Works in the Herald 1934

Up here on the hill-tops, rain it ever so hard and long, the fears of floods is one anxiety that fails to touch us.

As Pete Parraday, the old-age pensioner, says “This is the place from what the floods come, and it would be pretty tough for a man to get burned and drownded both.”

So we keep our fears for the menace of the fire and, saving our sympathy for the unfortunate dwellers of the plains, suffer little from the depredation of the waters.

Certainly we have our minor bothers. Swollen streams become unfordable for man and beast; all, or nearly all, of our hundred or more bridges, formed of chance-fallen trees, are well awash, and, after such a deluge as this latest, hillsides become mere quaking blanc-mange-like masses from which great trees, losing their age-long roothole, crash over roads; while washouts and minor landslides create temporary cascades and waterfalls, and form severed roots in roadside cuttings water gushes as from so many high-pressure water-pipes.

The most serious damage is to the cleared and cultivated hillsides. Here great gutters are graven in the plough and many yards of precious top-soil, with seed-potatoes, fertilizer and all, are washed into some swollen little creek and so carried to a river and the sea.

In this regard one is tempted to wonder how much of Victoria’s precious, fertile, life-giving earth, suspended in the yellow torrents pouring even now from many a river-mouth, has gone into the ocean.

On Saturday some of us journeyed down to inspect the vast inland sea that covers the Yarra flats; and the elder men, long resident there, said that never before had they seen such, dark, earth-colored waters -- “like pea-soup.”

Certainly thousands, perhaps tens-, perhaps hundreds-of-thousands of acres, say four inches deep, have been filched from the State by the recent deluge -- and the loss is irreparable.

It is the penalty of cultivation where cultivation is unwise -- on wooded hillsides and forest lands where interlaced roots save many a washaway -- that nature has her own wise way.

But, apart from very minor inundations of miniature river flats, our hilltop troubles have been light. As old Pete Paraday says, the waters of these steep-sided gullies rise up and talk a lot, but they don’t lie down and sulk. Here they leave in haste to harry easier victims on the lowlands.

Still, we have had out little worries, and the records put up by this record downpour have beaten even those of the most prolific Test match. I could never quote them all; but, for example, never before in man’s memory has the creek risen as high as the old bullock track graven deep by the waggons of the first white man to reach tis forest -- fifty, sixty years ago.

Also, never before in history has brogan’s milking shed been entered by flood water. Though Pete Paraday says that ain’t no good and proper reason for the tadpoles he found in his butter three days before the big rain began!

Which reminds me that our chief trouble concerns the same old Pete Paraday.

Late on Friday afternoon last a bushman arrived just in time to prevent the wilful old veteran from venturing upon a crazy footbridge over which at east four feet of flood waters flowed at a speed of an express train.

Forcible restraint had to be employed, not so much because Pete’s home was home was on the other side, but because his dog was -- left there to guard the fowls.

Finally, after half the settlement had gathered to argue with the obstinate dog-lover, it was seen that we were given three choices: Pete must be left to commit wilful suicide, or he must be forcibly imprisoned or guarded, or his dog must be brought over. Greatly daring, two young men, wading breast high, crossed on a fallen tree. But two hours’ search failed to locate the dog.

So the young men waded back; and, as cold, weary and drenched form feet to neck, they passed George Jones’s hut on this side, they discovered old Pete Paraday seated on the doorstep feeding his untroubled hound on tinned salmon. Nobody knows how that dog got across the creek. Pete says he jumped it -- a mere matter of thirty feet or so.

Pete, by the way, has been with us on this side ever since. For the stout old veteran who on Friday would have faced almost certain death for the sake of a dog, has become a timid old man, fearing to venture, though the water over the footbridge is now only a matter of inches. Meantime, he has visited every house on this side more than once and always around mealtimes. He and his dog are waxing sleek, while hospitable housewives long for a final falling of the waters.

But, as old Pete says, what’s a flood in these parts? Why in one or two months’ time we shall probably be fighting bushfires.

Herald, 5 December 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003