Gundagai Floods 1852

Gundagai is next to the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales, which flows north westerly for five hundred and fifty nine miles. It is one of the main tributaries of the Murray River, so it is not surprising how frequently and severely Gundagai and the surrounding areas have flooded.

Gundagai Flood Plains

The town of Gundagai is directly on a crossing place of the Murrumbidgee River. There were a number of crossing points, but this was one of the main ones, which eventually turned into the Great South Road. Floods had occurred here before in 1844, but the 1852 flood was larger with a higher death toll. A third of the population of the town of only two hundred and fifty inhabitants were taken in the flood waters.

In 1852 the town was considered to be colonial, but on the 25th June that year, a flash flood hit and the town was swept away. Luckily for the townspeople, Aboriginal men who lived in the area were able to help with rescue operations. Using their canoes made of bark, they floated easily and saved forty people who were stranded in the water. The men received medals for their bravery, as well as payment from all of the inhabitants as a gesture of goodwill, although one of the aborigines died shortly after from being exposed to the conditions. The act of the aborigines was remembered, and represented a resolution of any problems between the locals and the natives.

The Gundagai floods of 1852 were some of the worst to ever hit Australia. The floods resulted in eighty nine deaths, the most Australia has ever seen from flooding.

Only three houses were left standing after the flood waters receded. However, once the clean up was completed, another flood hit in 1853. Gundagai was then rebuilt on higher ground of the surrounding hills of Mount Parnassus and Asbestos Hill to save any similar incidents in future. Even with the relocation, the area still suffered from floods. In 1891, rescue workers and farmers were left stranded in trees because of the rising water. The Murrumbidee River has risen over seven metres on nine separate occasions since 1852, which averages out at once every eleven years.

However, the wetlands in the Gundagai area that was home to a great many types of flora and fauna have now disappeared because of cattle farming in the area and the water being rerouted into pipes under the surface of the earth.

A problem with Australia’s flooding is that despite the rescue efforts and the fact that emergencies are dealt with quickly, companies continue to build properties on low-lying, high-risk land. There is also argument that despite the fact that floods damage land, farming, and transportation links, floods are good for the land and are an important part of natural phases. As waters spread across the land, so do seeds and sediments, and animals are pushed into new areas to flourish.

Gundagai was to suffer further floods throughout the years, the most recent being in 2012, when much of Queensland and parts of New South Wales were badly struck.

Flood water levels for Gundagai, Australia. Gundagai suffered some of the worst flooding seen in Australian history during 1852 and 1853. Photo credit: Conquimbo
Flood water levels for Gundagai, Australia. Gundagai suffered some of the worst flooding seen in Australian history during 1852 and 1853. Photo credit: Conquimbo, Wikimedia

Sources: Wikipedia; Charles Sturt University (PDF Doc)

5 thoughts on “Gundagai Floods 1852

  1. J Treanor Jones

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    I think its really poor taste to compare the 1852 Gundagai flood deaths with the more recent Qld flood deaths, or to compare any death totals from anywhere. I am a great granddaughter of 1852 Gundagai flood survivors Samuel and Maryanne True, and I live in Gundagai.

    I like the content I put on wiki that has been included in the above blog re Long Jimmy dying after the flood and other stuff. At least you did reference wiki though but didn’t actually note the bits you had taken from wiki. My family NEVER glorified the 1852 Gundagai floods. That has only been a recent thing for it seems, tourism purposes. Gundagai is a major major major Aboriginal site but even after the assistance re the 1852 floods Gundagai colonials did terrible things to Aboriginal people and succeeded in pushing them out of the area. That is recorded in the historical archives. Yarri, one of the 1852 Gundagai flood ‘heros’ also killed Baxter on the Eyre expedition in the 1840s, then not long after the flood warrants were issued for his arrest when Brungle Aboriginal people put him in to the police re the murder of a part Aboriginal girl when she would not oblige him. Yarri had many wives and he would just get rid of them when he tired of them and would take another. When the warrants were issued for his arrest he could not be found for many many years, likely as Yarri who was from the Tumblong area was part Aboriginal and his father lived in the area and there are many in the south of Gundagai area who are relatives and descendants of Yarri in the late 1800s, and today.

    In the 1830s there was a very big and horrific massacre of Aboriginal people to the north of Gundagai and some descendants of those perpetrators still live around Gundagai in 2013 so a lot of political stuff goes on from that terrible poisioning and massacre of the 1830s that resulted in a dog monument and poems being constructed and composed that allude to that terrible event.

    The recent Qld flood events and drowning were absolutely, totally terrible and I apologise that some in Gundagai like to try to align Gundagai’s 1852 events with the recent Qld flood terror and deaths plus try to get out of towners to spread the nonsense..

    Johneen Treanor Jones – Gundagai

    1. Many thanks for your comment, especially for taking the time to include such detail. I am very grateful to be able to get the opinion and knowledge of the Gundagai floods from a local. I take your point about comparing death tolls. I merely included this so as to put the Gundagai floods of 1852 into some kind of perpective.

  2. David Adams

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    Mark, you paint a rather rosey picture of the treatment of the Aboriginal rescuers. Incidently Jacky who rescued most people was using a repaired boat that had been sunk in an earlier failed rescue attempt rather than a bark canoe. The payment from the residents to the rescuers only happened in 1875- rather belated by anyone’s standards and of course by then Jacky had passed away. What is also of great interest is the “robust discussion” prior to this flood about the site of the town, earlier floods bringing to the residents attention that they were in a rather precariious position, their desire to relocate the town to higher ground and the unwillingness of the colonial government to assist in this process until a major calamity had occurred.

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