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From the Archives, 1923: Two dead as severe floods batter Melbourne


Hawthorn Rowing Club is submerged during the floods.

Hawthorn Rowing Club is submerged during the floods.Credit:The Age Archives

As a result of the heavy rains which fell over the greater part of Victoria last week severe floods have occurred in many parts of the state. At least two lives have been lost through drowning in flood waters, and very extensive damage has been done to property in city and country.

Landslides and washaways have occurred on railway lines in Gippsland, where the Latrobe River has overflowed, and farms have been flooded in the low-lying district around Koowerup, with consequent heavy losses to settlers. At Yallourn part of the railway line has been submerged, and work has been suspended at the State’s brown coal mine at Morwell owing to the influx of water.

Bridges have been swept away in the Healesville district, and substantial damage has been caused to the O’Shannasy aqueduct, which forms part of the water supply system of Melbourne. In all the flooded areas families have been driven from their homes.

The flood in the Yarra is the largest known since 1891, and considerable damage has been done by it. To the surprise of the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria, which recently spent over £30,000 on the construction of elaborate courts at Kooyong, the flood waters from the Yarra River and Gardiner’s Creek burst through the high earth embankment which protected the courts, and completely submerged the association’s beautiful grounds.

A couple of miles further along serious damage was done to the framework of the new concrete bridge which is being built over the Yarra at Church Street, and the temporary wooden bride which has been erected alongside it is threatened. Boat sheds and houses along the river banks have been either partly or completely submerged, and low-lying lands near Ivanhoe. Kew and Kooyong have been transformed into wide lakes.

Reports received from the country last night indicate that further floods may be expected. The Goulburn River, in the north-east, was above flood level yesterday evening, and was still rising, and in the south-western portion of the State where some heavy rains had fallen, the rivers, including Wannon and Glenelg, were running high.

Morang Road, Hawthorn, during the flooding.

Morang Road, Hawthorn, during the flooding.Credit:The Age Archives


Remarkable Adventure in Canoe

Regard for the safety of two canoes prompted a party of young men to undertake a remarkable adventure in the flooded waters of the river Yarra at Abbotsford on Saturday afternoon. Whilst paddling downstream in canoes they got into difficulties, and one of the party was drowned. The victim of the tragedy was John Seurrah, 17 years, of Westbury Street, Balaclava.

Fatality at Flemington


Monnee Ponds Creek, which was in flood as a result of the heavy rains, was the scene on Saturday afternoon of a fatal drowning accident, the victim being Annie May Cook, 3 ½ years, the adopted daughter of John Cook, of Bounday Road, North Melbourne.

First published in The Age on October 16, 1923

Yarra Falls Mill Flooded.

Householders Remove Furniture

Bathing in the Streets.

Whirling and eddying, bearing upon its broad bosom branches of trees, pickets broken from fences, sawn logs and other debris, the turbulent, muddy Yarra, after passing through the wide open reaches at Fairfield and East Kew, became a roaring, rushing torrent as it entered the more restricted confines between the high, precipitous cliffs at Studley Park.

Approaching the Johnston-street-bridge the rising waters on Saturday began to encroach upon the premises of the Yarra Falls Shinning Mills. Yesterday, as the stream rose higher and higher, the mills were subjected to a severe flooding, in spite of the strenuous work of a number of willing helpers who endeavoured to minimise the damage done by the inrushing water by pumping it from the lower portion of the buildings. Other workers energetically occupied themselves in removing goods to a place safety.

Children ride bicycles in the floodwaters.

Children ride bicycles in the floodwaters.Credit:The Age Archives

Residents in six adjacent two-story houses were placed in an unenviable plight. On Saturday, after the occupants had been forewarned by the police, furniture had to be hastily removed, lighter articles being transferred to the higher stories. Further along the river other householders met with similar misfortune. Fortunately, not many houses are situated within reach of the flood waters.

A good stretch of the eastern bank is ripe park land, while the western bank is mainly occupied by factories. Wallen road, Hawthorn, received a large intake of water, which flowed into Morang road. Yesterday the water in this road rose still higher and householders suffered severely. A barrier was erected, closing the road to all traffic.

Yesterday the extraordinary spectacle of men and boys bathing in the street waters in swimming costumes was witnessed.

Those who were rendered temporarily homeless in this manner or suffered in a minor degree from the flood bore their misfortunes in a philosophical spirit. Many had experienced floods before, but never one of such dimensions.

From Johnston Street Bridge to Victoria Street Bridge the river at every point, where the nature of its banks permitted it to do so, spread itself out into wide expanses of water – many time wider than its original width. The Abbotsford Convent gardens were inundated, and resulting damage was caused. Further down the Collins Bridge was rendered useless. The bridge itself remained intact, but the waters had cut off the Studley Park approach to the bridge. Near this point several small trees were completely submerged.


Between Victoria Street Bridge and Hawthorn Bridge many factories on the western banks suffered severely, and hundreds of pounds’ worth of damage was caused. Higher up the Phoenix biscuit factory was almost entirely cut off by the overflowing waters.

New Church Street Bridge.

Damaged by the Waters.

Serious damage was inflicted on the new bridge over the Yarra which is in course of erection at the bottom of Church Street. Several portions of the wooden superstructure, which being yet uncompleted was not strong enough to withstand the tremendous pressure of the rushing water, were broken off and swept downstream. The earth embankments at the bridge on either side of the river were also severely damaged.

The temporary bridge, a short distance downstream, received a tremendous buffeting, the river rising almost to the level of the footway. Fearful that a large portion of the partially erected bridge higher up should break away at the one time and sweep down on the temporary bridge, threatening its collapse under the strain, two policemen were stationed at this point last night and nobody was allowed to loiter on the temporary bridges. The waters at this point were practically level with the banks last night, and if the river continues to rise today several adjacent streets must inevitably be flooded.


Hawthorn Householder’s Experience.

One of the most picturesque flood scenes was that presented below the heights of Heyington and Toorak, where Gardiner’s Creek joins forces with the Yarra. A sharp bend in the course of the Yarra just below the junction of the two streams causes a banking up of flood waters, and for this reason the low-lying lands on the Hawthorn and Burnley side of the Yarra are quickly submerged in times of heavy flood. On this occasion the flood waters have formed a lake extending from Heyington to Kooyong, and northwards across to the Burnley horticultural gardens.


The water has completely covered all fences in the locality, and the course of the river and Gardiner’s Creek can be distinguished only by the rows of tall trees along their banks. The force of the water as it is turned by the steep embankments of Heyington is very great, and boatmen dare not venture into the seething lake in this neighbourhood.

O’Shannassy Aqueduct Damaged

Numerous Landslides Occur.


The heavy- fall of rain over the watersheds of the Metropolitan Water Supply has replenished the storage in the Yan Yean reservoir, but it has done considerable damage, especially to the O’Shannassy aqueduct, where there has been a number of landslides.

As a consequence of the continual rainfall upon an area which was already in a very good running off condition due to the previous rains and also to the presence of heavy snow on the mountains of the O’Shannassy watershed, some unusual flooding has taken place. No damage has occurred to the works in the Maroondalt and Ian Yean reservations, where the results have been very beneficial.

Up till 9 a.m. on Sunday the depth of the Yan Yean reservoir had increased one foot. The maximum intake was on Friday, when it reached 88,266,000 gallons. At present the water is flowing in at a rate of about 66,000,000 gallons per day. This will be maintained for several days, and will then gradually drop off.

The chief engineer of water supply (Mr. Ritchie) stated yesterday afternoon that he had heard of sixteen landslides along the course of the O’Shannassy aqueduct, and there had probably been more, of these eight had broken into sections of the concrete lining. He was unable to say what extent of work would be necessary to effect repairs, nor how long the supply in the aqueduct would be cut off, but he was hopeful that in a few days the supply would be restored by the carrying out of temporary repairs, such as placing liming between the broken sections.

The landslides were almost wholly confined to the aqueduct, and Mr. Ritchie points out that the areas affected were those where there have been extensive denudations of the forest. In all the areas where the forest cover has been maintained the damage is of a trifling nature. These occurrences, both of landslides and flooding, he says, afford additional evidence, if such were needed, of the folly of denuding watersheds and mountain streams of the protective fewest coveting. The damage caused by the landslides extends from Launching Place to Warburton.

One of the slides was so extensive that it will be necessary to construct a detour section of the aqueduct for about 850 feet around where the slide has taken place. It will also be necessary to provide an emergency section through the middle of the slide. The majority of the slides do not extend more than 30 or 40 feet. There is at least a width of 200 ft. of the hillside moving with a possibility of further damage being done to the aqueduct.


Earth Fall at Belgrave.

Narrow Gauge Line Divided.


Amongst the railway properties in different parts of the country affected by washaways and landslides following the exceptionally heavy rainfall is the Fern Tree Gully to Gembrook line, where traffic has been suspended on account of two classes of railroad interruption—washaways of track embankment into the guile below and falls of earth from the hills above on to the railway line.

The most serious of these blockages occurred between Belgrave and Selby stations, near the acute turn in the narrow gauge line at the “horseshoe” bridge. Here an embankment and the bottom of a scrub-covered hill came down on the railroad in a heavy mass of rain-sodden soil, reinforced against speedy clearage by a tangle of long trees, old stumps, ferns and bits of fencing wire. At this spot the line was buried in about 60 tons of material for about a train’s length to a depth ranging approximately from 6 to 18 feet.

On the north side of the line is the hill from which the slide came, and on the south side is an almost- equally steep slope down to the gully, which, swelled by the heavy rain, is now a noisy and rapidly flowing stream. A few yards beyond is the bridge by which the railway takes at sweep round to cross at right angles the gully with which it runs parallel at the scene of the hill-slide.

Throughout Saturday water was continuing to come down the hill to take short cuts across the railway line to the gully on the other side. At the spot where the main blockade occurred the work of the railway repair gangs was being hampered by an apparently continuous stream of surplus rain water, which collected on the rail way line to the height of the ballast truck and united the fallen embankment into one complete mass of oozing soil.

Inquiries at Belgrave on Saturday showed that the last train to make the complete trip was on Friday morning. It was stated that subsequently, during the incessant rain, gangers bad noticed signs of trouble. Throughout Friday the rain to quote local residents, “fell in inches,” over three inches being recorded locally for the period. The rain water was crossing the railway line tromp the hills en route for the gully “in a sheet of water.” It was cutting through the soft red soil and trickling down the sides of embankments where the substance was of stone formation.

Passengers by the evening train on Friday found progress blocked at Fern Tree Gully as a result of the block at Upwey. In pouring rain the rest of their journey had to be made by road in motor car or horse vehicle. On Saturday morning passengers wishing to book for narrow-gauge stations were informed that progress beyond Fern Tree Gully was extremely improbable. About lunch time, however, came the information that they might succeed in getting through to Belgrave, and in the afternoon the less serious interruptions had been repaired sufficiently to permit of the train—three-quarters of an hour late—getting through as far as Belgrave. Further progress, in view of the main obstruction, was out of the question. So passengers philosophically set out up the line on foot.

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