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History Australia Damming the 'Flood Evil' on the Brisbane River


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When early in 1893 two severe floods devastated Brisbane, Australia, its citizens demanded flood prevention. This article explores the responses to these floods as engineers sought measures to control the river with technology. I argue that local factors of drought, economics and politics delayed a decision for 40 years. It was not until the 1930s Depression, when the State sought unemployment relief projects and the expanding urban settlement demanded water supply that the benefits finally outweighed the cost of dam construction. In 1935 the government finally sanctioned building Somerset Dam, the first Australian dam to combine water supply and flood mitigation. This article has been peer reviewed.
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Damming the ‘Flood Evil’ on the Brisbane River
Margaret Cook
To cite this article: Margaret Cook (2016) Damming the ‘Flood Evil’ on the Brisbane River, History
Australia, 13:4, 540-556
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Damming the Flood Evilon the Brisbane River
Margaret Cook
University of Queensland, Australia
When early in 1893 two severe floods devastated Brisbane,
Australia, its citizens demanded flood prevention. This article
explores the responses to these floods as engineers sought meas-
ures to control the river with technology. I argue that local factors
of drought, economics and politics delayed a decision for 40
years. It was not until the 1930s Depression, when the State
sought unemployment relief projects and the expanding urban
settlement demanded water supply that the benefits finally out-
weighed the cost of dam construction. In 1935 the government
finally sanctioned building Somerset Dam, the first Australian dam
to combine water supply and flood mitigation.
This article has been peer reviewed.
Floods; mitigation; Brisbane
River; dam
From Caboonbah, his home near the headwaters of the Stanley River, the grazier Henry
Plantagenet Somerset sent a telegraph to the post office in Brisbane on 3 February
1893: Prepare at once for flood. River within 1 ft of highest flood mark known, and still
Before the end of the month, Brisbane had been inundated by two of the larg-
est recorded floods in the citys history (8.35 and 8.09 m, respectively) causing severe
damage and 35 deaths.
No other Australian colonial capital had ever experienced any-
thing like it. Floods have been a common enough feature of life in Brisbane, with major
events in 1841, 1844, 1890, 1898, 1974 and 2011. But, the multiple floods in 1893 have
remained a benchmark in flood mitigation policy in Queensland ever since. The deci-
sions to build training walls, and dredge, truncate and ultimately dam the river to miti-
gate flooding, first mooted in 1893 and reassessed and implemented over the following
40 years, permanently altered the Brisbane River and have shaped Queenslands atti-
tudes and policies towards flood mitigation to the present day.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1893 disaster, the public demanded the
Queensland colonial government prevent further floods which were perceived as an
evil, calamitous catastrophe.
It was widely believed at this time that engineering
CONTACT Margaret Cook
Brisbane Courier (BC), 3 February 1893, 5.
Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, Main Report (Brisbane: Seqwater, 2013), 36.
BC, 15 February 1893, 4; 28 February 1893, 6; 3 April 1893, 7; 10 April 1893, 6.
ß2016 Australian Historical Association
VOL. 13, NO. 4, 540556
could harness nature, control the river and ensure environmental security.
The flood
mitigation strategies suggested after the 1893 Brisbane floods reflected this attitude as
administrators drew on technology in an effort to control the river, rather than seek-
ing to regulate human interaction with the floodplain. The historical geographer
Joseph Powell maintains that the strategy of mitigating floods by taming the river
with engineering works was upheld by bureaucrats in Queensland as late as the deci-
sion in the 1970s to build Wivenhoe Dam.
I argue in this article, however, that
Brisbanes flood mitigation policy was more complex than a simple reliance on tech-
nology to control the river and an actuarial assessment of construction costs and
A number of local factors delayed construction of mitigation schemes for deca-
des, namely economic considerations, urban settlement, the climatic cycle of drought
and flood, and colonial/state versus local politics and priorities. After the 1893 floods,
Treasury faced problems such as an economic depression and a banking crisis that
seemed far more pressing than devising measures to mitigate future flooding. In
Brisbane, moreover, drought was a more frequent and lengthy visitor than flood, and
providing the city with a reliable water supply was considered more vital than flood
mitigation. As the city experienced a long, dry spell between 1899 and 1927, floods
diminished in the public memory, replaced by concern about inadequate water supply
and local administrative incompetency. The 1928 floods, however, saw dam discussion
back in vogue and when measures to deal with flood mitigation could be considered
in conjunction with water supply storage, dams won greater popular and political
support. But, not until the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s did dam build-
ing have the added attraction of creating employment. Somerset Dam, a dual water
supply and flood mitigation scheme on the Stanley River, would provide environmen-
tal security against drought and flood, protect Brisbanes expanding metropolis and
provide much-needed unemployment relief. After four decades of consultation, the
Brisbane River was dammed on the Stanley River, just upstream from the junction
with the Brisbane River, with construction commencing in 1935.
This article focuses on the 1893 floods and the policy response as revealed through
four major flood mitigation reports undertaken by prominent engineers: John Baillie
Henderson (1896), John Pennycuick (1899), Alan Gordon Gutteridge (1928) and
members of the Special Committee of the Bureau of Industry (1934).
Each report
built on the work of its predecessors and shows growing hydrological and engineering
knowledge as each recommended increasingly bold flood mitigation strategies.
Newspaper reports and government documents disclose governmental and public atti-
tudes towards flood mitigation and the environment, and demonstrate how econom-
ics, drought and state and local politics delayed the implementation of report
Mark Everard, The Hydro-Politics of Dams (London: Zed Books, 2013), 155; Emily OGorman, Flood Country: An
Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin (Collingwood: CSIRO Publishing, 2012), 125.
Joseph Powell, Plains of Promise, Rivers of Destiny: Water Management and the Development of Queensland
18241990 (Brisbane: Boolarong, 1991), 294.
Gilbert Fowler White, Human Adjustment to Floods(PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 1942), 4.
John Baillie Henderson, Floods in Brisbane River, and Schemes for Abatement of their Disastrous Effects, June 1896,
Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol. 4 (1897); John Pennycuick, Report on Scheme for the Abatement of Floods in
the Brisbane River (1899); Gordon Gutteridge, Commission of Enquiry: Brisbane Water Supply Report,Queensland
Votes and Proceedings, vol. 4 (1928); The Bureau of Industry, Report on Recommendations. By the Special Committee
appointed to investigate and report upon Brisbane Water Supply and Flood Prevention (David Whyte: Government
Printer, Brisbane, 1934).
recommendations. Each report considered flood mitigation strategies to alter and
shape the Brisbane River such as dredging, cutting, widening and damming, all of
which were accepted engineering solutions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries to control or harness nature. To this extent, the story in Brisbane is part of
a transnational hydrological history. I argue, however, that an analysis of Brisbane
flooding reveals a unique local variation to internationally accepted flood mitigation
strategies climate. In Brisbane the sub-tropical cycle of drought and floods, com-
bined with a justified fear of water shortages, exercised a powerful influence over the
decision to build an Australian technological first’–a dual-purpose flood mitigation
and water supply dam. This study of a single urban centre suggests the overwhelming
significance of local factors in shaping the process by which policies were developed
and implemented to grapple with the problem of flooding.
A river capital
Brisbane is a port city, built on the lower reaches of the meandering Brisbane River
in south-east Queensland, Australia (Figure 1). The Brisbane River is 309 km long,
its source near Mount Stanley and its mouth at Moreton Bay, and it flows through
a number of small townships before reaching the major metropolitan areas of
Ipswich and Brisbane. Brisbane has a sub-tropical climate in a dry continent, with
an average annual rainfall of 942 mm in its catchment of 13,560 km
The climate
is significantly influenced by the El Ni~
no-Southern Oscillation, which is associated
with long periods of dry weather bringing droughts (up to a decade long) and
intense rainfall during the La Ni~
na phase. Typically, major floods occur in summer
when cyclones or large tropical depressions bring heavy rain over the upper catch-
ment of the Brisbane River and its tributaries (primarily the Bremer and Stanley
Rivers and Lockyer Creek). In most cases, two days after the headwaters are in
flood, Brisbane is inundated.
Aborigines from the Yugarabul language group knew of the cycle of drought and
flooding in the Brisbane River or mairwarand accepted it as part of the life cycle.
In 1890 the Upper Brisbane River Cooyar people told the legend of the flood on
Magenjie or Big River.
Although shared with settlers such as the McConnel family
of Cressbrook in 1842, the newcomers gave this Aboriginal knowledge little credence.
Augustus Charles Gregory, surveyor-general in 1893, dismissed Indigenous under-
standings of these matters as the unreliable indistinct aboriginal traditions of a
Many early European visitors, including the botanist Joseph Banks on board
the Endeavour (1770) and later explorers inland such as John Oxley and Alan
Cunningham (1824), had recorded evidence of floods. But this did not deter the
British from setting up a penal colony right on the river, providing a port, water
Errol Stock, The Physical Environment of the Brisbane River: An Overviewin The Brisbane River: A Source Book for
the Future, ed. Peter Davie, Errol Stock and Darryl Low Choy (Brisbane: The Australian Littoral Society, 1990), 3.
Helen Gregory, Brisbane River Story: Meanders through Time (Brisbane: Australian Marine Conservation Society, 1996),
A. Meston, The Queenslander, 29 March 1890, 600; BC, 21 March 1890, 6.
C. Coxen, Notes on Floods in the Brisbane River. Read before the Royal Society of Queensland, 21 August, (1893).
Brisbane City Council Archives, BAC File 1577; A.C. Gregory, The Brisbane River Floods of 1893,Proceedings of
Queensland Branch of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol VIII (189293), 34.
542 M. COOK
supply, energy, effluent disposal and effectively, a jail wall.
As the Brisbane Courier
remarked in 1893, the convict settlement had been located with sublime disregard of
fluvial footprints, creating a permanent environmental risk.
With free settlement
after 1842, riverside land provided wharf and industrial sites and nearby low-lying,
cheap residential land for the working classes. Successive colonial governments subdi-
vided and sold river bank reaches, all inevitably subject to flooding.
The first major flood recorded by Europeans occurred in 1841, with heights at the
Post Office gauge reaching 8.43 m. A flood of 7.03 m occurred in 1844 and another
reached 5.33 m in 1890.
But by the 1890s, 1844 was a generation ago, prompting
Figure 1. Map of Brisbane River Catchment showing rivers, Somerset Dam, Wivenhoe Dam,
Fernvale, Ipswich, Brisbane and Crohamhurst. Drafted by Nick Cook.
John Steele, The Brisbane River (Adelaide: Rigby, 1976), 13; Gregory, Brisbane River Story, 21.
BC, 2 March 1893, 4.
Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, 36.
the Brisbane Courier to declare the 1890 flood unparalleled in the history of the
Citizens mistakenly believed such a catastrophic event would never be
repeated. At worst, popular mythology maintained, another flood would never be
higher. In 1893 local knowledge of the 1890 flood proved a liability because as flood-
waters rose, people and possessions moved to the supposed safety of the 1890 flood
mark, erroneously presuming this was the maximum flood height possible.
With the Indigenous and early European flood knowledge discredited or ignored,
the floodplain was not treated as part of the river system and urban development pro-
ceeded unfettered. Gilbert White, the American geographer, in his pioneering thesis
in 1942, fundamentally altered the understanding of floods by declaring that while
floods were acts of God,flood losses are largely acts of man.
The current litera-
ture recognises that these supposed naturalflood disasters are actually the result of
human interaction with the environment.
As the Brisbane economist and engineer
Trevor Grigg reiterated in 2010: flood hazard is manmade, an inevitable consequence
of building on a floodplain.
This dynamic has been identified by the environmental
historian Uwe L
ubken; that while rivers offer cities opportunities, they also create a
hazard which increases with urbanisation.
Accordingly, the flood risk grew with
Brisbanes growth. As a member of the United States Geographical Survey informed
Queenslands Royal Geographical Society in 1900:
There is one prominent fact which must not be overlooked namely, that rivers of the
character of the Brisbane must be allowed to retain a large territory in their own
possession over or through which to discharge the waters of unusual floods. If man
encroaches on these domains, he must take the consequences, from which no ordinary
exertions can save him.
The 1893 floods had demonstrated the wisdom of this advice just seven years
1893: Not one flood but three
On board the Bunninyong on 2 February 1893, the meteorologist Clement Wragge
reported a terrible hurricane with heavy rain. Meanwhile, at his Crohamhurst home
just under 100 km northwest of Brisbane, another meteorologist Inigo Jones recorded
an Australian record for one days rainfall of 907 mm on 3 February.
Extreme rain
BC, 12 March 1890, 5.
Queensland Times (QT), 9 February 1893, 6.
White, Human Adjustment,2.
John Handmer and Stephen Dovers, Handbook of Disaster and Emergency Policies and Institutions (London:
Earthscan, 2007), 11.
Trevor Grigg, Managing Floods and Flood Risk: Lessons Learned and Not Learned The Brisbane River Experience,
Presentation to Hydrology: Managing Water in Queensland Seminar, Queensland Branch of the Australian Water
Association, Brisbane, 13 April 2011.
Uwe L
ubken, Rivers and Risk in the City: The Urban Floodplain as a Contested Spacein Urban Rivers: Remaking
Rivers, Cities, and Space in Europe and North America, ed. St
ephane Castonguay and Matthew Evenden (Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 130.
Letter from J.W. Powell, Director-General, US Geological Survey to J.P. Thomson reproduced in A.C. Gregory,
Mitigation of Floods in the Brisbane River,Queensland Branch Royal Geographical Society, Vol XV (18991900), 53.
BC, 3 February 1893, 5; 4 February 1893, 5; Review of the Yearin Pughs Almanac, 1894, 75. Crohamhurst rainfall
station (40062) recorded 273.8 mm on 1 February, 509.5 mm on 2 February and 907.0mm on 3 February, accessed
14 May 2015,
544 M. COOK
fell in the Stanley River catchment producing a flood of unprecedented height in a
remarkably short space of time.
Residents in Fernvale ominously reported that the
river is rising fast, and a big flood is anticipated.
On 3 February a heavy flood was
imminent and as the rain persisted, the Brisbane Courier declaring that a few hours
will bring these waters past our doors.
In the Upper Brisbane River, water exceeded
1890 flood levels. The raging torrent, full of debris, almost entirely destroyedfarms
in its path, washing away more than 50 houses.
Heroic stories abound. Captain
Vernor, his wife and six children clung to trees for 24 hours after capsizing in the
But, Constable Sangster drowned trying to rescue the Jackson family whose
four children also drowned.
On 3 February the floodwaters reached Ipswich, 40 km from Brisbane, submerging
the Bremer Bridge and a key section of the railway line, isolating north and south
Ipswich, and cutting the telegraph line. Mount Crosby pumping station and the gas-
works were inundated, leaving Ipswich without water or gas.
Queenslands main
railway workshops were also submerged and all coal mines, except Swanbank
Colliery, suffered considerable damage, the worst at John Wrights Tivoli Mine where
seven men were drowned and entombed (including John Wrights own adult sons
Tom and George), leaving between them 27 fatherless children.
Houses were
twisted into every imaginable position, some swept away and landing on others.
the waters slowly receded from the most disastrous inundation ever known, the
Queensland Times ruefully declared a large portion of Ipswich is uninhabitable aye,
in ruins.
Downstream from Ipswich on 4 February, Brisbane crowds lined the high river
bank to witness the imposing and fearsome sightof water rushing at eight to 10
miles an hour, carrying with it scores of houses, furniture, and household articles in
endless variety.
The peak flood reached Brisbane the next day, a flood altogether
without parallel since the settlement of the Brisbane District, declared the Brisbane
The Indooroopilly Bridge could not withstand the force. At 5.45 on the
morning of 5 February, there was a great crash and a roar like thunder, and one of
the 80 foot spans of the bridge canted over downstream and then disappeared under
the seething flood.
There were fears for the Victoria Bridge which connected North
and South Brisbane; although its girders rose 13 m above the tidal water, [t]he crash
of houses driven against the Victoria Bridge and torn to pieces could be heard above
J.B. Henderson, Annual Report of the Hydraulic Engineer, Appendix 6. Floods, Brisbane and Mary Rivers Second
Interim Report, 1894,Queensland Votes and Proceedings, vol. 3 (1895), 15.
QT, 2 February 1893, 2.
Ibid., 5.
QT, 16 February 1893, 5; Barrier Miner, 15 February 1893, 4.
Queenslander, 18 February 1893, 323.
QT, 7 February 1893, 3.
Ibid., 4 February 1893, 4; 9 February 1893, 3.
BC, 8 February 1893, 5; QT, 7 February 1893; Magisterial Enquiry into the cause of death of Thomas Wright, George
Wright, Patrick McQuade, John McQuade, Matthew Cuthbertson, Andrew Smart and Charles Walker, Ipswich, 27 May
1893. QSA ID 248808. Number 312.
QT, 7 February, 3; 9 February 1893, 3.
Ibid., 7 February, 6; 9 February 1893, 6.
BC, 6 February 1893, 2; Pughs Almanac, 1894, 75.
BC, 6 February 1893, 2.
the roar of the water.
Still, the bridge held on valiantly but at 4 am on 6 February
the northern end yielded to the immense pressure of the waterand the wrecked por-
tion went down the river.
With the bridge a wreck, South Brisbane was isolated. In
that part of the city, 198 buildings were destroyed and in West End, 30 houses, over
half of the residential stock, were completely washed away.
Across the river in
Brisbanes central business district about two-thirds of the buildings were submerged,
with waters up 4.9 m deep.
The gunboat Paluma, hulk Mary Evans and steamer SS
Elamang were aground in the Botanic Gardens. As the clean-up continued, a corres-
pondent in the Bremer catchment ominously reported on 9 February there is every
appearance of more rain.
Indeed, heavy rains on 11 February brought a second
flood to Brisbane the following day, but it was small compared with the first.
Not so the third: yet more heavy rain in the Brisbane River catchment between 16
and 19 February brought yet another flood, the peak arriving at noon on 19 February
and reaching just 0.2 m below the first. While less rain fell, the saturated land and
swollen creeks and rivers could absorb little extra water.
Theophills Pugh, a journal-
ist, noted that the effects were very similarto the first calamity, only there were no
bridges to carry away, and few houses, those within reach of flood influences having
already succumbed.
Many people had not yet returned to their homes or busi-
nesses, which thereby minimised the loss of life and possessions. But in other cases,
weakened buildings succumbed to the third inundation.
Brisbane endured total darknessfor two nights, with neither gas nor electric
Businesses were destroyed, houses devastated and lives lost. The river ignored
class distinction, with newspapers reporting that cottage, bungalow, and mansion
vanished equally under the floodwaters.
The topography of the river meant houses
were flooded some distance from the river itself, leaving inundated both grand man-
sions on the hills, and the workers dwellings below. At Kangaroo Point comfortable
villas, cottages and foundries were flooded, with landmark elite houses and farms in
Long Pocket reduced to empty sites. In the fashionable suburbof Toowong, water
inundated Sidney House, the residence of the wealthy merchant, Thomas Finney, and
the flooding reached the upper floor of the architect Richard Gaileys home.
were all that remained of the fine villas in West End, the ruined properties later being
acquired by the government and converted to Orleigh Park.
Perhaps the only fortu-
nate event occurred on 20 February when the floodwaters conveniently carried away
the stranded ships Paluma and Elamang from the Botanic Gardens. From the head-
waters to Moreton Bay, the swollen Brisbane River caused massive destruction,
Ibid.; Pughs Almanac, 1894, 75; BC, 6 February 1893, 2.
BC, 6 February 189, 2, 4.
Queenslander, 25 February 1893, 372; BC, 8 February 1893, 3.
Ibid., 2.
QT, 9 February 1893, 5.
Co-ordinator Generals Department memo, 4 February 1959, Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, 36. Brisbane
City Council Archives, BAC 1577.
Pughs Almanac, 1894, 76.
Queenslander, 4 March 1893, 421.
Launceston Examiner, 21 February 1893, 6.
Maryborough Chronicle, 10 February 1893, 3.
Telegraph, 7 February 1893, 2.
Ibid., 9 February 1893, 2.
546 M. COOK
leaving the survivors with a determination that flooding on such a scale should never
happen in their city again.
The public demands action
As the flood waters receded, citizens had time to reflect on nature and the manner in
which they occupied the floodplain but instead, they called on the government to pre-
vent future flooding, even while continuing to regard such disasters as acts of God.
As a Queensland Times correspondent wrote, the rain came pouring down as though
the flood-gates of heaven had opened.
Others went so far as to suggest that the
floods were divine punishment for withdrawing government funding to churches and
religious education from state schools, calling for a Day of Humiliationto repent
and appease the Creator.
If not regarded as having been sent by God, the floods
were certainly viewed as an extreme act of nature. Astonished witnesses described the
floodwaters as something to look on with admiration and wonder, as a sample of the
wonderful forces of nature.
The Brisbane Courier declared the floods fascinated
and inspired the onlooker as do all the mighty outbreaks of natures forces.
Brisbane, at that time, thought of itself as a Christian society. According to the his-
torian Donald Worster, for Christians the world was understood as a place where
humans had authority over all things. Unlike pagan traditions, Christianity denied
non-human entities a soul or spirit. This effectively separated humans from the envir-
onment and offered a mechanistic picture of nature.
The secular Darwinian belief,
of more recent origin, also conferred human superiority. As the environmental scien-
tist Mark Everard has argued, in the prevailing Victorian paradigm, humanity saw
itself apart from nature.
Civilised manhad to tame the natural world, harness and
control it in the pursuit of progress. In this grand struggle, hydraulic engineers
offered a technocratic model of progress,whereby engineering solutions would con-
trol the river and ensure environmental security.
Large engineering projects became
symbols of human domination over nature, with dams the largest and most visible
manifestation of this power.
As Michael Cathcart has argued, civil engineering was
seen to bring progress, order and civilisation.
The response to Brisbanes 1893 floods
faithfully reflects this paradigm. Brisbane, it was believed, could be flood-proofed by
controlling, or at least modifying, nature through technical ingenuity.
In nineteenth-century Queensland, flooding was understood as a problem of water
The solution of major works required a hydraulic engineer, not least to
QT, 7 March 1893, 5.
Telegraph, 22 February 1893, 4; BC, 22 February 1893, 7.
Telegraph, 8 February 1893, 2.
BC, 8 February 1893, 2.
Donald Worster, Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 29.
Everard, Hydro-Politics, 155.
Ibid.; OGorman, Flood Country, 125.
Everard, Hydro-Politics, 13; David Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern
Germany (New York: WW Norton and Company, 2006), 191. OGorman, Flood Country, 99; Powell, Plains, 88.
Michael Cathcart, The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent (Melbourne: Text Publishing,
2009), 177, 199-200.
John Handmer and Stephen Dovers, Handbook of Disaster and Emergency Policies and Institutions, 85; Caroline
Wenger, Karen Hussey and Jamie Pittock, Living with Floods: Key Lessons from Australia and Abroad, (Gold Coast:
National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, 2013), vii.
address the public demand for action. The Queensland government commissioned
John Baillie Henderson, its own hydraulic engineer, to investigate the causes and
extent of the floods, as well as to consider measures that might be taken for control-
ling floods or for mitigating their serious effects.
Henderson had wide Victorian
and Queensland hydraulic experience and an impressive knowledge of international
water engineering; after 1881 he dominated the development of water policy in
Queensland for well over three decades.
Henderson produced two interim reports and a final report in 1896. These formed
the basis of all further investigations on Brisbane flood mitigation and therefore merit
detailed discussion. He wrote his first interim report, with the loaded title, Floods,
and the Mitigation of their Evil Effects, at a time when economic realities made expen-
sive engineering solutions impossible. Since 1890 the Queensland economy, rather
like that of most other parts of Australia, had been in a downward spiral with grow-
ing unemployment and widespread business failure. The 1890s depression, greatly
exacerbated by the floods, culminated in May 1893 with the closure of eight of
Queenslands 11 banks. Consequently, Henderson recommended a cheap system of
stream gauges and raising telegraph lines to provide timely flood warnings, as used in
This recommendation recognised that the analysis and construction of any
engineering works would take both many years and considerable funding, and also
reflected Hendersons personal belief in attaining more hydrological knowledge to
manage water resources effectively.
Hendersons second interim report concluded
that there were no favourable sites for a dam.
The public wanted authoritative action, however, and not just a flood-warning
The Chamber of Commerce dismissed raising telegraph lines, erecting flood
gauges and talk of moving residents to higher ground or prohibiting the sale of
flooded land for residential purposes as palliatives.
G.R. Fife, vice-president of the
Chamber of Commerce, accused the government of criminal neglect through its
indifference, calling on it to employ a hydraulic engineer of large experienceto
come to Queensland to find flood mitigation solutions.
Perhaps reflecting the
demand for more definitive action, or perhaps the modest improvement in the econ-
omy by 1896, Hendersons final report Floods in the Brisbane River and Schemes for
Abatement of their Disastrous Effects went further than his earlier recommendations
in now raising engineering strategies as a means to prevent or to mitigate the evil
effects of floods.
John Baillie Henderson, Floods, Brisbane and Mary Rivers, Annual Report of the Hydraulic Engineers,Queensland
Parliamentary Papers (1895), 15.
Powell, Plains, 49; Raymond Whitmore, Hydraulic Henderson: Water Resources Pioneer (Brisbane: Engineers Australia,
2009), 139.
Henderson, Floods, Brisbane and Mary Rivers, 15; Floods, and the Mitigation of their evil effects, Annual Report of
the Hydraulic Engineers,Queensland Parliamentary Papers (1895), 5.
Powell, Plains, 90.
Ibid., 90.
BC, 10 January 1894, 4.
Ibid., 5 February 1895, 3.
Henderson, Floods in the Brisbane River, and Schemes for Abatement of their Disastrous Effects,Queensland
Parliamentary Papers, (1896), 5.
548 M. COOK
Henderson stressed the devastating nature of the disaster of 1893, estimating that
127,017 acres (51,400 ha) had been submerged and damages of £1 million resulted,
although there were others who considered the damage more like double that
Nonetheless, he shared the community view that in view of the wide-
spread distress and loss consequent on floods, means to diminish, if not altogether
prevent, their ruinous effects in futurewere advisable. Although Henderson consid-
ered these floods without parallel in the history of Queensland, he knew they could
reoccur at any time, which made some comprehensive scheme of protectiondesir-
Engineering, he now suggested, would provide this protection.
In the nineteenth century, flood protection could be provided by shaping or con-
trolling the river through various engineering means such as canals, dredging, levees,
cuttings and dams. All such strategies were considered in Hendersons final report.
For instance, he addressed the popular ideaof constructing a canal to divert the
floodwaters to the sea, although only to demonstrate its impracticality. The report
included drawings of two possible canals both requiring extensive excavation, land
reclamation, construction of road and railway bridges, and Henderson estimated that
the canals would cost £9,523,194 or £7,138,000 respectively. This fact alone made
such an expedient, he believed, out of the question. Similarly, Henderson dismissed
popular suggestions of a canal above Woodford as equally improbable, for it simply
transferred many of the evilsto the country between the DAguilar Range and the
sea. Diversion canals would provide minimal mitigation in a limited area and simply
transfer flood waters from one basin to another at a prohibitive cost. Henderson had
no hesitation in advising that their further consideration be abandoned. He also
rejected levee banks as they raised the height of the flood waters and as the river
channel bed increased, so did the embankment height. These were highly dangerous
as they lulled people into a false sense of security, were expensive to build and main-
tain, and accordingly were no longer in vogue with engineers.
Henderson maintained his original position on the building of a dam, thinking it
extremely doubtfulthat a suitable reservoir site could be found but even if it could,
enormously massiveworks would be needed to store his estimated 978,400 mega-
Based on his knowledge of dams in North America, Britain and France,
Henderson believed size of the required fixed spillway dam (and associated works and
maintenance costs) for water storage would be prohibitively expensive and the idea
ought to be abandoned. Almost as an afterthought, he suggested that a series of
smaller, cheaper rubble-filled weirs might achieve the desired flood mitigation, but
according to hydrologist Geoffrey Cossins, writing some decades later, this was in
reality a more expensive and less effective solution.
Altering the river, according to Henderson, provided the most cost-effective means
of flood mitigation, and he advanced three possible schemes (A, B and C) for widen-
ing, deepening and regulating the river. Scheme A proposed truncating corners at
Ibid., 6.
Ibid., 1.
Ibid., 8.
Ibid., 7.
Geoffrey Cossins, Early Hydrology of the Brisbane Area,Engineering Update, Institution of Engineers, Australia,
Queensland Division 5, no. 1 (April 1997): 22.
Gardens Point, Kangaroo Point, Norris Point and Bulimba Point to form a wider
channel from Victoria Point to the sea, at a cost of £2,698,684. This scheme would
reduce flood heights, discharge water rapidly, improve navigation for large commer-
cial vessels and provide acres of valuable reclaimed land to offset the overall cost.
Scheme B adopted the same plan for deepening and widening as Scheme A, but
added a river short cutthrough Kangaroo Point and another through New Farm,
reducing the flood level in Brisbane by two feet more than Scheme A. Scheme B was
estimated at £3,374,891. Scheme C proposed building part of Scheme A with the
remainder to be finished at a later stage. This scheme would cost £2,047,360.
Henderson recommended Scheme B.
Realising that these major engineering schemes could take a decade to implement,
Henderson added a single paragraph towards the end of his 13 page report; it pro-
vided the only non-engineering solution to the issue of flood management. He
stronglyadvised that
steps be immediately taken to prevent the erection, on low-lying flooded lands along the
river banks below the city, of buildings of every kind, and also of all other structures
that would retard the flow of flood waters.
This paragraph, however, drew little attention in the ensuing debate about
Hendersons report, with attention firmly fixed on engineering solutions and their
considered degree of efficacy for flood mitigation. Yet, as the schemes were assessed,
Hendersons recommendations were left in abeyance, just as he had anticipated when
he wrote in his report that throughout the world, scheme after scheme has been pro-
posed by able engineers for averting the disastrous effects of floods, but often nothing
has been done, and matters remain as before, possibly because of the great cost such
works involve.
Although the 1893 floods had caused devastation, funding flood mitigation found
little political support. Within one month of the disaster, Sir Samuel Griffith had
resigned as head of the Griffith-McIlwraith government. Yet despite debris still being
strewn over a slowly recovering capital, in the lead-up to the April 1893 election
floods barely rated a mention in the campaign, which was fought on the economy,
imported labour and railways.
Brisbane politicians such as Sir Charles Lilley and
Charles Midson advocated rebuilding the Victoria Bridge, with the latter supporting
flood control, but these policies were dismissed beyond the metropolis in a time of
economic turmoil as fiscally irresponsible and Brisbane-centric.
After all,
Maryborough, Gympie, Bundaberg and Ipswich had also suffered flooding and
Brisbanes floods were a local, not colony-wide, concern. Unsurprisingly, flood mitiga-
tion did not appear on the agenda of the new premier, Sir Thomas McIlwraith.
Yet while flood mitigation could be ignored, port improvements could not. The
economy demanded a navigable river and the portmaster, Captain Almond, and the
assistant engineer and nautical surveyor, E.A. Cullen, were adamant that the Brisbane
Ibid., 13.
Henderson, Floods,2.
Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 7 April 1893, 2.
Darling Downs Gazette, 10 April 1893, 2.
Morning Bulletin, 7 April 1893, 5; QT, 8 April, 5.
550 M. COOK
River needed improvementsto increase the river depth to 20 ft at low water to allow
access for larger tonnage vessels. Their proposed improvements included dredging, a
seven-foot training wall at Hamilton, and widening the river at Gardens, Kangaroo
and Bulimba Points. In their opinion, the greatest flood relief would come from the
removal of obstructive points, and widening, straightening, and deepening the
dredged channels.
Subsequently, the treasurer, Robert Philp, instructed New Zealand
civil engineer C. Napier Bell, to review Almond and Cullens proposal. Bell supported
dredging and training walls but rejected the cutting of the Kangaroo Point and
Domain bends, being uncertain that this would have a material effect in lowering the
height of high floods.
After the Chamber of Commerce exerted political pressure,
Philp agreed to fund dredging, Hamilton training walls and truncating the points.
River points were reduced by 55 acres between 1901 and 1941.
But, it was the
potential loss of mercantile income to the southern states that was used to rationalise
these harbour and river improvements. Navigation, not flood mitigation, was the
Calling in the international expert
A 5.02 m flood in January 1898 brought flood mitigation back to the fore, albeit
Prominent citizen and political historian, Charles Bernays, criticised the lack
of response stating absolutely nothing has been done either by the people or the
Government towards preventing a recurrenceother than erecting flood gauges.
Rather than resorting to apathy and short sightedness, he advocated via the Brisbane
Chamber of Commerce, the government should hire the highest engineering authority
to find a solution.
Following a Chamber of Commerce conference in February 1898
that discussed the best method of minimising the effects of floods in Brisbane and
districts, it sent a deputation to the premier requesting that the government obtain
the highest expert opinionon reducing disastrous floods in Brisbane and improving
the port.
With limited local expertise beyond J.B. Hendersons, an overseas expert
had to be found, with the politician Thomas Welsby suggesting that India would be
one of the best places to look.
Joseph Powell has noted Brisbanes habitual reliance
on imported expertise from other Australian colonies and overseas, which was then
pitted against local knowledge.
In the late-nineteenth century, Australia looked to
British India for engineering expertise; the continent, according to Powell, was
becoming litteredwith examples of the influence of Indian water engineering.
Victoria imported Indian hydraulic expertise for Coliban and Geelong in 1871 and
BC, 11 March 1898, 5.
BC, 15 April 1898, 6.
BC, 10 March 1898, 4-5.
John Dobson, Physical/ Engineering Aspects of the Estuary (Brisbane: Davies, 1990), 203.
Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, 36.
Ibid., 7.
BC, 10 March 1898, 5.
BC, 15 February 1898, 2.
J.M. Powell, Enterprise and Dependency: Water Management in Australiain Ecology and Empire: Environmental
History of Settler Societies, ed. Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 105.
Powell, Plains, 60; See also OGorman, Floods, 70 and Heather Goodall, Fresh and Salt: Introduction,Transforming
Cultures eJournal 1, no. 2 (2006): iv.
New South Wales for Maitland in 1877.
Many British-Indian engineers were mili-
tary officers with decades of experience in irrigation, hydrology and large dam con-
struction projects. Like Queensland, India experienced monsoonal river flooding,
making imported Indian expertise relevant. Accordingly, Colonel John Pennycuicks
credentials fitted the brief admirably: as a former Royal military engineer, and
now a consultant, he had 35 years of dam building and hydrological experience in
The government commissioned Pennycuick to investigate flood mitigation in
Pennycuick presented his report, A Scheme for the Abatement of Floods in the
Brisbane River, to the treasurer in November 1899. He considered Hendersons work
as the basis of his report,
as well as various schemes, largely by amateurs, but
none, he felt, deserved serious criticism. Advancing a series of reservations about the
proposed schemes, he concurred with most of the Hendersons findings. Pennycuick
dismissed diversion canals as an enormously costly, significant impediment to naviga-
tion and natural water flow in the river. Canals would transfer the problem, relocating
water from one basin to another, and provide little flood mitigation. And, like
Henderson, he rejected levees, but also schemes to widen, deepen and regulate the
flow of the river since widening the river would bring relief at a prohibitorycost.
Here the importance of economics in weighing up the options for Brisbane is clearly
evident. Pennycuick also considered that walling would provide a remedy worse than
the disease, but he departed from Henderson in one significant respect: Pennycuick
criticised his rejection of a dam. In doing so, he drew heavily on his knowledge of
Indian rivers and dismissed Hendersons hydrological data of a maximum discharge
of 978,400 megalitres per day, calculating rather 587,040 megalitres. These revised cal-
culations of the capacity substantially reduced the imperative and cost of a large dam.
Pennycuick declared the Middle Creek site (upstream of Wivenhoe Dam, finally com-
pleted in 1984) as admirableand singularly favourable for the construction of a dam
of moderate height. He estimated that the cost of land, engineering supervision and
plant would be £1,300,000.
As Pennycuick submitted his report, drought set in, leav-
ing flood mitigation once again in remission.
Indeed, like floods themselves, the demand for flood mitigation was also episodic.
After floods, the subject gained momentum only to be abandoned in drought. In
1899 the nation-wide Federation Drought commenced and lasted until 1903. As the
Brisbane River stopped flowing in 1902, flood mitigation largely vacated the public
mind and was inevitably relegated in the governments order of priorities. As White
wrote, the flood hazard waxes and wanes in the public mind in direct relation to the
occurrence of high water.
Floods are largely invisible except during the event, and
Powell, Plains, 66. Maitland Weekly Mercury, 8 October 1898, 12; Powell, Enterprise, 105; Whitmore, Hydraulic,8.
Evening News, 28 September 1899, 5.
Pennycuick, Report on Scheme for the Abatement of Floods in the Brisbane River,1.
Geoffrey Cossins, however, has argued that Henderson and Pennycuick both misinterpreted the flood hydrology,
with a resultant a gross over- calculation of the cost of a flood mitigation dam and government rejection of the
scheme. Geoffrey Cossins, Technical Paper No. 2, 23; Geoffrey Cossins, The Overlooked Heritage of Somerset Dam: A
Story of Droughts, Floods, Disagreeable Water and Lost Chances,inEngineering Heritage Matters ed. Norman
Sheridan, Conference Papers of the Twelfth National Engineering Heritage Conference (Barton: Engineers Australia,
2003), 48.
White, Human Adjustment, 51.
552 M. COOK
can be ignored in favour of more visible needs.
And, with the exception of a small
flood in 1908, Queensland experienced a long dry period until 1927. Water supply
became the political imperative and with floods forgotten, Brisbane blindly continued
development on its floodplain, increasing the potential cost of later damage.
The royal commissioner from Melbourne
At the State level, the Ryan Labour Government (19151919) and the Theodore
Labour Government (19191925) believed in closer settlement with the provision of
water through dams and irrigation. With the passage of the Irrigation Act, 1922 and
the creation of the Commission of Irrigation, water policy focussed on agriculture.
Brisbane River floods were understood as a local issue for the metropolis itself, a
problem that along with water supply could be addressed by the Metropolitan Water
and Sewerage Board created by the State in 1909. This inept, and possibly corrupt
board, had spent £7 million in 17 years, to little avail, leaving the city without an
adequate potable water supply.
A frustrated government created a royal commission
to investigate. Again it decided to look beyond Queensland for a commissioner,
appointing eminent Melbourne engineer, Alan Gordon Gutteridge in 1927, to investi-
gate the most efficient and economical methodsof providing and conserving
Brisbanes water supply and flood prevention works.
Here, we can see confirmation
of the 1906 proposal of Henry Plantagenet Somerset to build a combined water sup-
ply and flood mitigation dam. Gutteridge reviewed the reports of Henderson,
Pennycuick, Almond and Cullen, hydrological records from major floods between
1887 and 1927, and called 58 witnesses (among them, engineers, farmers, labourers
and water supply staff). He reconsidered the hydrological information and, with more
sources to draw on from years of recordings, Gutteridge concluded that Hendersons
data were more reliable than Pennycuick assumed. His report was definitive.
Improvements in the lower Brisbane River (widening, straightening and training)
would reduce the maximum flood heights by about 4 feet (1.2 metres), but would
have no effect in the upper reaches or its tributaries. He supported construction of
both the proposed dams, Pennycuicks Middle Creek site on the Brisbane River as
well as Hendersons Little Mount Brisbane location on the Stanley River. If a dam
served the dual purpose of water supply and flood mitigation, the cost analysis further
Finding that no one scheme would permit complete control of all floodsand fully
develop the water source, Gutteridge thought both dams should be constructed, with
the Stanley River dam first. Additional storage would provide water supply and flood
mitigation. Gutteridge warned flood control measures were urgently required,as
future floods would be more severe and cause inconceivable damagewhich he esti-
mated at £15,000,000.
Urbanisation on the floodplain had increased the potential
damage. Archibald Partridge, the commissioner for irrigation in 1928, recognised this
Handmer and Dovers, Handbook of Disaster and Emergency Policies and Institutions, 104.
Powell, Plains,878.
Cossins, Overlooked Heritage,51
Gutteridge, Commission of Enquiry: Brisbane Water Supply Report, 780.
Ibid., 848, 851.
complacency as he believed 30 years without a flood higher than 15 feet (4.5 metres),
had lulled the city into a sense of false security.
He noted long exemption from
floods has led to the close settlement of many areas which are in danger not only of
submersion but of the effect of strong currents. In many cases the inhabitants are
quite unaware of the possibility of danger.
Gutteridge seemed to recognise the dan-
ger of his recommendations being overwhelmed by apathy when he declared:
I was consulted on how to protect Brisbane from flood damage. I have shown them how
it can be done, and at what cost. It is for them [the government], and the people whom
they represent, to decide whether the game is worth the candle.
Engineering a solution
The royal commission resulted in the abolition of the Metropolitan Water and
Sewerage Board, with the Brisbane City Council assuming its responsibilities. This
was unusual in the Australian context because of its large geographic boundaries
formed through the amalgamation of 19 smaller councils in 1925. It gave council a
large budget and far-reaching authority to manage Brisbanes water. Yet, despite this
advantage as well as the findings of the royal commission, inaction followed. In 1930
the councils chief engineer, W.E. Bush, prepared a report on Water Supply Extensions
and Flood Mitigation. He recommended the construction of a dam as the only rea-
sonable method of controlling floods.
Another flood in 1931 added weight to the
By 1932 the political and economic environment had significantly altered. The
world-wide Great Depression inflicted acute unemployment on Queensland.
Reminiscent of F.D. Roosevelts New Deal policies in America, the newly elected
Labor Forgan Smith government championed large public works as an economic
stimulus. A Bureau of Industry established to create projects gave high priority to
construction, electricity, sewerage and water resources.
A dam would reduce
unemployment, finally making the issue a political and economic imperative. Highly
qualified engineers were appointed to a special committee of the Bureau of Industry,
chaired by William (Bill) Nimmo, a civil engineer with experience in Queensland,
New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, who provided both local knowledge and
experience from a range of other water systems and management regimes. Once
again, the works of Henderson, Pennycuick, Gutteridge and others were re-examined.
The resultant Brisbane Water Supply and Flood Prevention report recommended
improvements to the Brisbane River including regularisingthe concave bends oppos-
ite Kangaroo Point, Gardens Point and Newstead to remove obstructions, cuts at
Kangaroo Point, New Farm and 17 Mile Rocks, and deepening the Town and South
Brisbane Reaches, which would improve navigation and provide flood mitigation. The
majority report concluded that a Middle Creek dam would give almost complete
A. Partridge, Commissioner for Irrigation, Annual Report, Queensland Parliamentary Papers (1928), 752.
Ibid., 747.
BC, 31 March 1900, 15.
W.E. Bush, Water Supply Extensions and Flood Mitigation (Brisbane: Brisbane City Council, 1930), 1415, 29.
Powell, Plains, 85; Ross Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland from 1915 to the 1980s (St Lucia: University of
Queensland Press, 1984), 169170.
554 M. COOK
protection, but rejected the scheme as too expensive.
A dam should be built at
Little Mount Brisbane, now known as Somerset Dam, the most cost effective option
to prevent all minor floods and reduce othersby removing the topof the flood.
They estimated that with urban development the equivalent of an 1893 flood would
cause £3,320,000 damage, but a dam would reduce an 1893 flood by seven feet
(2.1 m). The cost could now be justified, not least because advances in dam technol-
ogy between 1920 and 1935 enabled the construction of a large gravity dam, the first
in Australia to combine major flood mitigation and water supply.
Yet, economic and political factors were probably more critical than the techno-
logical; the depressed state of the Queensland economy permeated the decision. A
dam provided maximum employment for Queenslandand the most productive
objectfor unemployment relief expenditure, employing at least 1,500 men for four
years and reducing unemployment by about 10 per cent.
The committee only retro-
spectively estimated that Somerset Dam would have prevented £2,350,000 of the dam-
age caused by the 1893 flood. But, with seemingly complete confidence the committee
there can be no doubt that the insurance basis justifies at least the river works and the
cheaper dam. And this scheme would yield a handsome surplus in the avoidance of
damage if it prevented damage in earlier years. In the meantime, and whatever the
floods may be, the sense of security given to the community may be regarded as the
profit on the investment.
While years of investigation and consultation had done their work in providing
momentum for dam-building, it was critical that economics, unemployment relief,
water supply, drought protection and flood mitigation aligned to create the necessary
political will to build Somerset Dam.
The governments decision to build the dam was the culmination of 40 years of con-
sultation and debate that began as the 1893 flood waters receded. The public
demanded an end to evilfloods and the government looked to engineering technol-
ogy to minimise the risk associated with the development of the floodplain. Somerset
Dam could not prevent floods but it could reduce the impact, providing the Bureau
of Industrys perceived need for a sense of security. In keeping with internationally
accepted flood mitigation strategies and the prevailing ideological context, the flood
solution was inevitably structural engineering. However, local economics, politics and
the episodic interest in flood and water supply delayed definitive action for decades.
Only when a dual-purpose water supply and flood mitigation dam also satisfied the
governments unemployment relief platform could Somerset Dam became a reality.
Completed on the lower Stanley River in 1959 and tested by severe floods in 1955,
1974 and 2011, Somerset Dam environmentally transformed the Brisbane River,
The Bureau of Industry, Report on Recommendations, 20. Leonard Morrisminority report recommended Middle
Creek Dam.
Cossins, Overlooked Heritage,556.
The Bureau of Industry, Report on Recommendations,6.
Ibid., 20.
fundamentally altering flooding patterns by removing minor floods and reducing the
height of the flood peak in major events.
Along with Wivenhoe Dam, Somerset
Dam continues to be a major component in Queenslands water management. In
2011, a 4.46 m flood struck Brisbane, causing death and devastation. Incredulous citi-
zens demanded an inquiry on why the dams had failed to save the city. This response
revealed how cultural values expressed after the 1893 floods still permeated Brisbanes
understanding of floods and the environment. Risk assessments, politics, economics
and engineering and the cycle of flood and drought continue to shape Queenslands
water policy in the ongoing battle to control the river.
My thanks to Peter Spearritt, Melissa Harper, Jodi Frawley, Emily OGorman, Geoffrey
Cossins, the anonymous reviewers and editors for discussion and comments on earlier drafts
which greatly improved this article.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
About the author
Margaret Cook is a consultant historian and PhD candidate at the University of Queensland
studying the history of floods in the Brisbane River.
Geoffrey Cossins, Flood Mitigation in the Brisbane River,Proceedings of Symposium January 1974 Flood Moreton
Region (Brisbane: The Institution of Engineers, 1974), 160.
556 M. COOK
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... As a result, the Brisbane region has long been preoccupied with disaster risk management and in recent years, has also been a focus of extensive research in the field of climate change adaptation policy and practice (Burton, 2014;Tangney, 2017). Since 1841 there have been at least seven extreme flooding events involving destruction of property and/or loss of life, with the events of 1893, 1974 and 2011 most notable in this regard (Cook, 2016). (QFCI, 2012, 49). ...
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This paper presents a comparative analysis of catchment management dams in Cork, Ireland and Brisbane, Australia to demonstrate how interactions between municipal government and expert advisors for public infrastructure administration can constrain community climate adaptation. The analysis highlights how neoliberal economic rationalism can appropriate public value choice under the guise of technocratic expertise. Experts are often considered responsible agents for the effective administration of public infrastructure, even when ostensibly technical decisions concerning infrastructure management seem to demand normative, political input. Technocratic administration arising from economic rationalist priorities can thereby exacerbate the hazards presented by climate variability and advancing climate change. Climate risk managers in both cases over‐relied on operating protocols and the expertise of engineers to administer public infrastructure in pursuit of economic priorities. When operating protocols proved insufficient in the face of climate extremes, however, blame was assigned to experts despite their making all available attempts to avert disaster. Through analysis of these cases, the paper discusses the need for normative transparency in expert‐led public administration and better integration of multi‐level governance for climate resilience when pursuing economic rationalist imperatives.
... Through the latter half of the twentieth century, the State Government's flood mitigation strategy depended on the construction of dams. Somerset Dam (on the Stanley River, Fig. 1) had opened in 1959Cook, 2016 and reduced the 1974 floodwaters in Brisbane city by 1m. A second dam, Wivenhoe (on the Brisbane River, Fig. 1), with three times the floods storage capacity, had already been approved by the State Government in 1971 as a dual-purpose water supply and flood mitigation facility. ...
... Following the flood, detailed surveys of peak stages were conducted from the Bay to the upper reaches of the river (18). Eventually, these investigations led to the construction in 1984 of Wivenhoe Reservoir with a capacity of 1200 ML and a further 2000 ML of permanent flood storage to mitigate floods in the lower reaches (35). ...
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Recent studies of local landscape and vegetation change have improved our understanding of the part Europeans have played in the evolution of subtropical Australia. Here, we focus on sedimentary and documentary evidence from the large, rural catchments draining to Moreton Bay. In the 1840s, the region underwent a transition from Aboriginal pastoralism to European grazing and agriculture. The first decades of European management brought changes to the floristic composition of the region's grasslands with only minor changes in the extent of forest and woodland. Changes in soil density in the catchment headwaters and valley floors associated with cattle and sheep grazing are linked to channel erosion in the middle and upper reaches of the river systems, accompanied by gullying in some headwater catchments. The erosion of waterways upstream is associated with a degraded riparian forest and the transport of muddy sediments into Moreton Bay. The timing of peaks in sedimentation, in the 1890s, 1950s and 2010s, was triggered by periods of enhanced rainfall and flooding. All of these factors are implicated in a tenfold increase in sediment loads into Moreton Bay since European settlement. Despite these impacts, changes to landscapes and soils in the region have been modest. In comparison with temperate southeastern Australia, gully erosion has been limited in extent, the soils remain largely intact, and major changes in channel type have occurred on only a small proportion of rivers. This greater resilience in the Australian subtropics to the new European land uses is attributed to the naturally more variable climate and vigorous vegetation response to disturbance. However, sustainable management of these landscapes has not yet been achieved. The drainage network is presently unstable, leaving open the possibility of catastrophic system adjustment in the near future. This could produce dramatic increases in hill-slope and gully erosion and a metamorphosis of channel pattern in the trunk streams, similar to landscape responses documented in southeastern Australia between 1850 and 1950.
... The city of Brisbane sits on a bend of the Brisbane River some 15 kilometres from the Queensland coastline. Located on a floodplain, with a subtropical climate and crisscrossed by a number of suburban creeks, the city has a history of flooding (Cook, 2016; see http://floodinformation.brisbane. ...
The city of Brisbane, capital of the Australian state of Queensland, sits on a floodplain and has been struck by two devastating flood disasters in the last 50 years. This article contributes to the growing literature on disaster memory by tracing memories of a flood in 1974 as they were constructed and re‐enacted in a more recent disaster in 2011. The article examines how disaster memories shape local identities and considers how such memories influence policy and local knowledge, doing so by reference to an analysis of three forms of memory media—personal narratives, news media reporting, and built memorials. At times, memories of 1974 enabled Brisbane residents to prepare for an oncoming flood and to understand the scope of the 2011 event. Yet other memories produced a form of forgetting by positioning the earlier flood as a successfully navigated event now safely contained in the past. Findings from the analysis thus point to the importance of understanding memories of past disasters as a critical element of disaster planning and management.
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... Following the flood, detailed surveys of peak stages were conducted from the Bay to the upper reaches of the river (18). Eventually, these investigations led to the construction in 1984 of Wivenhoe Reservoir with a capacity of 1200 ML and a further 2000 ML of permanent flood storage to mitigate floods in the lower reaches (35). ...
Conference Paper
In the last three decades, agricultural development in tropical and subtropical regions has intensified worldwide, leading to high rates of deforestation, deteriorating riverine ecosystems and degraded water supplies. Studies of processes in tropical catchments have lagged behind the temperate zone, but critical differences exist with respect to the seasonality and variability of river flows with higher rates of weathering and erosion, and larger sediment yields occurring in tropical regions. Recently, there has been an increasing appreciation of the importance of forest communities in catchments and river stability in southeast Queensland. Yet, much is still unknown about the sensitivity of subtropical catchments to climate and landscape change. Here, we take a historical approach to landscape change and sensitivity, focussing on catchments opened up for agriculture since European settlement in the 1840s. A number of recent studies have made it possible to link the records from small valley floors in the catchment headwaters to the large trunk steam systems on Moreton Bay’s major river systems, downstream to the estuaries and shallow marine system in Moreton Bay, providing a catchment-wide perspective on historical landscape change. Sediment archives and documentary records provide an insight into changing erosion regimes and an evolving river channel network in the Brisbane and Logan River catchments. In Moreton Bay, records from marine sediments indicate the impressive scale of European erosion compared to the preceding 3000 years. Importantly, the rapid changes experienced in this region over the last two centuries are still being played out and have significant implications for the way in which the Bay and its catchments will respond to future change.
Managing Floods and Flood Risk: Lessons Learned and Not Learned – The Brisbane River Experience, Presentation to Hydrology: Managing Water in Queensland Seminar, Queensland Branch of the Australian Water Association
  • Grigg
Grigg, Managing Floods and Flood Risk: Lessons Learned and Not Learned – The Brisbane River Experience, Presentation to Hydrology: Managing Water in Queensland Seminar, Queensland Branch of the Australian Water Association, Brisbane, 13 April 2011.
  • Plains Powell
  • Raymond Whitmore
  • Hydraulic Henderson
Powell, Plains, 49; Raymond Whitmore, Hydraulic Henderson: Water Resources Pioneer (Brisbane: Engineers Australia, 2009), 139.
Floods, and the Mitigation of their evil effects, Annual Report of the Hydraulic Engineers
  • Henderson
  • Floods
  • Mary Brisbane
  • Rivers
Henderson, 'Floods, Brisbane and Mary Rivers', 15; 'Floods, and the Mitigation of their evil effects, Annual Report of the Hydraulic Engineers', Queensland Parliamentary Papers (1895), 5.
Floods in the Brisbane River, and Schemes for Abatement of their Disastrous Effects
  • Henderson
Henderson, 'Floods in the Brisbane River, and Schemes for Abatement of their Disastrous Effects', Queensland Parliamentary Papers, (1896), 5.
75 Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser
73 Ibid. 74 Henderson, 'Floods', 2. 75 Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 7 April 1893, 2. 76 Darling Downs Gazette, 10 April 1893, 2. 77 Morning Bulletin, 7 April 1893, 5; QT, 8
Engineering Aspects of the Estuary (Brisbane: Davies, 1990), 203. 82 Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, 36. 83 Ibid., 7. 84 BC
  • John Dobson
John Dobson, Physical/ Engineering Aspects of the Estuary (Brisbane: Davies, 1990), 203. 82 Brisbane River Flood Hydrology Models, 36. 83 Ibid., 7. 84 BC, 10 March 1898, 5. 85 BC, 15 February 1898, 2.
Enterprise and Dependency: Water Management in Australia' in Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies
  • M Powell
M. Powell, 'Enterprise and Dependency: Water Management in Australia' in Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies, ed. Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 105.
Plains, 60; See also O'Gorman, Floods, 70 and Heather Goodall, 'Fresh and Salt: Introduction', Transforming Cultures eJournal 1
  • Powell
Powell, Plains, 60; See also O'Gorman, Floods, 70 and Heather Goodall, 'Fresh and Salt: Introduction', Transforming Cultures eJournal 1, no. 2 (2006): iv.
Commissioner for Irrigation
  • A Partridge
A. Partridge, Commissioner for Irrigation, Annual Report, Queensland Parliamentary Papers (1928), 752. 99 Ibid., 747.
102 Powell, Plains, 85; Ross Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland from 1915 to the
  • E Bush
E. Bush, Water Supply Extensions and Flood Mitigation (Brisbane: Brisbane City Council, 1930), 14–15, 29. 102 Powell, Plains, 85; Ross Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland from 1915 to the 1980s (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1984), 169–170.