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Brisbane has long suffered substantial flooding and rain events at the whim of the unpredictable curse of mother nature. While floods have sadly resulted in the loss of life and precious belongings, they have also shown the resilience and the courage of Brisbane and its people to recover and rebuild after these events.
The Brisbane floods have been commemorated in art pieces and monuments to pay tribute to the bravery of the city's residents after the onslaught of floodwaters.
By Queensland Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic Unit - Queensland State ArchivesFlickr, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69367200
The Australia Day weekend in 1974 is etched in the folklore of Brisbane history, which will long be remembered for its catastrophic soaking rains and subsequent major flooding of the city's streets, homes and businesses.
The 1974 floods were a result of Cyclone Wanda which brought weeks of torrential rain and gushing waters sliding through Brisbane. So great were the waters that Brisbane broke its banks and floodwaters, mud and debris were unleashed chaotically and unforgivingly through the city. Houses were submerged, electricity cut off and residents plucked from the roofs of their houses where they were seeking higher ground from the flooding rains.
As a child, I remember packing a small bag with just a few clothes to prepare to leave our home. Though we were in no immediate danger, watching the nearby creeks and parks overflow made me feel for sure that the only thing for us to do was to leave.
As the city "went under", the floods tragically caused 16 deaths and 8000 people were left homeless. 56 homes were swept away and 1,600 homes were largely submerged. The total cost was estimated at $980 million. The inner-city suburb of New Farm was just one of the many areas significantly impacted by the floods along with St Lucia, Yeronga, and Milton also being major casualties. This momentous weather event has been captured in permanent, public art installations in Brisbane.
1. The Flood Level Markers A series of markers were erected by the Brisbane City Council in 1999 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1974 Brisbane flood. It is a wooden structure with the year 1974 on the top of the mount and a description of the event written to its side. Standing beside it gives an eerie feeling of just how high the water rose. The marker I visited is at New Farm Park, where a maximum of 3.6 metres was reached by flood in New Farm Park on Tuesday 29 January 1974. The crosses of wood resembled the tangled remains of homes and buildings as they floated downstream.
To find the art piece, head to New Farm Park's famous rotunda in Oxlade Drive, cross the circular driveway and head down the grassy incline and you see it staring down the river. Similar markers are also located at Sylvan Road, Toowong, Alice Street Botanic Gardens, Kalinga Park, Brisbane Corso and Downey Park, where you can compare the impacts and water levels.
The Great Floods of Brisbane in 1893
One of Brisbane's earliest severe floods occurred in 1983 after a torrential rain event. Records show that the total rainfall in Brisbane over 8 days was about 20 inches (500 mm) and the Brisbane River rose 23 feet 9 inches (7.2 metres) above the mean spring tide and 10 feet over the previous highest flood mark (1890).
The floods claimed 35 lives of what was a population of 100,000 at the time. It did bolster a program of engineering interventions including dredging, truncating bends, building training walls, and ultimately the completion of Somerset Dam in the catchment in 1959.
In his own description, Tipping said, "This sculpture is meant to evoke the power of the Brisbane River sweeping around this curve at New Farm, triggering memories of the massive floods of 1893 and 1974, and anxieties about the next. The word flood appears in thick solid letters, styled in a san serif font, with only the top third showing, like a headline literally going under."
It is a vivid statement which gives the sense of sinking and floating at the same time. Though simple, it is very emotive and gives a strong visual expression of what it must feel like to see the waters rise and overtake the landscape and watch the things we love disappear from sight.
To view "Watermark", head to the waterfront side of the Brisbane Powerhouse.
The pieces are free to view and available to see each day, at any time. As we begin to welcome another summer, consider those who came before us when a city was pummelled by raging floodwaters and get up close with a piece of Brisbane's past through its artworks and monuments.