Looking Back: Lives lost as district floods take their toll

 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 hazards: A vehicle tries to negotiate a flooded road during one of the many floods that hit the Bega district early last century.

Water hazards: A vehicle tries to negotiate a flooded road during one of the many floods that hit the Bega district early last century.

IN 1914 the Bega river rose to 23 feet and the bridge at North Bega was damaged when the piles were undermined. However, traffic continued to use it, with the exception of heavy trucks. The piles were gradually raised by filling the base with concrete. It was with some relief that those having to use the bridge saw the roadway lifted back into position after two months of work.

Then the long to be remembered 1919 flood occurred, again in February. The river rose to 27 feet 9 inches, but the new work on the North Bega Bridge stood firm. Many smaller bridges went, including the wooden bridge over Gowings Creek at Jellat Jellat. Many head of stock were lost and much damage done to roadways, some holes being 11 feet deep.

Haystacks were carried away and fences destroyed. Amongst bridges completely or partly destroyed were those at Kanoona, Hanscombe's at Numbugga, and others near Bermagui. A swagman camped at Bega Racecourse was rescued by the Municipal flood boat, manned by Joe Roberts and Joe Ziegler. The whole of Mr. W W Wren’s dairy herd of pedigreed Jersey cows was swept away after being accidentally left in a paddock near the river. All were drowned – a sad loss.

Fortunately 1920 and 1921 were free of floods, but in 1922 a big flood was recorded in June, after 12 inches of rain fell in one week. Tathra and other outlying centres were cut off.

The next very wet year was 1925 when floods occurred in May and June. In total 32 inches of rain fell in two months. Two Yarranung farmers, Messrs. Walker and Duncan, were washed out of their wagonette and drowned while trying to get cream to the Butter Factory. The water rose very quickly and remained high for a considerable time.

Another tragedy occurred in 1928, when Mr Robinson of Dr George Mountain was drowned when attempting to cross Jellat Jellat Flats. The punt at the mouth of the river was carried downstream when 10 inches of rain fell in 48 hours.

There were no big floods from 1928 until 1934, but the flood of that year caused more destruction to roads and bridges than that of 1919. The district was flooded six times.  Moran’s Crossing Bridge being washed away in June after hasty repairs had been made following the February flood. In February 12 inches of rain fell in two days. The Brogo Bridge was also washed away, so a flying-fox had to be constructed to transport passengers, mail and foodstuffs across the river.