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Flood doesn’t compare with monsters of the past

The 1890 flood waters up around St Ignatius School before levee banks were built around Bourke. Inset: the 1890 flood marker on Bourke Post Office. Photos archive/TWH

A flood peak of 10.95 metres passed through Bourke last Wednesday, reminding many old timers of the huge floods of the 1970’s.

Although this 2021 flood looked like a massive amount of water, breaking out it banks and into the billabongs, it was at least 3 metres lower than the floods of 1974 (14.08m) and 1976 (14.28m).

And those two events were not the biggest floods since non-Aboriginal people stumbled over the Baaka River and founded the town of Bourke.

The biggest recorded floods since European settlement were in 1864 (14.52m) and 1890 (14.40m), and both floods inundated the struggling, unprotected town of Bourke.

A plaque recording the height of the 1890 flood is located at the front of the Bourke Post Office building, and many photos of the water in town are still available.

The 1890 flood was the last flood to inundate the town, as levee banks were subsequently built for flood protection.

Several big floods arrived in the 1950’s – 13.93m in 1950, 12.42m in 1955 and 13.75m in 1956.

But in the1970’s Bourke experienced two major “one in a hundred year” floods – one in 1974 at 14.05 metres and a bigger flood two years later in 1976 – peaking at 14.18 metres. These two monster floods followed another serious flood of 13.54m in 1971.

The two big 1970’s floods threatened to breach the levee and were only kept out by a serious community effort to keep the floodwater out of town. During the height of those two floods, Bourke residents were rostered to patrol levee banks day and night, to fill sandbags out at the Bourke Golf Course, and to build up the levee banks as the flood waters rose.

Read more local news in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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