An aerial photograph of Casino during the 1954 flood.
Photo Contributed
An aerial photograph of Casino during the 1954 flood. Photo Contributed Contributed

Flood hero died as he lived - unselfishly

HE WAS part of the Evans Head Casino Surf Club and so was thought to be a very strong swimmer.

But William 'Bill' Gillett's youth and fitness were no match for the floods that inundated the town of Casino on the night of February 21, 1954.

On that fateful Sunday night a 17-year-old lad named John Keep was with friends when in the pouring rain he was asked by a resident to help move furniture from rising floodwaters.

In the process of helping, Mr Keep was swept into the water with one of his companions, and managed to hold onto a tree where he remained for four hours.

Mr Gillett and two friends, Frank Le Cornu and Alan Dunn had a speed boat which they launched into the swollen Richmond River to try and save Mr Keep.

Mr Gillett offered to drive the boat and took it upstream for a short distance but when he turned the boat and headed diagonally across the stream to reach the young lad, the propeller cut out on a wire in the river.

The boat then drifted sideways down the stream until it hit a tree and overturned.

The Northern Star reported what survivor Alan Dunn said at the inquest.

"The three of us were thrown into the water and we started to swim," he said.

"I swam with the current for half a mile...and was able to get out.

"When I last saw Gillett...he was then swimming with the current on the northern side of the stream and to me he did not appear to be in danger of drowning."

Gillett was a returned soldier from World War Two and also had his bronze medallion with Evans Head-Casino Surf Life Saving Club and was considered a strong swimmer.

His body, however, was found two days later in a tree near the main Casino traffic bridge.

He was commended by Casino police seargeant A. H. George who said Mr Gillett died as he had lived - unselfishly.

He was posthumously awarded the Royal Shipwreck and Humane Society's bronze medal and certificate of merit, along with his two fellow rescuers.

His parents were invited to receive the award at a ceremony set for September 28, but his father never made it to the ceremony as he died on September 4.

In all, 22 people perished in the floods of 1954 that devastated many Northern Rivers towns.

References

  • 'Recognition of Bravery Recommended', Northern Star, March 11, 1954, Page 4
  • 'Funeral tribute to Casino Businessman,'Northern Star, September 5, 1954, Page 5
  • 'Awards for heroism in Casino flood', Northern Star, August 24, 1954, Page 4
  • '2 Missing in Casino', Northern Star, February 22, 1954, Page 1
  • 'Lismore breaks silence', The Sydney Morning Herald, February 23, 1954, Page 3


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