Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disasters - 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Week 10

Week 10: Disasters. Did you experience any natural disasters in your lifetime? Tell us about them. If not, then discuss these events that happened to parents, grandparents or others in your family.

I am a little late with my contribution to last week's blogging prompt. With the many disasters we have seen this year: floods, fires, cyclones, earthquakes and now tsunamis, my contribution to this subject seems even more insignificant. My thoughts and prayers are with all in Japan right now, as well as those in other areas of the world who have recently suffered natural disasters. My immediate family and I have not been directly affected by any major natural disasters, for which I am very thankful. Again, my prayers are with those who have suffered recently and in the past. The following are my experiences of natural disasters.

Coming from a farming family, I have been affected by drought. Thankfully my family have not ever actually run out of water. We did get very short of water in our farm dam at one stage and had to construct a pipeline from an irrigation channel several kilometres away. Local histories mention that before the irrigation channels were in place (pre-1910s/1920s) the early European settlers had to travel to the nearest river by horse and cart to bring back water. Settlers also dug wells. During droughts in my lifetime we have had to hand feed sheep with grain. As I mentioned in a previous post the natural environment where I live was also very badly affected by the most recent drought. Red Gum trees that were hundreds of years old died. 

I live on the 'rise' between two rivers (which is a strange thing to say if you knew how flat the plains country is where I live!) so we fortunately have not been affected by riverine floods. Local flooding has occurred though and at one point (only a few days) during the floods of 1993 all the roads around our farm were cut off by water. However, we could get out with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. During the recent floods in Victoria people and property were affected both to the east and west of where I live. To the east of where I live, the main church in the Catholic parish I attend only narrowly managed to escape damage, but the adjacent Catholic school and nearby houses were damaged by flood waters. Eighty per cent of the town was flooded and people were evacuated for several days. Similarly, serious flooding occurred not very far to the west of where I live. Some farmers lost hundreds of sheep, another business lost thousands of chickens. Some roads were literally washed away. I did not see the flood waters while they were there, but I have seen some of the aftermath and been shown where the water level came to. My thoughts and prayers are with all who are still suffering as a result of this natural disaster. 

This photograph I recently took shows an ancient lake that has appeared across a road in an area north-west of where I live. Not sure what the sheep were doing on the road!
Again, I am very thankful that I and my immediate family have not been directly affected by bush fires. I was born since the Ash Wednesday bushfires (16 February 1983) so I have no memory of them. I have very clear memories of the heatwave that led up to Black Saturday (7 February 2009). On that day I was babysitting for my sister who had gone away for a weekend holiday to Lakes EntranceThe weather conditions that day were absolutely awful, a howling and seering hot north wind and extreme record breaking temperatures. I am afraid to say that I had the curtains closed and the air conditioner on and I wasn't listening to the radio. This was a foolish mistake and one I will not make again (for more information see the Country Fire Authority (CFA) Bushfire Survival information). I remember at one stage touching the window and feeling how hot the glass was. Thus I spent the day inside, completely unaware of what was happening across the state. Until 10:00 pm. Then I smelled smoke. I looked outside to see if I could see the fire. I couldn't, so I turned on the radio to find out where the smoke was coming from. By that stage the wind was coming from the south west. The announcer was reading out warnings for many places, nothing seemed to refer to places close by so I realised the smoke had obviously travelled some distance. The size of the disaster became apparent after listening to the radio for a short time. It was when the announcer mentioned a warning for 'residents of ---- lane' that I became extremely worried as that was where a close relative lived. So I prayed. The next day we found out that, by the time we heard that warning on the radio for 'residents of --- lane' the danger had already passed for them. The fire was headed towards their house until the wind changed to be from the south-west! The news for others was not good. The damage caused in different areas across the state was unbelievable and 173 people died. My sister had to come home from Lakes Entrance by a different road because the areas she had travelled through on the Friday (6 February 2009) were among those worst affected by the one of the biggest fires on Black Saturday.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.
Copyright © 2011 Australian Genealogy Journeys.

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