Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

1949 flood left Kempsey devastated

Raging waters: The dramatic Kempsey flood of 1949 rushes past a house.
On Wednesday 31 August 1949, the Mayor of Armidale, L E Dawson,. launched a special appeal for the victims of the disastrous Kempsey floods.

“The citizens of Kempsey have indeed suffered a major catastrophe, and our hearts go out to them in their distress”, the Mayor said. “ Armidale citizens will, I know, do all that is expected of them.”

The previous Friday, 26 August, Arthur Lindeman had come on duty at Kempsey Aeradio at midnight.

Located at Kempsey airport, Kempsey Aeradio was one of twelve original stations built by AWA in 1938 to try to make the skies safer following several crashes.

Manned by five staff, the station provided 24 hour communication with aircraft overflying Kempsey on the Brisbane and Sydney route using a point-to-point Morse channel. The station also had one of the prime navigational aids used by aircraft at the time, a 33Mc Radio Range, along with an NDB (non directional beacon) and a rotating light.

The equipment was not always reliable, with equipment failures contributing to the fatal crash of the ANA passenger plane Lutana on the Crawney Range the year before.
 It had begun raining very heavily. By 2 am the rain was torrential. Lindeman explained the situation to the Flight Checking Officer at Sydney and requested permission to close the station. A regular freighter was due out of Brisbane about this time and permission was refused.

Torrential rain continued.

“At about 3.30 am the wife of a local farmer and her young son arrived and asked if I had been outside lately”, Lindeman later recalled. “The water was lapping the top steps, a depth of about four feet. Equipment which could be moved was placed as high as possible after advising Sydney and Brisbane that the station was closing.”

With dawn breaking, the party headed across the airport for higher ground. .As they passed through the airport gate, they eyed the snakes that coiled themselves round the fencing wires and gate posts. There were snakes everywhere

Kempsey Aeradio station under water 1949 flood.
Rain continued, with another eight inches (203mm) falling on the Saturday. The effects were devastating. It was pitiful”, Lindeman said, “to witness houses, outhouses and belongings being washed down the river.”
 Railway Bridge, Kempsey 1949 flood suggests the power of the water.
Six people died in the flood, including a 13-year-old boy at Smithtown who drowned after he went out by horseback to get some cattle in for his dad. Rescue efforts were hampered by the collapse of the telephone system and the flooding of the local radio station.

Armidale citizens responded generously to the Mayor’s Appeal, including a £25 donation from Armidale Rotary to the Kempsey Club. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 September 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 .


Johnb said...

Yes Jim, North Coast Floods, each one a unique experience held in memory by their date. Mine is 1963 when we had 11 floods inside 14 months from repeat cyclones barrelling in.

Jim Belshaw said...

I remember that one, John. We were staying at Sawtell when one cyclone came down In the morning, we walked down to the foam covered beach where the force of the waves had cut cliffs into the sand dunes. Later that morning, we drove to the top of the hill looking down into the Bellinger Valley, water everywhere. Dorrigo had had 21 inches in 24 hours. A few days later we drove back to Armidale slipping and sliding on the road up the mountain with mud still everywhere.

Johnb said...

The top of the hill you went to will likely be Perrys Hill and thT is where we are busy putting down our roots again. If this was April 1963 then whilst you were viewing the flooded Bellinger I was in Bellingen getting married. We were married in St Marga4ets Anglican Church but the Vicar was stuck in Kempsey so the resident Presbyterian Minister conducted the service. Our best man was also absent so a replacement was found from those who could get into town and finally my parents had to give up their room in the local hotel for us as we couldn’t leave town following the reception. One to remember. Both my daughters were born with the Bellinger in flood as well but fortunately the Bellingen Hospital still functioned with a maternity unit at the necessary time. It seems a long while since the Coffs Coast had a serious cyclone.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's an interesting story, John I know the spot but I don't know the name. I don't think it could have been April, it would have had to be a uni break. Tried to track details of 63 cyclones and river floods but ran out of time!