“Of droughts and flooding rains”

Listen to Ebb Wren's song about the Forbes flood.

There is a great Australian saying about drought “Dry as a dead dingo’s donger’ and I produced a  documentary by this title at a music festival some years ago.

We had farmers, social workers and well known performers (Anne Kirkpatrick was one) talking and singing songs about Australia and its, then, lack of water.

It was in the middle of the drought and we had initiated a National Library project, Australia wide, on this topic.

Our interviews, a couple with Forbes locals, looked at the impact on both rural and town population and covered such aspects as depression, suicide and of course the fiscal impact on town and country.

What came through in both our NLA project and festival performance was the resilience and ability to maintain a sense of humour within our wonderful rural community. But sometimes we get tipped over the edge.

I was reminded of this resilience in a recent newspaper article where the Mattiske family were featured discussing their huge financial losses due to flooding. Sure, things were bad but they will carry on.

Also had a quick yarn with the affable David and Janelle Mattiske who we had interviewed as part of the original drought project and the sense of humour was still there, despite the losses.

I will never forget Janelle’s (and several other rural women’s) comment when I asked them about personal, apart from the farm’s, impact of drought, the demise of their beautiful gardens which were an oasis and a joy to them was saddening.  

So often rural women are forgotten and they are the backbone of our community, it is NOT only the blokes who do everything.  

Unfortunately their stories had not been documented as much as the blokes, something we have  rectified at the National Library in later years.

So now we have the wet and apart from droughts, fires, financial issues and, dare I say, being screwed by SOME large business enterprises the farmers have to put up with their crops being under water.

As a former business owner in Forbes I am well aware of the impact of the rural economy in country towns.  

I also had to shift and re-locate on several occasions when the water levels rose in the 1960s and 70s.

Also remember (just) the 1952 flood when we lived in Rankin St just down from News on Rankin and the water was lapping at the front door of my parents’ shop. Yes, Rankin St was a torrent of water.

Lower Rankin Street in the 1952 flood.

Lower Rankin Street in the 1952 flood.

A couple of reflections about floods:

We always had the ‘go to ‘ people who had either lived on the river or had been closely associated with it.

They were usually pretty correct about predicting what was going to happen.  

In my early days it was Lach Heinke who was the man – In later years Cec Neilsen had his finger on the pulse.  

There were a couple of others as well whose names escape me who could forecast from upstream levels what was going to happen.  

Although from living in this town all my life it has become apparent that each flood has a mind of its own, particularly the current one. A creeping flood I am calling it.

I will leave the last comment to my good mate the late Ebb Wren whose little cottage was nestled just near the highway bridge and down from Johnny Woods crossing.  

Whenever there was a flood Ebb would get about a metre of water through the cottage and his shed (full of pianos) out the back.

But it never got the better of him and he even put together a song about the ‘Forbes Flood’ based on one he had heard as a kid.

I have put a film we made about Ebb up on my YouTube channel where he sings the song.  A simple search will find it.  

It was made in 1990 just a month after Ebb had to get out because of the water.  

“You can always go back after a flood, Robbie, but all you have left after a fire is a pile of ashes,” was his comment before he sang the song.

The sad part is that after his death and many years later Ebb’s cottage was destroyed by fire.

- Rob Willis