Looking Back: Bega floods

THE Bega Pioneers' Museum has countless files on people and places. One is the history of Bega floods, 1851-1978, written by  Bernice E Smith.

Water, water, everywhere: Flood waters seen from Bega Street. A series of floods in the mid to late 1800s made life difficult for farmers in the region.

Water, water, everywhere: Flood waters seen from Bega Street. A series of floods in the mid to late 1800s made life difficult for farmers in the region.

BECAUSE of the destruction by flood on the northern side the river, Bega was moved to the south.  The first substantial building was the Victoria Inn, and the street then being formed was named Auckland Street, after the Imperial Colonial Secretary.

 A store, the National School, the newspaper office, a bank and other buildings were erected, and soon only farmlands, Underhill’s Smithy and a Creamery were left at North Bega.

The farmers’ homes, most of which also had small cheese factories, were all built well away from the river. In the new settlement crops were planted, the main ones being wheat, barley and maize. Most farmers’ cured bacon, and wheat was ground into flour at Kirkland’s Mill at the south-east of the township, and also at Mrs Spence’s Corridgeree Mill, both sites being well above any flood damage.

In 1857 the first flood of any dimension to affect the township established south of the Bega River occurred in September. It did not reach the new settlement, but did destroy a considerable amount of fencing, and washed out newly completed roadworks on either side of the Auckland Street crossing.

In February, 1860, when a severe flood occurred, there was a great loss of crops as well as many head of cattle – a blow to struggling farmers. Some dry years followed, and it was not until 1870 that good rains fell. A flood in June again destroyed fences and roadworks.

The water in the Auckland Street swamps rose sharply, extending as far as the site of the Presbyterian Church. Mr and Mrs Archie Spence of Stoney Creek, the first couple to be married in the church, were unable to return to their home for a considerable time until the waters subsided. Tarraganda farmers were hard-hit. Mr Hayden lost a number of pigs, but Aboriginal boys swam in to save young calves. In this flood 18 inches fell, the water being well up to the lower end of Gipps Street, to the back of the Australian Joint Stock Bank (now Westpac).

In the early part of 1873 another flood followed, with heavy rains in February and March. Water was 20 feet deep over low-lying paddocks, so crops of maize were destroyed, as well as barns of hay and other grain. This was a severe blow to the farmers, as the better seasons had enabled them to build up supplies of fodder.