“Raindrops are falling on my head and just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed, nothing seems to fit. Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling ...”
These sentiments, originally penned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, may well sum up the feelings of those who are experiencing the flooding rains which very often break the drought in our land of extremes.
The first settlers learned this the hard way when the drought they first encountered gave way in 1799 to such heavy rains that much of their carefully tended crops were lost.
Floods can devastate communities and impact heavily on the economy, but we continue to build on rivers and fertile soil which lie directly in the path of destructive overflows.
In 1852 the town of Gundagai was washed away, leaving three houses standing and 89 people dead.
We had to leave our dog on the roof of the Australian Hotel in the company of other dogs
Every few years floods have continued to wash away our infrastructure and destroy lives in their path.
One such event overwhelmed the western town of Nyngan in 1990 and saw an amazing rescue effort in which almost an entire community was evacuated without the loss of any lives.
Dentist Tim McAnulty, who was practising in the town when the flood took place, was the guest speaker at this month’s Orange Oral History group meeting.
“The flood in Nyngan was declared to be a once-in-700-year event.” Dr McAnulty said.
“Heavy rain had been falling over a period of three weeks to the south-east in an area called the Mulla Cowl, and as the water wasn’t coming down the Bogan River it was hard to know how much more would reach the town.
“In that flat plain country a levy bank around the town was needed so it was all hands on deck to build it.”
It breached on April 22, and the townspeople assembled on slightly higher ground at the railway station as the day unfolded with the largest population evacuation since the Vietnam War in 1975.
There were about 16 helicopters which ferried stranded townspeople from the station to the road where they were taken to Dubbo by bus.
The State Emergency Services did a marvelous job maintaining the town while they were away, Dr McAnulty said.
“The water was six feet deep in some parts of the town while a small area was protected by the railway line. We luckily had only a couple of feet through our house which, although we didn’t realise it, was on a slight rise,” he said.
“We had to leave our dog on the roof of the Australian Hotel in the company of other dogs.”
The animal survived, and after six weeks was reunited – dirty, smelly but very happy – with its owners.
Dr McAnulty said the catastrophe created some memorable experiences.
“As the flood waters rose word came that the road to Cobar would be closed at 3pm,” he said.
“At 11am we received a call from the Emmdale roadhouse, which is about 160 kilometres west of Cobar on the road to Wilcannia. The owners were patients of mine and they said they had a truck driver with them who had massive facial swelling and pain, and asked would I see him.”
He was nearly 300 kilometres from Nyngan, was driving a big truck, and had to do it under four hours.
The dentist agreed, but warned them about the impending road closure.
“He was nearly 300 kilometres from Nyngan, was driving a big truck, and had to do it under four hours,” Dr McAnulty explained.
“He apparently arrived at the road block and was stopped, but they took one look at his face and let him through.
“I did some work to get him out of trouble, sent him on his way and didn’t get back to work for six weeks. He was my last patient.”
That wasn't the end of the story, though.
“One afternoon after we had all returned to town, I was at work and there was a knock at the door, and there was the truck driver again,” Dr McAnulty said.
“He told me that he did the round trip from Sydney to Perth and back each week and would go through Nyngan every Thursday and would call in for more treatment.
“So each Thursday a big rig would be parked outside the surgery and he would be there. It’s a long way to go to see a dentist.”
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