Motorists rescued, businesses swamped in 1956 flood

 Bega Pioneers' Museum has countless files on people and places. One is the history of Bega floods, 1851-1978, written by  Bernice E Smith. As the story now is becoming more contemporary, if anyone has personal stories of these floods, the Museum would really like to add to its record. 

Widespread damage: A bridge swept away in the flood of 1956. Bridges affected were at Kiah, Palestine, Dignam’s Creek and Greendale.

Widespread damage: A bridge swept away in the flood of 1956. Bridges affected were at Kiah, Palestine, Dignam’s Creek and Greendale.

MAY 1956 brought another flood, when Bega and Tathra had very heavy rain. Poplar Avenue was soon covered, and a car being driven through stalled, the occupants having a very narrow escape. A tow-truck rescued them after they had climbed onto the roof of their vehicle. Bega had 13 inches of rain in two days, and town business premises were swamped with water. These included the Grand Hotel, Leonard’s Pharmacy, McIlvenie’s Silk Store and several other low-lying shops.

Damage to outlying centres was also severe. Bridges affected were at Kiah, Palestine, Dignam’s Creek and Greendale. The Princes Highway at Frogs Hollow collapsed, leaving a huge gap in the road. This was the worst hold-up on the road for years, and it took a big team of men and heavy machinery to get the road in working order again.

Bega had 63 inches of rain up until the end of May, and Tathra 65 inches. Rain was fairly general again until July, when it cleared up for a time. However, the Monaro had record snowfalls at that time, the snow melt keeping the rivers high. The mouth of the river kept banking up with sand washed in by the rough seas, the causeway being frequently covered by water. Then to make matters worse the ferry broke down and all traffic had to go to Bega by the Dr. George Mountain route. Although 1956 was such a wet year by December conditions were again dry with a drop in the factory intake.

1957 brought dry weather again so some farmers were having bores put down, those at Angledale being the most successful. A little rain fell in February then none until June. In August there was a flood again with severe damage being done at the Georges Creek Dam on Brown Mountain and also landslides on the mountain road. October rain was low but did help the pastures, but then dry hot weather continued for the next three months and stock had to be hand-fed.

January, 1958 brought good rain, but the rest of the year had only average rainfall.

1959 had a flood in February and one in October. This was a very heavy flood, the river rising rapidly. The Tathra bus, with three people on board, was caught in the floodwaters on Jellat Jellat. Fortunately the three occupants were able to swim to a willow tree, from which they were rescued some hours later by heavy vehicles from the Department of Main Roads and two outboard motor crews.