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Radio feature commemorates 30 years since the big flood


3 March 2004
The 1974 flood of Lismore is the focus of this weekend’s Hindsight special at ABC Radio National, called 'Going to Venice'. Produced by Southern Cross University (SCU) Law Lecturer/Tutor, Graham Irvine, the program features the voices of more than 20 locals who witnessed the biggest flood since records began in the 1830s.

The 1974 flood started with heavy rain late on Saturday, March 9. And it didn’t stop. By the Sunday afternoon everyone, including the State Emergency Service, was predicting a big flood and Lismore went into flood preparation mode.
'Going to Venice' producer Graham Irvine was living in Nimbin at the time.

“I drove with my girlfriend up to Brisbane to go to a J. J. Cale concert and it took us five hours to get there through the rain,” he said. “Then it took us two days to get back. We ended up stalled at Condong Sugar Mill under water chest deep in our car and waited out the worst of it at the railway station with 300 people, dogs, cars, the lot. It was wild.”

Other locals who bring their experiences to the program include Howard Atkinson, who is now publicity officer with the Helicopter Rescue Service. Mr Atkinson had a mechanical repairs and accessory business that went under in the 74 flood and his son Anthony wrote a song about the lost business called “Here Comes the Rain”, which is also in the program. Community activist and member of the Flood Management committee Graham Askey is featured, as well as SCU Graduate College of Management staffer Lindy O’Sullivan, who was a schoolgirl at the time. Others include former nun Betty McKerrow, ex-deputy headmaster of Richmond River High Roy Doepel, and former deputy mayor Habib Habib.

During the 74 flood the Richmond rose to a height of 42 feet, 6 inches or 12.95 metres in the Central Business District (CBD) of Lismore, the regional centre for the valley with a population at that time of some 25,000. The rate of rise of the flood was unprecedented, at its peak rising at more than two feet an hour. Over 1000 people were evacuated from their homes, several houses were washed away, about 1500 Lismore houses were damaged and one man was swept off his horse and drowned.

The radio program is based on one of Producer Graham Irvine’s two chapters within the upcoming book, 'Flood: Essays across the Current', edited by SCU Executive Dean of Arts Professor Paul Thom, to be published by SCU Press next month. The book deals with the flood stories and experiences of people in this region, including Coffs Harbour.

'Going to Venice' will be broadcast on ABC Radio National at 2pm, on Sunday, February 7, and repeated on Thursday, March 11, at 1pm.

Caption: Woodlark Street at the height of the flood, looking towards the bridge. (Photo: Northern Star)

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m.0439 680 748.