SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
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1956 floods

 

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The 1956 flood is the most extensive recorded in South Australia since European settlement. Months of heavy rainfall in the eastern states resulted in a massive volume of water surging through the Murray-Darling system, culminating in vast flooding in South Australia.

At Renmark, flood flow was an estimated 340,000 megalitres a day, rising to a height of 30 feet on 26 August. Levee banks built by locals and volunteers saved the township, but further downstream Mannum was inundated by floodwaters. Along the river, surrounding countryside with orchards, vineyards, agricultural properties, and homes, was flooded by the record flow. The effect on the river communities was extensive, both economically and personally, as recorded in photographs, film and newspaper reports.

Well-known South Australian author Max Fatchen was a journalist for The Advertiser, sent to the region to cover 'human interest' stories of the crisis. His reports capture the tension, and exhausting efforts, of those involved in the fight to save lives and properties, but also celebrate their camaraderie, courage, and successes.

Max's first-hand experiences at the 1956 floods and his appreciation of Riverland life inspired later writings which focused on the River Murray and its effects - for example, The River Kings (1966), in which he wrote:

It was a man's river, a boy's river, a settler's river, a river that could break your heart, a river that could soothe, a sly river and a wilful river.

Fellow South Australian author Colin Thiele also wrote vividly of flood cumulating downstream in River Murray Mary (2002):

It all began with rumours and stories. Far away in the eastern mountains of Australia, thousands of kilometres up the tributaries of the Murray and the Murrumbidgee and the Darling, it had been pouring with rain. Gutters were turning into drains, and drains were becoming creeks, and creeks were becoming rivers. There was water cascading down the steep mountain streams, water pouring from cliffs and canyons, water raging white and angry in the gorges. And it was all making for the plains where sooner or later it had to find its way into the Murray. [pp100-101] ... And then at last the flood came down like a whipcrack. It no longer crept up in secret, a centimeter at a time. It wolfed up landmarks by armlengths and metres. All the low-lying flats were covered by a sea of water. [p.106]

From 26 August to 16 November 2006, the Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation in partnership with local government organisations is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1956 flood. Commencing at Renmark and finishing at Goolwa, a 'roadshow' with events and activities will travel to South Australian river communities, following the peak of the flood.


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