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From the Archives, 1946: Port Fairy is ravaged by floods

Latest reports show that the waters are receding and leaving in their wake a trail of ruin and destruction.

Several towns and villages however, are still isolated by water several feet deep and demolished bridges. Relief is being provided by army “ducks,” two of which reached Port Fairy yesterday, while two airplanes from Laverton dropped supplies by air at several centers.

The Minister for Public Works (Mr. Kennelly) reached Port Fairy in a “duck” yesterday and has taken prompt measures for relief. The Government is rushing essential supplies to all areas.

People get into a boat to escape the flood waters.

People get into a boat to escape the flood waters.Credit:Port Fairy Historical Society

The Premier has announced the setting up of a special investigation to go into flood losses, and financial relief is forthcoming.

Work has commenced on the repair of rail lines, but the record deluge has caused such extensive line washaways and damage to bridges that many towns are still isolated, and it may be weeks before normal services can be restored to several centers.

Port Fairy’s Trials

Two amphibious “ducks” which had raced through the night from Melbourne, were cheered as they waded through the flooded streets of Port Fairy today, bringing cases of butter and eggs, sides of bacon, tinned meat, yeast for bread and tobacco.

Water floods onto Bank Street, Port Fairy.

Water floods onto Bank Street, Port Fairy.Credit:Port Fairy Historical Society

These were the first supplies that had reached Port Fairy for days.

The Minister for Public Works (Mr. Kennelly), in the leading “duck,” saw the devastation caused by the flood waters. He saw soaked mattresses, pillows and blankets draped over fences, and this afternoon sent an urgent appeal to Melbourne for hundreds of double and single bed mattresses, blankets and pillows. The Minister was accompanied by departmental officials and a representative of “The Age”.

 Port Fairy's fishing fleet and pier took heaving damage in the flooding. 

Port Fairy’s fishing fleet and pier took heaving damage in the flooding. Credit:The Age Archives

Throughout the Western district the flood waters are subsiding rapidly. There was bright sunshine today.

Army “ducks” are playing a vital and intrepid part in reaching isolated areas. Port Fairy, for example, is at present cut off by road and rail from the rest of Victoria, and only the “ducks” could have reached it.

The morning Mr. Kennelly and his party had a taste of their worth when they travelled through fields feet deep in mud and then ploughed through the yellow lake, enlarged by the overflowing waters of the Moyne River.

In parts the journey was rough, when the ”ducks” swayed and plunged, feeling for firm ground beneath the miniature ocean. But once they were seaborne the going was easy.

These splendid aquatic transports were cheered as they approached the outskirts of East Port Fairy, where many are still half submerged.

The desolation of the scene had to be seen to be believed, but it is a pointed commentary on the spirit of Australian country people that, although their feet are in mud and ruin, they can still laugh, despite their trials.

Minister on Scene

When Mr. Kennelly reached the borough chambers, on dry land, he acted quickly. He met the mayor (Cr. A. Hill) and the other councilors, and arranged for the distribution of food to retailers. He was asked a dozen times if the “ducks” had brought in any beer, and answered “No.” There has been no beer here for days.

Jack and Teddy Talbot, who along with their father, had a narrow escape when a bridge collapsed.

Jack and Teddy Talbot, who along with their father, had a narrow escape when a bridge collapsed.Credit:The Age Archives

Mr. Kennelly authorised the mayor to issue chits on retailers to families in distress. He also promised to make a full report to the Government on his return to Melbourne today on flood damage.

This afternoon he told fisherman that steps would be taken immediately to rebuild their wharf, which was swept away in the flood.

Lucky Escape

The “ducks” brought into Port Fairy Mr. Douglas Talbot, of Rosebrook, and his two sons – Jack, 12 years, and Ted, 9 years – who had an amazing escape from death on Sunday when the steel and wood bridge at Rosebrook collapsed.

“About 10 o’clock on Sunday morning,” Mr. Talbot said, “we set out to cross the bridge to our home after visiting the school on the other side. We had taken only a few steps when there was a terrific report like an explosion. The middle of the bridge shot into the air, and then the whole thing collapsed and disappeared. If we had been a few seconds earlier we would all have been killed.”

Many families are separated as the result of the cutting of the Princes Highway at Rosebrook. Many wives and children are in Port Fairy while husbands are on the other side of the Moyne River, but the “ducks” are doing their best to bring about reunions. They transported many people across the flooded areas today.

Following Mr. Kennelly’s representations the Premier last night ordered bedding and blankets to be dispatched immediately, and this was done. Mr. Kennelly also intimated that the town was practically without petrol. The Premier communicated this face to the chairman of the Fuel Board, and Mr. Fraser arranged to cope with the position.

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