Australian History

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: What lessons can we learn from the 1956 Murray-Darling River floods?

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#AceNewsRoom With ‘Kindness & Wisdom’ Oct.26, 2022 @acehistorynews

Ace News Room Cutting Floor 26/10/2022

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#AceHistoryDesk – River flows are complex but despite our best attempts to harness control over them, history demonstrates that floods are inevitable.

Play Video. Duration: 3 minutes 52 seconds
What lessons can we learn from the 1956 Murray-Darling floods(Supplied: Alan Whyte)none

With the current inundation threatening the border towns of Echuca, Moama and Kerang, there are concerns about how the Murray River system further downstream will be impacted.

Looking back at previous flood events along the rivers could provide important insight into lessons learnt from previous disasters, such as the three-month-long 1956 floods that devastated whole communities living along the tributaries.

Men in boat with oranges
The 1956 floods left citrus properties in Pomona as islands in an inland sea of floodwater for months.(Supplied: Patricia Whyte)none

Diaries provide insight into past floods

Retired citrus grower Alan Whyte has drawn many comparisons with previous floods that have affected the Murray and Darling River communities.  

He is the third generation of the Whyte family to farm in the Pomona region of New South Wales, and his family has maintained extensive records of the movements of the Darling River dating back to the 1890s.The Whyte family farmhouse in Pomona NSW had floodwaters lapping at the doors during the 1956 floods.(Photo:  Patricia Whyte)none

It is his grandfather’s diarised daily accounts of the rise of the 1956 floods that provides a valuable insight into how the community prepared for and coped with that devastating event.

Diary entries from Verco Whyte describe how the township rallied together to build levee banks and sandbag walls that saved essential town electricity supplies and the Wentworth District Hospital from inundation. Verco Whyte’s diary provides a daily account of living through the 1956 floods.(Supplied: Alan Whyte)none

During that time farmers were stranded for months, and they used boats to harvest and transport citrus to town and to buy supplies.

“The only way in and out was by boat, so my grandfather would take a load of fruit into town each day between working on the levee banks,” Mr Whyte says. 

The town of Wentworth sits at the junction of both the Murray and Darling Rivers in far south-west NSW. While the town had ample warning of the high flows expected from both river fronts, residents were not prepared for the degree of flooding, the duration or the scale of the clean up.

While the 1956 floods were not the biggest to hit either the Murray or the Darling Rivers, the severity of them was a result of both rivers flooding at the same time. Oranges were taken by boat to market during the floods.(Photo: Patricia Whyte)none

As the first rains hit, farmers from the nearby towns of Mildura, Red Cliffs and Wentworth rallied together to build levee banks using their little grey Massey Ferguson tractors to protect the town’s hospital, power stations and major infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of things people could learn from what’s happened in the past,” Mr Whyte says. Retired Darling River citrus grower Alan Whyte has been researching Murray Darling Basin water issues for decades.(ABC Mildura Swan Hill:  Jennifer Douglas)none

Mr Whyte is concerned that the region’s towns are not prepared for a large-scale flood event.

For decades, he has been an active spokesperson on the area’s water issues. In 2019 he provided evidence to the Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan on behalf of the South West Water Users Group.

He says with water catchments at capacity, ground moisture high, and a fourth year of La Niña, the community needs to be on alert to the potential for another big flood event.

“We haven’t had a decent flood since the mid-1970s, and it’s well and truly time we had one,” he says.The grey Fergie tractors proved their versatility during the floods.(Supplied: Patricia Whyte)none

New housing built on flood plains

Mr Whyte said one of the greatest concerns was the housing developments that have been built on the flood plains, which were essential for dispersing excess rainwater.Multiple catchments, rivers and tributaries feed into the Murray-Darling Basin.(Supplied: MDBA)none

” If floodwater can’t spread out as it used to on the flood plains that are now developed, towns along the river around Mildura and Wentworth are going to see much higher flood levels,” he says.

Mr Whyte says floods are inevitable as they are a natural river process, but the height of the river can be influenced by the built environment.

“How high the flood level will reach is difficult to forecast, but it’s not a matter of if it will flood again, but when,” he says.Citrus growers used boats to harvest and transport oranges through floodwater to town.(Photo:  Patricia Whyte)none

Preparing for today’s floods

Helen Dalton is the member for Murray. She is also concerned about the potential for flooding and the impact on her community along the New South Wales side of the Murray River near Wentworth.Ms Dalton says there’s no doubt the rising water is putting pressure on the river system.(Supplied:  Helen Dalton)none

“With all the water moving down the Murray, then you add water coming in from the Darling, it’s going to create a lot of pressure on Wentworth,” Ms Dalton says. 

Ms Dalton echoes the concerns of Mr Whyte on the impact of housing developments and infrastructure on low-lying areas along the riverbanks, and how that may influence floodwater movement.

“There’s been a lot of development. It could change the whole course of where the floodwater goes,” she says. 

“We’ve seen it in other places where there are housing developments, with people forgetting that back in the day, they were low-lying and they were susceptible to flooding. I think people have short memories and that’s a real concern.”

Ms Dalton has been watching the recent weather forecast and river flow projections closely, as further heavy rain is expected for the region this week.

“We’ve also got an La Niña forecast, that’s going to add another complexity to what’s already going on,” she says.

“All the tributaries and creeks are full and flowing into the Murray and the Darling in addition to the outer rivers, too. These big flows into the Murray and the Darling are going to create quite a problem.”


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Australian History

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Budj Bim Cultural Landscape fire reveals new sections of ancient aquatic system

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Ace News Room Cutting Floor 23/10/2022

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#AceHistoryDesk – Extra sections of an ancient aquaculture system built by Indigenous people in south-west Victoria thousands of years ago have been discovered after a fire swept through the area over the past few weeks.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, which includes an elaborate series of stone-lined channels and pools set up by the Gunditjmara people to harvest eels, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.

Some parts of the landscape, which also features evidence of stone dwellings, have been dated back 6,600 years — older than Egypt’s pyramids.

Traditional owners, who inspected the site after the fire was brought under control last week, spotted extra sites previously concealed under vegetation that they believe are part of that aquaculture system.

Ancient channels lay hidden under vegetation

A fire sparked by a lightning strike at Lake Condah in late December, which was later subsumed by another fire that ignited nearby, was only brought under control last week after a mammoth firefighting effort.

It burnt through more than 7,000 hectares of land around Lake Condah and in the Budj Bim National Park, including some parts of the aquaculture system in an area known as the Muldoon trap complex.Gunditjmara elder Denis Rose at an area razed by fire near Lake Condah, where new sections of the aquaculture system have been revealed.(ABC South West Victoria: Sian Johnson)none

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager Denis Rose said when the fire first broke out he was not “too concerned” about how the fire would affect the system.

“Most of the cultural features out here on the lava flow are stone,” he said. 

“There have certainly been many fires here in the thousands of years prior.

“Our major concern was the effect after the fire and we’ve still got some work to do there.

“We were concerned about the trees … particularly those taller trees that are growing in and around some of those fish trap systems and also our associated stone house sites, of [the trees] being weakened and damaged and potentially falling over and the roots upending some of these ancient stone structures.”

When Mr Rose and other traditional owners returned to the area after the fire, they were amazed by what they observed in the charred landscape.

“The fire actually uncovered another smaller system, including a channel about 25 metres in length that we hadn’t noticed before,” he said.

“It was only maybe 20 metres off the track that we walk in and it was hidden in the long grass and the bracken fern and other vegetation.

“We’ve noticed that in other parts of the lava flow as well, we’ve come across sites that just haven’t been recorded that have been very close by.This burnt section of bush near Lake Condah, part of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, is believed to be a previously-undocumented channel that forms part of the ancient eel-harvesting system.(ABC South West Victoria: Sian Johnson)none

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to further investigate some of the sites out here.”

New survey to be undertaken

In the wake of the blaze, a cultural heritage survey will be undertaken with input from archaeologists familiar with the site and Indigenous rangers. 

Aerial photography using specialised software will be undertaken to survey the landscape as well.

Mr Rose said although the find was positive it took place in the sobering context of the destructive fires that continue to burn in other parts of the country.

“We have been extremely fortunate here,” he said.This echidna was spotted soon after the fire, which was considered a relatively ‘cool’ burn.(ABC South West Victoria: Sian Johnson)none

“We’ve had relatively cool burns — certainly nothing like the damage and the devastation over in the eastern parts of Australia.

“[These fires] have burnt the undergrowth rather than scorching the forest the whole way through.”

Firefighters worked around rocky, volcanic country

Firefighters have been managing fire in and around the Budj Bim National Park since the initial blaze that started a few days before Christmas Day.

Forest Fire Management Victoria far south-west district manager Mark Mellington said firefighters had to work with the area’s rocky terrain, a result of its relatively recent volcanic past.

“Earthmoving machinery is one of our typical uses for fire line construction,” he said.

“But typically in the volcanic, rocky country it’s quite impractical to use that sort of machinery and with a lot of work and engagement we had done with Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners, we’d established that there was a significant risk to cultural heritage values in us using machinery.”

“[We knew] if we did have fires in that landscape, we would have to use lower-impact control techniques.”

Mr Rose praised the way firefighters tackled the blaze, avoiding bringing heavy machinery onto the site.

“We certainly acknowledge the wonderful work that they have done in protecting the lava flow and the cultural features on here,” he said.

Crews managed to keep the first, smaller fire contained during a particularly hot, windy day on December 30, but a lightning strike that accompanied a cool change that swept through that evening sparked a more intense fire in the national park that eclipsed the initial one.

Mr Mellington said over the weeks the crews worked on the fire they used aircraft to drop both large quantities of water picked up from Lake Condah and fire retardant.Fire services fought to save the site after it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.(Supplied: Heywood Incident Control Centre)none

Crews on foot using canvas hoses were also crucial in the firefight.

“That was some really tough, intensive work by both Fire Forest Management crews supported by the Country Fire Authority, and we also had the Budj Bim rangers from Gunditj Mirring helping out as well,” Mr Mellington said.

Nearby communities such as Bessiebelle were urged to evacuate during the worst flare-ups, but fortunately no private structures were lost in the fire.

“Clearly the safety of people, the safety of communities is our number-one priority ahead of anything,” Mr Mellington said.

“With that in mind we really needed to work through the best possible control strategy to contain the fire to the smallest area possible.

“Certainly things like environmental and cultural values are significant, but we really do need to preference human life over all other things.”

Mr Mellington said although he was confident the fire was under control, there was still a risk of it worsening again over the remainder of summer and beyond.

“We’d love to get a couple of inches of rain,” he said.


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Australian History

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Diary of youngest member of Scott’s Antarctic voyage published 55 years after his death

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#AceHistoryDesk – An early explorer who survived being lost in Antarctica long before retiring to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast will have his famous diary published for the first time, 55 years after his death.

old black and white photo of man sat next to wooden boxes filled with pineapples
Clarence Hare, pictured in 1958, retired to a pineapple farm at Eudlo on the Sunshine Coast.(Supplied: Virginia Bassett)none

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New Zealander Clarence Hare was the youngest crew member on the first official British exploration of the Antarctic regions onboard the ship Discovery in 1901, led by Captain Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson.

He immortalised his adventure in a meticulously detailed diary, which he donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington in the 1960s.

In his later years, Mr Hare moved to a pineapple farm on the Sunshine Coast, and he died in 1967.

His private diary was only available to read in person and on special request, but now it is being published for the first time as A Young Man’s Antarctic Discovery, compiled by Maureen Lee.

A chance meeting

Play Audio. Duration: 2 minutes 23 seconds
A diary from the Antarctica expedition

Mr. Hare’s granddaughter Virginia Bassett, who lives on the Sunshine Coast, said her grandfather’s employment on the Discovery expedition happened by chance when chief steward Reginald Ford visited a grocery store Mr. Hare worked at in Lyttelton, New Zealand.

“They set up a friendship. Next minute, he was hired as the assistant steward onboard,” Ms Bassett said.Clarence Hare survived about 46 hours lost in an Antarctic blizzard in 1902.(Supplied: Virginia Bassett)none

She said his personal diary shared an insight into the lengths the crew went to for research, which claimed multiple lives onboard.

“They went out and collected penguins and brought whole penguins back, seals, shells, whatever they could find that would be samples to take back to England,” Ms Bassett said.

“They had to take part in collecting ice blocks, big ice blocks for the water supply because it all had to be melted down and also to collect specimens for the scientific experiments.”

A survival story

Clarence Hare’s whistle he kept blowing while lost in a blizzard for 46 hours.(Supplied: Virginia Bassett)none

According to Mr Hare’s handwritten diary, he got separated from the group during a blizzard in March 1902, just months after they arrived.

“When we first read his story about being lost in the blizzard, how anyone could survive for 46 hours was just a miracle, especially with the clothing,” Ms Bassett said.

“We put it down to the dog, he had a favourite dog called Kid.”

Mr Hare wrote that he tried to find his way back to the ship with the crew’s dogs that were used to pull sleighs.

“A drowsy feeling came over me and I sat down on the snow beside them, while Kid, my pet dog, came and licked my face.

“I then remembered that people who went to sleep in the snow never woke up again, and I jumped up and pinched myself and started walking rapidly, followed by Kid.”

Mr Hare wrote he attempted to find the group for hours before becoming too weak to move.

“The last thing that I can remember on that awful night was sliding down a slippery slope, down, down, then comes a long blank,” he wrote.

“I went off to sleep in the snow.”

When he awoke, he saw a spot in the snow beside him where he believed his dog Kid had slept.

Mr Hare had to crawl for “some distance” before he could walk and was seen by the ship.

“I learned then that the day was Thursday [the 13th], and just before noon, and I had been lost since Tuesday noon – about 46 hours, and perhaps I was asleep for 40 hours,” he wrote.

“Kid, the dog which slept by me the first night, returned to the ship on Wednesday morning [and] with the exception of Warrior, all the dogs returned safely.”

Writing history

Mr Hare donated his diary, in which he documented the two years he spent with the crew of navy personnel, scientists and civilians in the Antarctic, to New Zealand’s national museum.

Hare Peak, 3 kilometres south of the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica, was named in his honour.Clarence Hare at Eudlo in 1962 spoke of returning to Antarctica.(Supplied: Virginia Bassett)none

His diary showed when he was 80, Mr Hare wrote to a friend describing his wish to return to the coldest place on earth.

“I would like to have the distinction of being the oldest man to visit Antarctica, as I was the youngest,” he wrote.

“I am pretty good at chipping out weeds, so I am sure I could keep doing the same with ice.

“Even if I did not return, it would be a lovely way to go out.”


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Buddhism ~

“Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening — without judgment and interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us so that we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives.

We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we’re breathing in; breathing out, we know we’re breathing out. It’s very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments, and fantasies.

This habit of wandering the mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.

Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought— that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power.