Never-before-seen pictures of 1974 Brisbane flood hell

Before the Brisbane floods of 2011 and 2022, there was 1974. The city went under 50 years ago this week, in what would become one of Queensland’s worst natural disasters. SEE THE PICTURES

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Biblical-scale deluge, one of Queensland’s – and indeed Australia’s – worst natural disasters.

The River City went under, consumed by metres of muddy flood waters unleashed by Ex-Cyclone Wanda after it crossed the coast near Maryborough – dumping up to 1300mm of rain on the already-sodden South East.

Brisbane’s CBD swamped by the Brisbane River in the 1974 floods.

Rainfall records tumbled, with Brisbane recording its wettest single day since 1887.

“Brisbane was a city of island suburbs last night in the wake of the city’s worst flooding,” The Courier-Mail reported on January 26, 1974, with a front page picture of a group of bedraggled kids on a makeshift raft being rescued from inundated houses at Windsor.

Sixteen people died – including a two-year-old boy who was swept from his father’s hands at Oxley Creek near Inala after their car was washed away – and almost 7000 homes were flooded.

In pictures: Previously unseen drama of Brisbane’s 1974 floods

“It was Brisbane’s Dunkirk,” The Sunday Mail reported as the devastating flooding continued into Australia Day.

“Hundreds of small craft worked the flooded suburban streets carrying householders to high ground and safety.

The swollen Brisbane river with the CBD skyline in the background.

“RAAF Iroquois helicopters flew mercy missions into the metropolitan area. They winched people from treetops near Bundamba and from rooftops at Inala and Blackstone.”

Photos from our archives show scenes of utter devastation, including a car half-swallowed by a giant sinkhole at Inala, shell-shocked residents wading through waist-deep water past the old Park Royal Hotel in the CBD and a mud-caked woman swigging a drink during the exhausting mop-up.

There are also pictures that depict the never-say-die spirit of Queenslanders during our all-too-regular disasters – two girls laughing as they float down a flooded road at Yeronga in a bathtub, a drinker pulling up to the Regatta Hotel at Toowong in a kayak and a woman clutching a baby and cooking on a makeshift stove outside her inundated home.

Patrons on the veranda of the Regatta Hotel at Toowong.

Many old-timers who have lived through all three major floods reckon ‘74 was the worst they’ve seen – and in terms of the Brisbane River level, it was.

The ‘74 flood peaked at 5.45m – nowhere near the 8.35m of the 1893 flood but significantly higher than the 4.46m level of 2011 and the 3.85m level of 2022.

But with Brisbane a much bigger city than it was in 1974, many more properties were flooded in 2011 (about 20,000) and 2022 (23,400).

Cars moved to higher ground after flooding at Goodna Caravan park. Picture: Earl Bridger

The ‘74 flood, though, profoundly changed Brisbane and led to the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam which the politicians proclaimed would floodproof Brisbane … then came January 2011.

As the 50th anniversary of Queensland’s worst flood of the 20th century looms, another unpredictable cyclone is forming up north.

Surely history won’t be as cruel as to repeat itself?

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