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Remembering the Devastating Clermont Flood of 1916

In Clermont cemetery stands a memorial, not just for one person, but for the 60 or more victims of one of Australia's worst floods as far as loss of life was concerned.

On December 28, only a few days after Christmas in 1916, light rain started falling on the township of Clermont, Queensland during the day. As sundown came, the rain got heavier and continued on in sheet-like fashion through the night.

A local constable became aware of the impending flood and warned residents in low-lying areas that the creek which ran through the town was about to overflow. Only a few heeded his warning and evacuated their homes. Escalating the issue to his sergeant, an extensive warning was then given out by the local constabulary before daylight.

The memorial to the lost souls of the Clermont flood in 1916. Next to it is an indication of the flood height. Picture courtesy Janelle Walker.

It was already too late for some. By 7am on December 29th, the water had risen so rapidly, a young man by the name of Herbert Wing-Long, attempted to reach the bridge that crossed the lagoon but found the current too strong and was washed away. Stock inspector Frederick Young rode his horse down the street and attempted to turn his horse into the bridge, but was also washed away. When his wife, Carolina, left the house shortly after, as the waters continued to rise, she too suffered the same fate.

An hour later the Clermont Courthouse was swept away. It was estimated the floodwaters rose so quickly, nobody was able to cross from the flat to the south side within 30 minutes of the waters first appearing on Drummond Street.

Eyewitnesses saw Simon Carroll and his wife Anna stranded on the roof of their house with their four children, Annie, Arthur, Stella and Violet.

"His little children kept slipping off the roof of the house," said Bernie Bettridge, whose parents survived the flood and shared the stories with him, which he recounted to the ABC at the 100 year commemoration in 2016.

"He'd throw them back up and they'd slip off and he'd throw them back up again.

"Then the whole house just lifted up and floated away.

"They found the six bodies the next day."

A man poses in front of some of the damage caused by the Clermont flood. Courtesy State Library of Queensland.

It must have felt like the end of the world for those residents trapped on the roofs of buildings inundated by water, especially as they saw others who were swept away. The Lagoon Bridge, which joined both sides of the river collapsed once submerged in the flood waters, the new Clermont Club House floated slowly away till it collapsed when it met an obstruction, as did Moller's butcher shop and the Federal Hotel was badly damaged.

The final toll to the flood was estimated at 62 bodies recovered, the town partially swept away with major damage in the main thoroughfare. The homeless were sheltered in the Catholic convent and private homes and as seems to be a sick past-time for those with no soul, looting had occurred on a regular basis.

Replica of a piano up a tree. Courtesy The Courier Mail.

Damages were estimated at 250,000-300,000 pounds, the ruined buildings in the town were over 100, but nothing could replace the loss of life on that fateful day. To this day, a replica of a piano in a large gum tree is a reminder of the force and height of the floodwaters that destroyed Clermont that day. It is believed three pianos were found in trees.

As lower Clermont was submerged, the town was afterwards built on higher ground. Flood victims were given a land grant but they had to build within twelve months. However, the high cost of materials as a result of the war meant many had to forfeit their land.


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