Owen Alloway recalls his time on the Burdekin River during the record-breaking flood of 1946. Picture: Marcel Baum.
Owen Alloway recalls his time on the Burdekin River during the record-breaking flood of 1946. Picture: Marcel Baum.

What it was like to live through 1946’s record flood

AT "nearly 92 years old" Owen Alloway recalls what it felt like to dive out of a kitchen door into the flooded Burdekin River in 1946.

It was the river's biggest flood on record at a height of 21.79m and saw the mighty Burdekin only feet from the underside of the Burdekin River railway bridge at Sellheim.

In comparison, this year's flood levels peaked at 17.9m according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Having left home at 13 to support his family, Mr Alloway found himself working as an overseer at Burdekin Downs Station when the waterway made its spectacular breach.

"We were kids and thought it was lovely," Mr Alloway said.

"We had them (the kitchen doors) open of course for the water to run through; the water was about a foot deep.

"We used to dive off the floor, go underneath the kitchen and come out the other end.

"That was the 1946 flood; it was only a few feet under that railway bridge."

The recent floods sparked Mr Alloway's memories of a period filled at times with macabre sights.

"The cattle, out in the middle of the river, you would hear them mewling and that's when you would look out … and there would be four to six head of cattle going downstream being washed from wherever they were sitting," he said.

"Cattle, when they get exhausted, they float on their side, I saw that."

 

The Burdekin River railway bridge at Sellheim during this year's floods which peaked at 17.9m according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Picture: Luke Schouten.
The Burdekin River railway bridge at Sellheim during this year's floods which peaked at 17.9m according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Picture: Luke Schouten.

 

Despite the river's ferocious breach Mr Alloway recalls conservative damage to the station.

"It was only for a couple of days, it wasn't for a big length of time, for the volume of water that was in it, it didn't stop up for that long," he said.

"It was the people all above towards Ingham and Greenvale, they suffered badly.

"But we didn't at Burdekin Downs."

Life on the river necessitated the learning of new skills, he said.

Mr Alloway recalled swimming clear across the river during more sedate floods which saw the river rise 9 - 12 feet.

"I was a good swimmer and yet I never learnt to swim until I was 10 or 12," he said.

"Yet I became a great swimmer because I swam that Burdekin when it was in flood from one end to another."

In those days Mr Alloway said he commuted the "16/17 mile" to Charters Towers on horseback.

One river crossing was attempted on horse which promptly required separation of man and beast.

"Yeah, I let the horse go," he said.

"Horses are silly, they panic, so I had to get out of his way.

"See, their front legs will hit you so you've got to get away."

All in all Mr Alloway had only fond memories of his time on the mercurial river.

"I spent a lot of years there but enjoyed it all, it was a great life," he said.



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