Three generations become flood victims
In the tiny office of the Evans Head Presbyterian church, a small plaque is attached to an old hymnal board. It glints as the sunlight hits it where it rests against the wall. It reads:
"Presented by Mrs Walter Golding in loving memory of her husband, daughter, son-in-law and their three children, Mr and Mrs David Chapman and family. Drowned at Kyogle, 20th February 1954."
This small plaque is a reminder of a tragic tale that unfolded during one of the region's worst natural disasters back in 1954.
The plaque in the office at the Evans Head Presbyterian Church. Photo: Samantha Elley
In the wee small hours in the morning of February 21, 1954 the village of Kyogle, located in the north-eastern corner of New South Wales, was inundated with a wall of water that showed no mercy. It left behind a devastating result, which included the loss of 10 lives, including six people from the same family.
The Kyogle flood with crosses showing where houses once stood. Photo from ABC website and Kyogle Historical Society.
Witnesses recounted the cries of people who were caught in nearby trees, being that of the Chapman family, who eventually all drowned. They were Walter Golding, 67, his daughter Isabel Chapman, 28, her husband David, 34 and their sons Walter David, 7, Ian, 4 and Geoffrey, 16 months. Three generations in one family swept away by the dangerous torrents.
The unfortunate family had no time to escape their inundated home and found themselves trapped on the roof. Evans Head Surf Club member Matt Doughtery of Kyogle attempted to rescue the family members and nearly lost his own life.
He roped himself to a surf rescue reel and then entered the flood waters from the railway station but was instantly swept away. The line became tangled in the debris and he was forced under. A new device on the reel - a quick release pin - helped him escape the vest and he managed to get clear of the floodwaters.
The headstone for the Chapman family. Courtesy: Austcemindex
The Chapman family was by this time swept away, the only survivor being grandmother Helen Golding who presented the plaque as a reminder of her family.
Walter and the Chapmans are all buried in Kyogle cemetery.
'60 years on: Kyogle residents 'will never forget' 1954 floods, ABC Local, acessed 16th November, 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2014/02/19/3947948.htm
'SPECIAL REPORT: Memories of '54 and how the flood changed us', The Daily Telegraph, accessed 16th November, 2022, https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/lismore/special-report-memories-of-54-and-how-the-flood-changed-us/news-story/8265a2d95a899a94f8a2a091121f467e
'Twenty-one lives lost in NSW Floods', Cairns Post, Tuesday 23 February, 1954, Page 1