The name 'Gundagai' may derive from 'Gundagair', an 1838 pastoral run in the name of William Hutchinson to the immediate north of current day Gundagai. The Aboriginal word 'gair' was recorded at Yass in 1836 by George Bennett (naturalist) and means 'bird', as in budgerigar or good bird. In that context 'Gundagai' means place of birds but that placename may refer to the area to the north of Gundagai not to Gundagai town. The word 'Gundagai' is also said to mean cut with a hand-axe behind the knee.
Gundagai is next to the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales, which flows north westerly for five hundred and fifty nine miles. It is one of the main tributaries of the Murray River, so it is not surprising how frequently and severely Gundagai and the surrounding areas have flooded.
The town of Gundagai is directly on a crossing place of the Murrumbidgee River. There were a number of crossing points, but this was one of the main ones, which eventually turned into the Great South Road. Floods had occurred here before in 1844, but the 1852 flood was larger with a higher death toll. A third of the population of the town of only two hundred and fifty inhabitants were taken in the flood waters.
1852 - GUNDAGAI - FLOOD
In 1852 the town was considered to be colonial, but on the 25th June that year, a flash flood hit and the town was swept away. Luckily for the townspeople, Aboriginal men who lived in the area were able to help with rescue operations. Using their canoes made of bark, they floated easily and saved forty people who were stranded in the water. The men received medals for their bravery, as well as payment from all of the inhabitants as a gesture of goodwill, although one of the aborigines died shortly after from being exposed to the conditions. The act of the aborigines was remembered, and represented a resolution of any problems between the locals and the natives.
The Gundagai floods of 1852 were some of the worst to ever hit Australia. The floods resulted in eighty nine deaths, the most Australia has ever seen from flooding.
Only three houses were left standing after the flood waters receded. However, once the clean up was completed, another flood hit in 1853.
THE FLOOD AT GUNDAGAI. ONE of the most fearful catastrophes which it has ever been our lot to record will be found reported in another column. The village of Gundagai has been almost entirely destroyed, and it is supposed that at least seventy lives have been lost. Gundagai is, or we may more truly say, was, situated on the north bank of the Murrumbidgee. Most of the allotments were on a tongue of land between the river and a creek which separated it from the high land. When the creek and river rose together, as has generally happened, the unfortunate people were cut off from any means of escape. This appears to have been the case in the present instance. When the residents were convinced there was danger, and saw the raging river rise to their very doors, the creek prevented them from getting to the high lands, and they were compelled to remain until the floods at- tained sufficient height and strength to wash away their dwellings, and launch them into eternity. Many of the unfortunate individuals who have gone to their long account, are much to blame for building in a place which they must have known was liable to be flooded; but the government officers who laid out a township in such a posi- tion have a most serious responsibility in this matter. After the township was laid out, application, on the ground of its being exposed to floods, was made to the Government to shift the site, and allow those who had purchased allotments to change them, but they were sternly re- peanused peanus tention of our readers to the simple nar- rative of our correspondent, to enlist their sympathies for the survivors. Many who before this awful visitation were in easy circumstances, are now destitute. There can never be a more legitimate call upon the affluent for assistance than the present. Whatever is done should be done quickly, and we would suggest that at the usual assemblage at the Exchange at 1 o'clock to-day, two or three gentlemen should undertake to receive subscriptions, and expend them for the relief of the suffer- ers. A supply of warm clothing and blankets is most urgently required.(Ref- The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) Mon 5 Jul 1852 Page 2 THE FLOOD AT GUNDAGAI.)
Gundagai was then rebuilt on higher ground of the surrounding hills of Mount Parnassus and Asbestos Hill to save any similar incidents in future. Even with the relocation, the area still suffered from floods.
In 1891, rescue workers and farmers were left stranded in trees because of the rising water. The Murrumbidee River has risen over seven metres on nine separate occasions since 1852, which averages out at once every eleven years.
However, the wetlands in the Gundagai area that was home to a great many types of flora and fauna have now disappeared because of cattle farming in the area and the water being rerouted into pipes under the surface of the earth.
A problem with Australia’s flooding is that despite the rescue efforts and the fact that emergencies are dealt with quickly, companies continue to build properties on low-lying, high-risk land. There is also argument that despite the fact that floods damage land, farming, and transportation links, floods are good for the land and are an important part of natural phases. As waters spread across the land, so do seeds and sediments, and animals are pushed into new areas to flourish.
2012 - GUNDAGAI - FURTHER FLOOD
Gundagai was to suffer further floods throughout the years, the most recent being in 2012, when much of Queensland and parts of New South Wales were badly struck.
Flood water levels for Gundagai, Australia. Gundagai suffered some of the worst flooding seen in Australian history during 1852 and 1853. Photo credit: Conquimbo Flood water levels for Gundagai, Australia. Gundagai suffered some of the worst flooding seen in Australian history during 1852 and 1853. Photo credit: Conquimbo, Wikimedia
Sources: Wikipedia; Charles Sturt University (PDF Doc) (Ref-
1852 - The year 1852 is spoken of as “the year of the Gundagai flood”, when the whole town of Gundagai was swept away with great loss of life and property. (The Rev’d C.F. Brigstocke of the C. of E. was called from Yass to bury over 50 victims).
At the same time the Tumut River was also in flood. Tumut township at the time also was built near the river on flat land. This flood brought the decision on the relacte Tumut to it's present site.- (Ref- Rev French).
The late inundation of the Murrumbidgee having proved that the present situation of that township is such, that most disastrouse floods may occur therein, rendering it therefore utterly unsuitable for the site of a town - the Commissioner of Crown Lands on the Tumut, Mr. Bingham (of course at the solicitation of the inhabitants), wrote to the Colonial Secretary the following letter, to which he received the answer as below; which answer we are sorry should have contained such an expression as this :- " His Excellency further directs me to inform you that he cannot, however, sanction the proposed exchange of the flooded, allotments, as he considers what a man buys he buys for better or worse." We very much regret the use of such language, and the application of such sensentiments by the official organ of the viceroy of a great colony they may be mercantile - they may be even legal, but assuredly they are neither statesman like nor just. Not statesman like, because a Governor should represent majesty in being the father of the people he rules; and it is paternal care alone which can attract, and locate, and fix a resident body of settlers, so as to grow up at length into a great people. Neither are these sentiments in our opinion just: a settler who buys land on which to build and settle, does not assuredly buy it that he may be drowned in his house, or beggared in his property by a flood he cannot know a priory, or from previous knowledge, whether he might or not: and when time and events have proved the affirmative, is the pound of flesh to be levied from him which he contracted for, believing the value he received to be very different from what it turns out.
The Gundagai people agreed to pay for Rachel, (or dry land,) and in the morning, behold it is Lia (or a flooded alluvium). Is it equitable then to oblige them to build where they may be drowned, and refuse them dry land in exchange. We hope his Excellency will re-consider this case, and bestow the desired been. In our opinion, however, the men who solicit it are those who in reality bestow the favour on, government, and not the government on them, (even if their reasonable request were granted,) by making wild and useless land available and profitable. We are, astonished His Excellency should have refused or hesitated a moment to grant the request:-
Commissioners Office, Tumut River, November 4, 1841, Sir,-
I do myself the honour to submit for His Excellency the Governor's consideration, that from the late floods in this part it would be highly essential to the future welfare and advancemente of the township of Gundagal to have a surveyor sent up to lay out part of the township on the south bank of the Murrumbidgee River, on moderate high ground, well adapted for building on; and some few allotments might be laid out north and by east of the present township, giving the parties who have now allotments on the recently flooded land, allotments on the high land. The water was from four to five feet deep in the huts at Gundagal, and parties suffered severe losses of property, and with a prospect of similar inundation, all chance of the advance ment of Gundagaiai as inland township in its present site I would say is at an end, as no person would now think of purchasing allotments for building in such a precarious situation. I have the honour to be, &c. H. Bingham. The Hon. the Colonial Secretary. - (Ref- Morning Chronicle (Sydney, NSW : 1843 - 1846)(about) Previous issue Saturday 22 February 1845).
1844 - Head Quarters, Tumut River. November. 4. 1844. Sir, — I do myself the honor to inform you, for the information of His Excellency the Governor,- that having been called to Gundagai on the 24th of last month, to hold an inquiry, with much regret, on the body of an Aboriginal Native, named Gothering, drowned in a creek, near the Murrumbidgee River; that I would not be doing justice, to the Aboriginal Natives of this part, if I did not state, that during the sovere and continuod floods, caused by the overflowing of the waters of the Murrumbidgee and Tumut Rivers, that in the hour of peril, alarm, and danger, the blacks were most active in cutting canoes and rescuing the men, women, and children, from their huts, fast filling with water, and saved many of them from a watery grave: in fact, their conduct was noble and praiseworthy ; and. should His Excellency the Governor be pleased to sanction my small requisition in their, favor, I consider, it would do much good, and that they (Blacks) merit some reward, in order to stimulate them to such actions and conduct, as we know not now, when they may be again called on, under similar trying moments, for exertion.
I have, &c,
(Signed.) HENRY BINGHAM.
The honorable the Colonial Secretary, &c, &c, &c.. -(Ref- The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 - 1848) Saturday 23 November 1844).
FLOOD - During the past ten days the Murrumbidgee River at Gundagai has been in a very muddy state, and rose about a foot, which is due to the phenomenal fall of rain in the Adjinbilly Valley. Starting about 20 miles east of Gundagai the water came down in a volume of 8ft to 10ft. deep, and over 100 yards wide, sweeping everything before it.- (Ref- The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)(about) Previous issue Wednesday 3 December 1902).
1902 - FLOOD - GUNDAGAI, Monday. - The storm which passed over the Gundugui district on Saturday afternoon was the heaviest known. At Yarrangobilly,28 miles cast of Gundagai, it is estimated that 5 or 6 inches fell there in about an hour. The rush of water was extraordinarily, large logs were washed down the sides of the hills and carried for miles, and fences were washed away in all directions. A few miles further on in the direction of Adjinbilly, on the Gobarralong Road, the water came down 22ft deep at a place known as Dry Creek. North-west of Gundagai heavy rain also fell, but at Coolac, 10 miles north, very little was recorded. - (Ref- The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)(about) Previous issue Tuesday 9 December 1902).
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