Southern Queensland Floods – Again

1893 photo of flood in Brisbane CBD, three man in a boat in the foreground.
1893 floods in Brisbane – Queen St. in the CBD. Image from Wikimedia.

We have all been shocked by the devastating floods in south-east Queensland and our hearts reach out to those living through this destruction.  This is not just a crisis in one city, it has affected much of southern Queensland where 2.5 million people live.  Seventy towns have been either flooded or isolated due to floods.

There has been constant reference to the floods of 1974.  The image above indicates that these floods are not an aberration – they have been occurring ever since European settlement and there is evidence of flooding prior to this.

We live in a country that is very dry, often drought-stricken and prone to fierce bush fires and paradoxically suffers periodically with floods.  Like two years ago when Victoria had  devastating bush fires at the same time as north Queensland was suffering from severe flooding, this time southern Queensland has suffered from a huge torrent of water while firefighters in Perth, Western Australia were battling a large bushfire.

Historical Records

Natural disasters such as these floods are terribly damaging to our historical records.  All the homes that have been flooded will now have waterlogged photo albums, diaries and hard disc drives.  In many cases owners will not be able to restore them. The best way to ensure that historical records do not get destroyed in flood or fire is to store them in the cloud.  Backups that are stored on site or close by are just not as safe.

Recently the State Library of Queensland uploaded 50,000 images to Wikimedia.  The library’s website is down.  This is what the arts complex, where the library is located, looked like recently.

Flloded Building on the South Bank of Brisbane

A recent view of the south bank of Brisbane. Source: @JonoH via Nova website

The John Oxley library, where the historical records can be viewed, is located on one of the higher floors.  However, I don’t know where the records are kept.  Hopefully they are kept on the same floor.

Well done to the library for uploading all those images to wikimedia!


At the same time as doing a major in history at university I also majored in geography.  We were introduced to Brisbane’s flood problem through an article by K. Rahman and T Weber, ‘Sustainable urban development in Brisbane City – the Holy Grail?’ ( 2003).  Brisbane is prone to flooding because of flash flooding of creeks within the city due to severe thunderstorms, overland flooding due to built structures impeding and redirecting the natural path of rainwater overland and flooding of the Brisbane river (Rahman and Weber, p. 74).  Brisbane is hilly and therefore has many valleys where floodwater accumulates.  Unfortunately buildings have been sited in areas where floods can occur.

The Bureau of Meteorology has summarised the history of flooding in Brisbane by graph and a chronology.  This identifies 1841 as the year when Brisbane suffered its highest flood levels.  1893, when the photos on this page were taken, saw flooding that almost reached the levels of 1841.  The 1974 floods were severe but considerably lower than the floods of the nineteenth century.

Graph showing flood levels by year from the 1840s to today

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The recognition of the susceptibility of Brisbane to flooding in the nineteenth century can be seen in this flood map produced in 1893.

Map from 1893 showing flood reach on the Brisbane River.

Flood map of Brisbane, 1893. Source: 'Themed Mapping', Queensland government website.

Nearly a year ago I stayed in the riverside suburb of Yeronga while doing my research at the John Oxley Library for my thesis.  It was a beautiful suburb that stretched along the river.  I spent a pleasant but hot morning walking along the banks of the river on the way to the University of Queensland.  At the time I was grateful for how flat this stretch was.  Unfortunately the close proximity to the river and the flat ground which I appreciated nearly a year ago are features that no Brisbane resident will appreciate today.   The suburb of Yeronga is just one of many that has been invaded by the river.  417 houses in this suburb have been immersed in floodwaters.

The inescapable issue that the authorities will have to grapple with in the aftermath of this tragedy is how to plan for the future.  These floods will occur again and again.  New buildings and structures will need to be constructed to replace those that have been destroyed.  Where will they be placed?

An updated version of this post can be found on On Line Opinion.

Print Sources

  • Rahman, K., and T. Weber, ‘Sustainable urban development in Brisbane City – the Holy Grail?, Water Science and Technology, 47 no. 7-8, pp. 73-9.


I have tried to find a map to give those who are not familiar with south-east Queensland an idea of where some of the places that are mentioned in news reports are located.

Map of south-east queensland showing places suffering from floods
Source: The Australian, 11 Jan. 2011

The following map was published today so shows the towns of Conamine, Goondiwindi and Boggabilla which are currently facing rising rivers.

Map indicating rising and falling flood levels Sthn Qld.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan. 2011

Of course this map does not show the towns in Victoria where residents have been evacuated due to flooding or the problems caused by flooding in Tasmania and South Australia.

6 thoughts on “Southern Queensland Floods – Again

  1. Yes, it was timely that the library uploaded all those images – let’s hope that many individuals have done the same.
    It’s the ones in the little historical societies that are at risk. Often the people who run those societies are older volunteers who don’t know too much about the net as a resource depository…


  2. With so many homes with pc & or lap top with printer & scanner why the media focus is on damaged photographs? One would hope they have back up records of documents, pictures etc. Hopefully we can learn from this experience. Flood mitigation has often been put on the too expensive list, or it won’t happen again for long time is false, just ask people of Emerald, central qld.


    • I agree, learning from this experience is important and that we need to recognise that flooding will occur in these areas again unfortunately. I was impressed with the comments of Professor Allan McConnell about the importance of being fair in our assessment of what has happened. Unfair retribution and blame will hamper our ability to learn from this.

      I discussed the potential damage to historical sources such as photographs because the focus of this blog is on history. Many people still do not have a scanner and a lot of people who do have one have not got around to scanning in their old photos, diaries and letters etc (I still haven’t scanned all our old family photos and documents).


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