RAY COLLINS: Earliest Memories

The first reading from the weekend’s Masses is rather appropriate for this coming week. From the Book of Genesis it refers to the story of the Great Flood and the covenant God establishes with Noah and his sons after the deluge. It includes the words “..no things of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the great flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.”

Those living in the Hunter region and many coastal regions of Australia would certainly wonder about the meaning of those words. Certainly the flooded areas of north and central Queensland might be wishing that these words were accurate.

The same could be said for the people of the Hunter region 60 years ago this Thursday when the infamous 1955 Flood devastated the whole of the Hunter region, commencing in the western reaches of the Hunter and Goulburn rivers and taking all before it as it raced through the towns of Denman, Muswellbrook, Singleton, Maitland, Raymond Terrace and eventually entering the sea at Newcastle.

In many ways the ’55 Flood has been the defining event of the Hunter in over a century. With massive property loss and sadly the loss of 14 lives, the impact on the people of that time stayed with them for the rest of their lives.

For me, the ’55 Flood is my earliest memory. At the age of 3 and 2 months when the flood hit, memories of those next few days are still vivid in my mind. The memories are not of the flood itself but of the effects of it. The first is of my Grandmother of 75 years of age coming to our home, safely situated on a hill in Raymond Terrace, following her dramatic rescue in a row boat from her farmhouse at Millers Forest.

Such was the devastation caused to her house and farm that she was taken to her daughter’s farm near Dubbo. I accompanied my mother and others of her family as their mother was driven over the Blue Mountains to the west of the state that had also been affected by a flood of equal proportions. For a young boy that was quite a trip in those days.

As the years have rolled by the stories of the Flood have been a huge part of my family’s history, including the tragic death of a Great Uncle who fell to his death from a helicopter rescue line as he was being rescued from a railway signal box that was being washed away. The story told to me by one of my uncles of my Grandmother’s and his rescue from the farm in a boat superbly rowed by two Raymond Terrace men, fighting a rushing torrent and eddies where the Hunter and Williams rivers converge is remarkable.

The Flood has also been a huge part of the history of Catholic Education as schools and convents were inundated but as many of them were double storeyed buildings they became refuges for many students who could not get home. There are many photos of such buildings that give witness to the safe haven that they provided to many people attempting to escape the rushing waters.

It is certainly appropriate that the 60th anniversary of the ’55 Flood is commemorated this week.

Ray Collins Image
Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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