guideposts along the road. “I could see the guideposts and the indicators. I knew what level the water was. So it was always in my mind a confident decision, that I was not doing anything unnecessarily risky.” Will also said his Deutz tractor has a high clearance which assisted.

When the waters receded a little, Will returned on the tractor to check on more neighbours and make a plan to get them out of their home. 

“On the way back I checked on the dogs in the van. I opened the door and I could still see four live dogs in the cages. They were in water up to their bellies and scared witless,” said Will. Will was able to load two cages into the cabin and another onto the bonnet of the Deutz. Will also said that Sinclair and Karen Hughson worked tirelessly to get their own cattle and those of neighbours onto safe ground throughout the morning.

Cherry Street stories

Last Friday after a night of torrential rain residents of Cherry Street began evacuating themselves as concerns about the river height grew. Erin and ‘Wal’ Wallace live in Cherry Street across from the swings in the park. Erin had experienced a flood 20 years ago but this one was more serious. “When I first moved here 20 years ago the river came up but I lived further up the road then, where the park bench is closest to the river, and the water only ever came up to the edge of the road and was only an inch deep,” said Erin. Wal has lived here all his life and had previously only seen the river just below the bottom swing set in the park in Cherry street. 

“I was concerned back on Wednesday when all the towns around us were getting sand bags but we weren’t. It was predicted for 250-300mm on Thursday night into Friday morning but I was assured that our river wasn’t on flood watch and that it will be okay,” said Erin.

Wal said, “The young fella and I went to work a bit before 6am [on Friday] and you couldn’t even hear the river, Barraba creek was up a bit. I dropped Ashton at Bective, the water was up a bit at Somerton bridge. I got to work in Tamworth about 7.30am and had breakfast while looking on facebook and seen a picture of Barraba bridge and sent Erin a text to go look out the front at the river”. 

When Erin received the text from her husband she looked out the front of their home. “I opened the door and the river was up to the back swing set in the park across the street from us and knew right away we had to get what we could and go,” said Erin. “I called Wal and told him to come home now! I started packing and heard people in our yard. I went to investigate and it was the York family, Luke McDouall and the Mallise family helping get all the heavy things in the garage and to see what we needed help with in the house.”

“The lady from across the road came over to see if anyone could help with her daughter in a wheelchair and without hesitation all the boys and Abby went and helped. They all went around and helped as many people as they could which was amazing,” continues Erin.

“When Wal and [son] Ashton got home they helped people as well. Wal went and helped at the caravan park while Ashton helped Luke Jenner rescue his dad and dogs from the house right on the river on the corner of Cherry street and Rodney street. The water was all around the house yard, it was chest deep where the boys went across the paddock to get Joe and the five dogs. There is nothing two mates and a tinny can’t do. The SES supervised,” said Erin.

Erin and Wal are grateful the river didn’t get any higher. “There was only a little bit of water in the lower room at the front of the house. The carpet was damp so it must have just touched the floor boards,” said Erin.

Erin says she is very surprised there was no one going around knocking on doors to let people know the river was coming up. “The Council had two workers going around putting up road closed signs. If the Council knew to do that, shouldn’t there have been someone letting people know about the river coming up?” she asks.

Memories of ‘64 flood

Faye Corin, lives on Edward Street opposite the motel. She said she wasn’t worried for her own property but was concerned about others in lower lying areas. Faye was 12 when the 1964 floods occurred and remembers the experience well, and is grateful this flood was not as severe as the 1964 event.

“Two thirds of the town flooded. Maurie McDiarmid, the local policeman, tied a rope around his waist anchored to a tree and rescued many people in low lying areas…Cherry Street, the far northern end of Queen Street, Alice Street etc. There were also many other local unsung heroes carrying out similar acts,” said Faye.

“Our pianola, from our lounge room at 43 Cherry Street, was washed away, just like a little toy boat, as was our washing machine,” says Faye. “Flood waters were high enough to reach the roof of the corner store, my father had a boat moored outside. Tied to the roof. The local fire brigade spent days afterwards pumping mud and water from people’s homes. Ted Cross and Salvation Army came and gave us blankets, clothes and household items.”

“Everyone was evacuated, from Cherry Street, Cherry lane, parts of Rodney, Henry and Queen Streets. We went to the back of the butcher shop, where my father grew up and stayed there for more than a week while the cleanup took place,” said Faye.

Faye’s uncle, Peter Hancock, has lived in Cherry Street for 50 years. In fact he and wife Adrienne live in the home from where the pianola floated away in 1964. Peter says this week’s flood “was a bit of an experience”, with the water being the highest it’s been since they’ve lived there.

The Hancocks had about eight inches of water in their car shed in Cherry Street and water coming up to the back door. But Peter says that’s a far cry from the 38 inches of water the home withstood in 1964.

Peter recalls that on that January day in ‘64 his father and big brothers had a board meeting in the family butcher shop on Queen Street. “They said, ‘Righto, Peter, you stay here and look after the shop. We’re going to do this and that and such and such.’ So I didn’t really see the height of the ‘64 flood until one o’clock.” He received strict instructions not to open the cool room as Barraba was without power, and to serve the customers. “I had one customer and sold six lamb loin chops,” laughs Peter.

Starr Lane Rescue
A caravan and boat wrecked on Alice Street. Photo by Shaun Faulkner
Flats in Queen Street amidst flood waters. Photo by Peter Dwyer
The SES vehicle in Cherry Street. Photo by Peter Dwyer.
View of Conners Creek and the Manilla River Barraba. Photo by Peter Dwyer
Waters at the river end of Savoy Street. Photo by Peter Dwyer
Waters grazing the belly of the Barraba bridge. Photo by Peter Dwyer
1964 flood, taken from Henry St looking over to the tennis courts. Col Freestone’s shop on the far right, before he owned it. Photo by Wayne Schmidt.
The Barraba bridge was underwater in the 1964 flood. Photo by Wayne Schmidt.