Looking Back - Morwell and District’s own "Splendour In The Grass"

By Leo Billington

Morwell Floods - 1

Lately we have been inundated with media coverage showing flooded campsites, extremely muddy conditions and drenched party goers at Splendour in the Grass 2022 recently held near Byron Bay. Well in excess of 30,000 people endured soggy conditions to enjoy music, fun and anything else possible.

Morwell and its immediate surrounding district had experienced “unprecedented deluges with flood waters doing immense damage.” The Morwell Advertiser in early December 1934 provided coverage of local flooding during which time, many families were driven from their homes. While not quite a Splendour in the Grass 2022, or a total disaster akin to the more recent Lismore floods, Morwell was awash with water.

Some of the oldest residents were unable to recall such wet conditions. For two days – Thursday, December 6 and Friday 7 – over six inches of rain fell during those 48 hours. The rain was incessant, creating havoc on roads and for river crossings.

Morwell Floods - 2

The Morwell Advertiser reported:

“Many bridges were washed away and in places four feet of water was rushing across the roadway. All road traffic was blocked between Melbourne and Morwell, and owing to washaways on railways there was no train service from Friday until Tuesday. As a consequence, no mails or daily papers were received and considerable inconvenience was caused, especially to business people. No one appeared to be able to settle down to their ordinary work and everyone was considerably perturbed about the general conditions of things. On Sunday two aeroplanes flew over Morwell and one dropped a parcel with yeast for Mr W. E. Wilson, baker”.

The Morwell River had overflowed “big time”; Tramway Road culverts were destroyed, animals were swept away, Morwell based Yallourn Power Station workers were unable to travel to work, concrete bridges could not withstand torrents of water.

Local resourcefulness was creative - Mr Col. Davey secured a boat to cross the flood waters with his milk for Yallourn, whilst Mr Bud Kleine (butcher) and Mr J. R. Rutherford (baker) combined in making arrangements with the local Station Master for an engine and van to run from Morwell to Yallourn, to enable them to send out meat and bread. Animals rescued from islands was by way of a rope tied around the horns of each animal, and led to safety one by one.

Morwell Floods 3

Some Sunday church services in Morwell were cancelled – there was great difficulty for ministers and parishioners to be present. Even Sunday School classes were cancelled for some days.

For those wishing to travel from Yinnar, the Eel Hole Creek bridge near the Hazelwood Cemetery was destroyed. Any detours via Hazelwood South were considered risky. The Billys Creek bridge at Jeeralang Junction was washed away and travelling from Morwell township to Driffield was out of the question. Thom’s Bridge was wrecked, farm crops were ruined. At Yinnar, Mr Arthur Bond lost 17 cows. Closer to Morwell, Mr Paddy Brinsmead lost 50 sheep and Mr John McGauran lost 150 animals. Morwell was basically marooned.

The head teacher of the Brown Coal Mine State school with his wife and baby, who are on the Yallourn side of the open cut were cut off from their other three children at the Brown Coal Mine township for two days.

In Morwell township itself, the bowling green was flooded, streets in low lying land were impassable.

During a visit by members of the State Electricity Commission to inspect flood damage at Yallourn, and as there were no pumping facilities, it was concluded that “it would take months to clear the coal faces.” Estimated cost of damage in the open cut was £1,000,000. One suggestion was to drain water via a channel to the Morwell River.

Another massive flood occurred in October 1953 when the Latrobe, Thomson and Macalister Rivers converged with water flowing across vast areas of Central Gippsland. This time, Traralgon, Morwell, Moe, Boolarra, Yinnar, Trafalgar and most localities in-between battled with floods. The Princes Highway at Moe for instance was completely impassable with a massive gap torn away from its surface.

The 1953 floods were reported in detail in various other newspapers such as the South Australian Advertiser, The Age, The Kalgoorlie Miner, The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, The Herald (Melbourne) and The Argus.

On December 20, 1934, it was reported by the Morwell Advertiser that:

TheVictorian Premier, Sir Stanley Argyle, said that gifts to the Lord Mayor's fund for the relief of victims of the floods would be free from Federal and State taxation. He said also that there was no intention to impose a tax to assist in paying for the damage caused by the floods. It would be a pity to spoil the good work which was being done voluntarily.

Referring to the position of municipalities, Sir Stanley Argyle said that he realised the difficulties of shires in which there had been devastation. The State could not do everything, but in the case of a municipality which was "in financial difficulties” consideration would be given to the question of helping it to restore urgent services.