Queensland devastation draws comparisons to catastrophes of 1974 and 1955

Australia Day fell on a Saturday at the end of an already unusually wet summer in late January 1974. Brisbane's 900,000 inhabitants were dancing to Helen Reddy and the Rolling Stones. In the skies above them a moving monsoonal trough producing heavy rain was drifting further south than usual. Over the Queensland capital, it met the weakening Cyclone Wanda.

The result was the city's worst flooding of the century. Roads collapsed, boats were jammed under bridges, thoroughfares turned to rivers. Thousands of homes were flooded, 14 lives were lost, and the cost of the damage was put at A$200m.

The water rose to 5.45m, almost a metre higher than the flooding which struck the city yesterday. But Brisbane, which is under water now, is markedly different from the city of 37 years ago.

For a start, its population is twice as high. As Queensland's premier, Anna Bligh, explained: "Many parts under flood didn't even exist in 1974."

In 1974, when the water eventually subsided, the director of meteorology found himself at the centre of a fresh storm. He defended his bureau's forecasting but admitted to "problems of dissemination and interpretation of the warnings." He concluded: "Some people have been permanently affected, both physically and mentally, by the shock of the flood and its aftermath." The same is undoubtedly true today, 37 years on.

The floods are less a part of Australian folklore than the Hunter River bursting its banks in 1955, forming an inland sea the size of England and Wales and claiming 25 lives. Some have said this week that times of relative drought since then have caused them to forget the lessons of the disaster.

One consequence of the 1974 floods was the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam, 50 miles east of Brisbane. Fifty metres in height, it holds twice as much water as Sydney Harbour. On Tuesday it was at 190 per cent capacity.

"A dam cannot stop the sort of flood that is coming across the plains, the Lockyer Valley and the catchment area into the Wivenhoe system," Ms Bligh said yesterday – yet it was built in response to a flood larger than this one.

One key recommendation of the director of meteorology's report from 37 years ago is sure to be scrutinised again in the coming weeks: "The January 1974 flood has shown that such a flood warning service is of limited value unless the bureau's forecasts are properly interpreted by responsible authorities, and the public is subsequently advised of the expected level and extent of inundation in their own streets and houses."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Executive - OTE £30,000

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Salary: £16k - £20k Dependant o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot