Of drought and flooding rains – a history of floods in Queensland

Queensland has experienced some of the most widespread and devastating floods since European occupation in the past two months. Arguably never before has the floods been so extensive in the extent of area inundated and the number of towns and cities affected.

But floods are not a rare occurrence in Queensland. Most towns and cities have all experienced serious and very damaging floods at some point in their history. Brisbane has had major floods in 1890, 1893 and 1974. Rockhampton had experienced major flooding on numerous occasions with the worst in 1918.

Surprisingly the impact of floods has not attracted little attention by historians. Certainly there is no definitive history of floods in Queensland and the general histories of Queensland only mention floods in passing. The most notable exception is Barbara Webster’s Marooned Rockhampton’s Great Flood of 1918 (2003). This publication provides a detailed analysis of the social, economic and political impact of the flood on Rockhampton and district.

There is a urgent need to research how floods have shaped Queensland. Some questions include:

  • economic impacts – the cost of rebuilding infrastructure, how many businesses went bankrupt or never recovered;
  • the impact on the natural environment with the changing of watercourses, erosion, subsequent dredging and straightening of rivers;
  • the relocation of towns and settlements; for example the township of Clermont was relocated after a major flood in 1916 – likewise Texas in 1890;
  • flood proofing and migration. The construction of the Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River in the 1970s was widely regarded as a means of flood proofing Brisbane. Various towns in western Queensland have been extensive levee banks to prevent flooding – some have been very successful such as at Goondiwindi.

Of course there are numerous other questions but certainly worthy of systemic research.