Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sepia Saturday – Floods in Yallourn, 1934-5

The Sepia Saturday prompt for this week shows a barge crossing a flooded river or lake.

I didn’t have any flood photos in my massive sepia collection, so turned to Trove, the wonderful National Library of Australia search engine.
Floods at Yallourn 1934-5

I found a large number of articles and some great photos of the 1934 flood that filled the open cut brown coal mine at Yallourn in Victoria’s Gippsland.

The first three photos are from the JP Campbell collection of glass negatives documenting industrial enterprise at Yallourn, ca 1920-1940 (and held by the State Library of Victoria).

On 1 Dec 1934, flood waters burst the banks of the Latrobe River and 65 million gallons poured into the vast open cut mine at Yallourn.
Floods in the open cut c1934-5

The coal, dredgers, and other equipment (valued at more than £500,000) were all submerged and this left Victoria with electricity for only a week.

The plant supplying drinking water to the town was also under water, creating further problems. 

A special train had to be chartered to bring milk, bread and meat to the town as all roads were cut.

The rains that caused the floods were unprecedented and broke the 71 year records held by the Weather Bureau – in three days, the Gippsland region had around 1100 points (about 11 inches, or around 280mm).
Yallourn Power Station c1940

This was followed closely by another flood at Easter 1935. 
But this time, the emergency levees quickly built after the Dec 1934 floods were able to prevent further flooding in the open cut. 
Pumping was still proceeding following the 1934 floods – by February, the open cut still contained 3.65 million gallons.
The pumps were set up on pontoons and drew off 1 million gallons an hour.

This all happened just before my newly-married grandparents moved to Yallourn. My grandfather, Keith Leo GRENFELL (1911-1944) was an electrical engineer (on his marriage certificate) and a mechanic / fitter (on the electoral rolls). 
I’ve written a little about him before.

You can read some personal accounts of the floods on the wonderful Virtual Yallourn website – brought to my attention by another regular Sepia Saturday blogger, Sharon of Strong Foundations.

Front page news 
Keith Leo Grenfell
Sgt K L Grenfell


  1. A great mixture of personal history and local history. Sites like that Virtual Yallourn site have really enhanced our appreciation of local history haven't they?

    1. Yallourn is a virtual town now - completely overtaken by the open cut. So this site is very valuable with maps, plans of houses and memories from ex residents.

  2. Putting that family history in, Jackie, makes this such a good flood post! Jeez...your grandfather was a handsome guy!

  3. Well that was a fascinating bit of Victorian history that I hadn;t come across before. And lovely clear photos. Thanks.

  4. I didn't know any of this, and it's my own state! Thanks Jackie.

  5. I love Deb Gould's comment. His son looks OK too

  6. I wish our local museum archives would put their image collection online, but I know why it doesn't happen - local ratepayers would rather the funding went to building rugby facilities and boat ramps.

    1. State Library of Victoria has been leading the way I think although NSW is doing a lot now too. Some local councils and historical societies are now following, e.g. Willoughby and Manly.
      These images should be shared.

  7. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing.

  8. As I've been reading everyone's flood stories, I've noticed that everyone seems to know a flood by YEAR -- the Flood of 1936, the Flood of 1897, or whatever. In the United States, we remember hurricanes by their names, but floods by their year.

  9. This post reminds me of the flooding of the Ensham coal mine near Emerald in 2008.