The Yarra River flooded many properties in the valley and Melbourne.
Severe flooding of lower Main Street saw water running through homes and businesses.
A large dam at a South Wandin sawmill collapsed after heavy rain causing a severe flood in lower Main Street, Lilydale.
Four to five feet of water covered lower Main Street.
The Olinda Creek recorded its highest flood in 27 years.
Homes in John Street had more than two feet of water running through them.
More heavy rain and flooding.
Flood waters flowed through homes in John Street.
The headline: Widespread flood havoc summed up the scene after flood waters again swept through town.
Lillydale Shire began grappling with flooding and announced extensive work would begin to widen Olinda Creek.
The works didn’t come in time to stop yet another flood.
Levee banks along the Olinda creek were completed.
New bridge across the Olinda Creek was completed and re-aligned.
Hardy and John streets linked via a causeway across the Olinda Creek.
The causeway across the Olinda Creek was formally gazetted as a road.
Responsibility for drainage and water supply was transferred from Lillydale Council to the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works.
September 18, 1984
Torrential Tuesday. Eight businesses in lower Main Street suffered thousands of dollars damage. Ian Price Furnishing lost $60,000 worth of stock in the flood.
Lillydale Shire and the MMBW start planning the construction of Lillydale Lake.
Construction of Lillydale Lake began.
July 7, 1990
Lillydale Lake officially opened and flooding of Lilydale’s lower Main Street has become a thing of the past.
Olinda Creek: River of Life and Death
While the Olinda Creek provided water for residents, the lack of proper drainage and sewerage made the town ripe for the outbreak of fatal diseases and it wasn’t long coming.
One of the earliest recordings of death through disease is the Smith family. During October and November
1876, scarlet fever claimed the lives of three children – Mary E aged 9, Patrick 2 and Margaret 6.
Just nine years later, in 1887, the daily papers ran stories on the outbreak of typhoid fever in the town which then had a population of 300 people. This was the first reporting of the disease in the town.
There had been 37 cases of typhoid fever of which five were fatal. Five cases were admitted to either the Alfred or Melbourne Hospitals.
The outbreak started when a groom who had the disease moved to Lilydale with his wife. The man took ill and 16 other cases, all living on the same side of the street, were also struck down with the disease.
The usual procedure was to transport the victims to either the Alfred or Melbourne Hospitals by train. Under its regulations, the railways required notice of the transfer and payment for the cost of fumigating the carriage afterwards.
However, as one man was too sick to give the notice and had no money, the railways refused to transfer him. Instead he had to go to the Alfred Hospital via a spring cart. “The man died in consequence of the jolting he received.” the Telegraph newspaper reported in April, 1887.
The Lilydale Express was quick to point out that inadequate drainage was largely to blame and called on the Council to immediately initiate a drainage scheme for the town. The paper also called on the people to attend to
“the cleanliness of their dwellings and premises by seeing to the drainage of backyards, preventing the accumulation of stagnant water and by especial care to prevent the pollution of drinking water in underground tanks. One fruitful source of danger may now be obviated by taking advantage of the night cart system established by the shire.”
(Lilydale Express, April 1, 1887)
Watch the Ducks and Geese
“Housewives had better keep an eye on their pets in future, for at the last meeting of the local board of health officers called attention to the pollution of the creek stream by geese, ducks etc. This communication was simply received, but it is likely that something more will be heard of it.”
(Lilydale Express March 4, 1887).
A report in 1898 by Dr Kilpatrick, the local health officer, gives some insight into the possible sources of pollution of the creek:
- Water was deviated from the creek to Cave Hill and returned to the creek “suffering little in the way of pollution”;
- The Chinese market gardeners south of the three chain road (now Melba Avenue), who irrigate their gardens by drawing water from the creek. The surplus returns to the creek;
- Boys using one of two spots south of Main Street for bathing. (This was not allowed by the shire as this is where the town’s water was drawn from);
- The tannery north of Main Street which drew about 2000 gallons (9,000 litres) of water a week which returned to the creek near the gasworks;
The need for a drainage scheme was recognized but the council’s finances limited. One councillor suggested there should be one channel for sewerage and another for pure water.
(Lilydale Express January 28, 1898 pg 2)
It took another few years for the shire to create a town water supply – using water from the Olinda Creek but higher upstream near the present Silvan Dam, well away from potential pollution.
Floods Cause Havoc
A glance at John Hardy’s survey map of Lilydale in 1860 shows the meandering course of the Olinda Creek through the township area.
When homes and shops were built on the lower west side, it was only a matter of time before flooding occurred.
It appears that in the early days, some flooding occurred most years. However, it seems the worst floods were in 1863, 1889 and 1891.
Some of the major floods in the 20th century occurred in 1901, 1920s, 1937, 1952 and as recently as 1984.
There is little information on the 1863 floods which started in Melbourne on December 14, as the area was mostly undeveloped farming and the major focus was on Melbourne where the Yarra River flooded many properties.
(The Argus various issues from December 14, 1863)
In 1891, heavy rain and the collapse of a large dam in South Wandin at a sawmill operated by a Mr Davis threatened lives of the people in Lilydale as the water rose so quickly.
The 1889 floods
Floods hit Lilydale early in July 1889. George White’s coach building premises on the corner of William and Main streets had several feet of water flowing through it as did his home and those of several adjoining residents.
(Lilydale Express July 3, 1889 pg 3)
“The floods which were so high in the lower parts of Lilydale on Tuesday last have now receded. A good stream of water is still flowing down the Olinda Creek, but not nearly so great as on Tuesday.”
(Lilydale Express July 6, 1889 pg 2)
Shire of Lillydale Engineer reported on July 31, 1889:
During the early part of the present month a severe flood occurred, fortunately doing comparatively little damage to the works throughout the shire, but productive of considerable inconvenience to many of the inhabitants, more especially to those in the lower part of the town of Lilydale. I have examined the locality with the view to discover the cause of the flooding of the lower part of the town, and find that it arises chiefly from the overflow of the Olinda Creek in the neighbourhood of the Chinaman’s garden, joined to the water from the return race on Mr Mitchell’s Cave Hill property. The obstruction of the channel through the properties on the south side of Main Street – for which the owners or occupiers are responsible – and the obstruction caused by the small bridge near Mr White’s (south-east corner of Main and William streets) and the railway bridge.
To obviate a reoccurrence of the flooding I would suggest that a channel be cut to intercept the overflow of the Olinda Creek in Mr Mitchell’s property, and continued through the township to the railway bridge below the gasworks. Were this done, and the channel of sufficient dimensions, no flooding would occur in the lower part of town. In addition to this and as a measure of precaution, I would increase the waterway of the bridge near Mr White’s, and clear the waterway of the railway bridge, and also clear out and widen the drain between Main street and the Duck Swamp road. There is ample fall from the south to the north side of Main street (3.77ft) to draw off the water and prevent flooding on the east side of the railway if the channel is made wide enough , and the west side would be relieved to a great extent by the widening of the channel to the Duck Swamp road.
(Shire Engineer’s report Lilydale Express July 31, 1889)
Lilydale Flood 1891
Lilydale Express report July 17, 1891 pg 2:
LILYDALE Since the year 1863 the township of Lilydale has not been invaded with such a flood as that which occurred on Saturday night and Sunday last. On Friday night rain commenced falling about 11 o’clock, and continued almost without intermission till Sunday midday. About
4pm on Saturday the Olinda Creek, which had been taxed to the full extent of its carrying capacity during the day, overflowed its banks, and soon the low lying flats of the Cave Hill property and other low lying parts of the land adjacent to the township were partly submerged. The residents in that portion of Main street, near the railway station, who were most likely to suffer by this incident did not feel any serious alarm. The water continued to rise until at 10pm it was running at a rapid rate over a large portion of the footpath on the south side of the street. Even up to this time not serious apprehension of approaching danger was felt by those most deeply interested. About 11.30pm Messrs Joy, Keddell and Sampson wended their way to the lower end of Main street, ostensibly for the purpose of awaiting the arrival of the last rain from the city. They noticed the rapid rising of the water, and it was decided to watch events. On going to Mr Kay’s shop they found that that gentlemen was on the alert, and Messrs Joy and Keddell proceeded to the station, and warned the officials of the rising of the waters.
While there cries of distress were heard.
The two gentlemen ran along the railway line as far as Mr J. Campbell’s residence where a bright light was burning. In response to their calls, Mrs Campbell asked for assistance. This was readily given and on inquiry it was ascertained that Mr Campbell had gone to seek assistance. Mr Joy then went to procure a vehicle to remove the family as the rapid flow of the flood waters made things unpleasant. During his absence Mr Campbell returned and assisted by Mrs Campbell and Mr Keddell, made every preparation for removal. The two gentlemen then warned Messrs G.R. White and F. Wenker of the danger, but both parties were prepared. Mr Joy then returned, being unable to obtain a vehicle, so Mr Campbell decided to remove his family with- out delay. This was done by the three gentlemen already named, and Mr H. Callander who had joined the party. The water was still rapidly rising, and the current becoming stronger, so that the work was carried out with great risk. Mr Baker had put in an appearance on horseback and a move was made to the residence of Mr G.R. White, President of the Lilydale Shire, where Mrs White and her sister Miss Lander were waiting to be removed. They were placed on horseback and brought safely to dry land. Constable Don now appeared and assumed command of the rescuers, while Sergeant Waters attended to the rescued. After seeing everything was safe the party went toward Wenker’s. While on the way there a miraculous escape from drowning occurred by Mr White. He was engaged in crossing the dangerous drain between his shop and private residence when by some means he missed his footing and was carried some distance by the cur- rent. He, however, managed to reach the bank and safety but in a very exhausted condition. The rescue party, after turning into John street, had a hard fight to reach Mr Wenker’s house for the current came sweeping down with terrific force. From this till 4am Constable Don provides a tower of strength to the party, for during the hours mentioned he bravely performed some noble and dangerous work. After rescuing this family from their very perilous position the party re- traced their steps to Main street. While on their way they were joined by Railway Porter Byrnes, who immediately plunger boldly into the rushing water and right gallantly took his place by his comrades. On reaching Mr Kay’s shop the party received a valuable acquisition in Dr Kilpatrick and Messrs Buckland. It was found that Mr and Mrs Kay were fully prepared for removal but the water was too high for them to venture out, there being about 2ft of water in the shop. A buggy was prepared from Messrs Poyner Bros’ stables and by this means Mrs Kay and the children were conveyed to a place of safety.
After some time it was decided to remove the inhabitants of Mrs Gray’s boarding house, but a place of refuge had to be found. It was finally decided to house them at the railway station till daylight. Mr E. Supple and E. Poyner arrive on horseback and gave assistance. Here it was that Constable Don, Dr Kilpatrick and Porter Byrnes did splendid work in removing Mrs and Miss Gray to the railway station. After passing the gate Porter Byrnes was seized with cramps and had to be carried out of the water by other members of the party. After seeing the rescued com- fortable the party returned to Mr J. Wood tailor, and endeavoured to get him to leave his house. Mr Wood had erected a temporary stretcher on the shop counter and was safely ensconced beneath some bedclothes. He refused to leave, and eventually had to seek refuge in the ceiling.
LILYDALE RAILWAY STATION
An immense amount of damage was caused by the floods on Saturday at the local railway station. At 8am on Sunday the water was flowing in a fierce current about five feet deep over the gates at the entrance to the station yard, and it seemed as though any attempt to reach the offices could not be made till the waters subsided. However, a way was discovered about half a mile lower down by which the station could be reached with extreme difficulty, owing to the torrents of water that were flowing over the road in several places. Arriving there the whole of the yard was seen to be entirely submerged, the rails being about two feet under water, torrents of which were pouring over the lower part of the platform and roaring and tossing in turbulent streams. Between the platforms the noise of which, combined with that of the wind and rain, was nearly deafening. All kinds of articles were floating about here and there, ladders, sign-boards, huge logs, barrels, and even a portable out-house was seen bobbing about on the water and in the midst of all of this confusion the semaphore was observed displaying the “all right signal” (this being caused by the great stream on the wires as if in mockery). Mr F.W. Waters, assistant stationmaster, succeeded in getting to the station, and wired the authorities at Princes Bridge and Spencer street to suspend all traffic till further notice.
As the waters receded it was seen that the embankment near the level crossing had been washed away for a distance of two chains, the rails attached to the sleepers forming a frail suspension bridge and the water flowing freely below. At Mooroolbark the rails were covered to a depth of two or three feet. At Coldstream some of the ballast was washed away, and in several places the bridges were in imminent danger. A large stack of wood, that was in the station yard, had almost entirely disappeared. Early on Monday morning the work of repairing began. After Coldstream and Mooroolbark had been seen to, attention was turned to the worst break of all, the one near the level crossing. The respective gangers, with their gangs and all the available outside labourers, with drays were put on, ballast being carted from the station yard. While the work of filling in was going on arrangements were made for trains to run at intervals on each side of the break to convey passengers, mails. Etc. During the afternoon a ballast train was run out at the request of the officials, and the work of repair was greatly expedited thereby, and the embankment soon showed signs of a second growth. By 11pm the track was clear, and a passenger train passed safely over it on her way to the metropolis, laden with passengers, milk, mail etc. On Tuesday night passenger trains ran from Melbourne to Healesville, with no goods. The ordinary running was resumed on Wednesday.
(Lilydale Express July 17, 1891 pg 2)
A BRIDGE WANTS REPLACING
It will be remembered that during the recent floods the bridge adjacent to the Lilydale railway station was swept away. As soon as the waters subsided the bridge was brought back up, but up to the present it has not been placed in its proper position. This caused considerable annoyance to all having to do business at the station, as they have to go round by the roadway to get to the entrance. A quantity of debris has also accumulated on the footpath between the Olinda Hotel and the railway gates. It has been allowed to remain in this spot for over a week, and, the smell arising there from is not of the sweetest. As this is the principal main entrance to the town it is to be hoped that those in authority will have these matters attend to immediately.
(Lilydale Express July 24, 1891 pg 2)
THE FLOOD LILYDALE
Since our last issue went to press it transpired that there were many besides those we named
who did heroic service in rescuing families at the critical period of the flood. Amongst those who were not named but deserve the highest praise for their efforts and good work were Mr R.T. Kings, Mr R. Morton senr., Mr T. Williams, Mr Wm. Willcox, Mr J. McGhee, Mr J. Poyner, Mr
W. Hill and Mr R. Keenan. Messrs Williams, McGhee and J. Poyner brought out their horses and vehicles, and put them in the flood to good purpose, saving many families. Mr T. Williams housed and fed many of the wet and homeless ones both at his residence in Castella street and above his shop in Main street. Cr Kings worked in the flood like a Trojan, and saved several persons from midstream who otherwise likely would have found a watery grave. It is possible that others did good work during the memorable night, but their names have not yet come under our notice.
The WCTU raised more than £5/15 plus food and clothing for victims.
(Lilydale Express July 24, pg 2)
Most of the residents near the Lilydale Railway Station have suffered damage more or less, and some very heavily. Mr G. R. White and Mr Kay are among those who have suffered most severe- ly. Great damage was done to Mr Kay’s paints, colours, and stock, Mr White’s furniture, piano, and books were greatly damaged, and he thinks 150 pounds would cover his loss. It is estimated that 300 pounds will not cover the damage done in the lower portion of Lilydale. Most of the land owners between Lilydale and Yarra Glen have sustained losses, especially Colonel Hutton, Cr Kerr, Mr Parfait, Mr J. Black, Mr Gilbert Macintyre, Mr Simpson and Mr Upton. All lost a great deal of fencing and others not named lost smaller amounts. Cr Kerr and Cr Macintyre lost between 20 and 30 head of valuable cattle each. It is probable that the Shire President, had he
not had such a heavy loss himself, would have called a public meeting, to obtain a fund to relieve those who have suffered through the flood, but it would not look well for him to do so under the circumstances. Some other prominent public men ought to take his place for this purpose.
AFTER THE FLOOD
There is a rumour that certain of the owners of property on the flats on each bank of the Running Creek intend to sue the Shire Council for allowing the water wheel and stones to be placed in the creek at Hand’s tannery. It is alleged that the waterwheel and stones interfered with the flow of water down the creek, and contributed to the inundation of the town. It is also rumoured that certain residents intend to bring an action against the Railway Commissioners for not providing for flood waters near the railway crossing. It is alleged that the railway should have been placed on a bridge, and that the embankment kept back the water.
(Lilydale Express July 24, 1891)
SOUTH WANDIN A REVELATION
A fact has just been revealed to us which explains the sudden and rapid rise of the flood waters in the lower part of Lilydale between one and two o’clock last Sunday morning week. At mid- night the dam in South Wandin, used formerly for Mr E. Clegg’s sawmill, and latterly by Mr David, broke loose, and allowed all the water that was back up to escape through Mooroolbark and Lilydale. The dam was 50 feet deep at the embankment and ran tapering backwards for two or three miles. The logs and the trees of which the embankment was made had become rotten, and the large and sudden accession of water made them give way. This breakaway of storage water caused the sudden rise in the torrent that flooded Lilydale, and rendered rescue of many families speedily necessary.
(Lilydale Express July 24, 1891)
THE FLOODS AND GOVERNMENT RELIEF
Mr T.G. Collings wrote drawing attention to the loss sustained by the president through the floods, and thought the council should await the Railway Commissioners to see if some relief could not be granted.
The president said the railway embankment near his house backed up the flood waters, and when the embankment gave way, the water fell 2 feet in an hour. Not only the householders in the vicinity of the station had suffered, but the ratepayers generally and the council, for the roads
had to be repaired. He thought a pipe culvert should take the place of the embankment.
Cr Kings concurred and moved that a deputation wait upon the Railway Commissioners to request them to do something in the matter.
Cr Baker seconded the motion which was carried unanimously.
(Council meeting report, Lilydale Express July 31, 1891).
During August, the councils of Upper Yarra and Lillydale Shires went on a deputation to the Minister of Public Works on the Woori Yallock bridge which had been washed away, the Lilydale flood and the land slip.
The deputation was led by Mr E. Cameron, M.L.A.
(Lilydale Express August 21, 1891).
ENGINEER’S REPORT ON FLOODS (PART)
In the lower part of the township of Lilydale considerable damage has been done to property, and steps would be taken to prevent a recurrence of the inundation by the construction of an intercepting channel at a higher level.
(Council meeting report, Lilydale Express October 16, 1891)
Immediately, the council started pressuring the government for funds to widen and deepen the channels south of the town or even divert the water through another part of town. But the cost and who was to pay stopped any real resolution of the issue.
While most years saw the Olinda Creek swollen, major flooding only occurred in 1901, 1918, 1923, 1927, 1931, 1934 and 1937.
In 1901 the low-lying parts of town were covered with four to five feet of water.
(Lilydale Express April 26, 1901)
If patience is a virtue, then people of Lilydale should be the most virtuous on the face of the earth, and especially those who reside in the flat near the railway station. How they can live from year to year subject to the risk of life and limb and loss of property from floods without making an outcry that would wake up the council and the Government to a clear conception of their responsibility to make a proper provision for carrying off the storm waters which visit us so regularly at short intervals, is a mystery, and an evidence of patient sufferances and endurance. We have not every year a flood like that of 1891, when Dr Kilpatrick and the still taller police constable were engaged all the wet and stormy night for fully six hours out wading through nearly six feet of water to rescue those who had failed to escape from their houses before the storm waters had hemmed them in. But even this year the recent flood was deep and destructive enough to call for immediate remedial measures.
There were no floods in Lilydale until the Government sold a large portion of the natural bed of the creek for private enterprise, thus completely blocking up the way and diverting the flow into private channels, which are too restricted for the volume of water in the rainy season to get away. Lilydale has now no natural creek whatever within the township limits. The private drain cut by the late Mr John Hutchinson, a former president of the shire, is what we have almost solely to depend on instead, and although each year this drain has gradually increased in depth, this does not compensate for the absence of width, and hence our periodic winter floods so inimical
to the progress of the western portion of the town and dangerous to the stability of the railway bridges and embankments both sides of and close to the railway station.
Cr Taylor, the president of the shire, in the interests of the ratepayers, would do well to arrange for a deputation of shire councillors and others to wait upon the Government and ask for a special grant for widening and straightening the private drain referred as a substitute for the creek, of which we have been deprived by Government malfeasance. Preparatory to this, the president and the councillors for the North-western Riding should inspect the creek so as to be in a position to point out the needed improvements, and if the council were to authorize the shire engineer to make a survey of the necessary deviations and an estimate of the cost of making a creek or creeks, it might facilitate the work of the deputation when approaching the Government for a special grant, or in asking that it be done by day labor at the expense of the Public Works department.
If the sharp corner was taken off Mr Rodgers paddock and the creek widened from Main street to the railway bridge on the north side of the station, there would be no more floods in Lilydale, and a few pounds spent on the waterway underneath the railway at the corner of Mr Wesble’s blacksmith shop and onward to the excavation on the west side at the end of the goods shed, would make the railway line perfectly safe. At the same time the Government should be asked to buy back from the gas company that portion of their property which fronts Main Street on the east of the house and shop occupied by Mr Cox and back to the enclosures round the gasometer and Mr Earl’s house. This land is of no use to the gas company beyond the few pounds a year they get for the grass. An acre or two, at least, of this might be resumed for park land at a reasonable price, and if handed over to and vested in the council, it would facilitate the carrying out of a scheme for public gardens and reserves in conjunction with the vacant land at the back. If Mr Kings, a senior councillor, would take these matters in hand along with the president, who has repeatedly reminded his brother councillors of the need for making the town attractive, Lilydale would shortly be in a position to boast a fine lake and a public park.
(Lilydale Express June 14, 1901)
In September 1918 when the Olinda Creek recorded its highest flood in 27 years, the townspeople saw an unusual sight: the Main street in places was transformed into a sea of water. Residents were forced to abandon their homes and the three branches of the Olinda Creek had joined forces and were “one muddy torrent”.
(Lilydale Express September 6, 1918)
On October 10, 1923 the flood waters rose rapidly in the main street:
“in less than two hours there was three feet of water roaring across the footpath near the rail- way ramp which, for the once, answered the purpose of a solid breakwater.”
In John Street some homes had more than two feet of water running through their homes.
(Lilydale Express October 19, 1923)
In October 1927 it again rained and again flooded.
(Lilydale Express October 7, 1927)
Floodwaters again struck in March 1931, again it started on a Saturday night fed by rain that had fallen on the previous Thursday and Friday.
“The creeks overflowed in the late afternoon (Saturday) but in the face of all this residents in John street felt convinced that they would have no cause to worry; but about 10.30 the water began to rise rapidly and flowed through several houses. The main street east and west of the railway gates was awash and considerable damage was inflicted.”
(Lilydale Express March 27, 1931)