Granny Bridgeman and the 1888 flood


GRANNY BRIDGEMAN AND THE GREENOUGH FLOOD OF 1888 

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Site of Bridgeman house, Greenough flats. Photo courtesy mapio.net

The people of Greenough, Western Australia, were keenly aware of the heat of the third day of February 1888. Many stayed working under the oppressive sun in their paddocks along the river flats a few miles south of Geraldton on the central coast. 

Granny Bridgeman, my father’s great-grandmother, was probably alone in her cottage for much of that day. The Malay servant was in and out, engaged in household tasks, as well as helping the younger Bridgemans and their two children in the summer warmth. 

Gray’s Store, brick and two-storeyed, was only a short 300-yard walk from the Bridgeman cottage on the road which ran from the sand dunes along the beach, past the Bridgeman’s and across the flats. 

Many people were about that day. Maybe they were reflecting on the generosity of Her Majesty’s Imperial Government that had set aside these small rich lots for pensioned guards and soldiers. 

Most were working on the higher ground on the Gray’s Store side of the flats, when the first flood came sweeping down the valley northwards to the sea. 

The Bridgeman’s house was high enough up the rise of the sand dune to be safe, at least from the downstream sweep of the flood-waters. The river was then running seawards from an inland tropical storm at the source of the Greenough River. 

A mile or so from the Bridgeman’s cottage, the Greenough River runs up against a high and impenetrable sand-bar which separates the sometimes wild sea from the swirling greeny-brown river, but only the sea can breach the bar. 

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Greenough River mouth today. Photo courtesy Coral Coast

The flood-waters late on 3rd February met the height of this sand wall and were simply turned back, gaining height and speed back upstream all through the night. 

Nobody could really have imagined what they saw in the dawn light. The newly running river was now horribly swelled and pushing along the flats in the opposite direction. 

Most were safe on the Gray’s Store side or on the east side of the river itself. The store manager, William Moore, set off on horseback to warn the settlers. 

His horse was wary of the wild rushing waters and tripped and threw him. Without his horse, he had to swim for his life in the chest-deep river. 

According to the reports of the time the Warreners, Bridgeman’s neighbours, rescued Moore from the clothesline to which he was clinging. The loaned him another horse. He rode cautiously higher into the dunes to make his way to the Bridgeman’s cottage.  

The Bridgemans had been taken completely by surprise. The sound of running lapping water has wakened them. They acted with the speed of panic. The Malay worker literally used his head to batter a hole in the cottage roof, and the younger family members scrabbled to safety on the rooftop.

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Gray’s Store today.  Photo courtesy The West Australian

Sometime between their waking and the rescue from the roof by William Moore, Granny Bridgeman had opened the door, and was simply gathered up and away in the rush of water. Her body was found days later when the waters receded. Family legend claims she was found in the higher branches of a tree. 

Like Granny Bridgeman, the Greenough settlement lost its heart to the flood. Still the richest soil in Western Australia, the Greenough flats are now used for broad acre wheat-cropping. 

The Bridgeman cottage is now scattered stones. A remnant of wall holds up a water trough for grazing sheep. The General Store is a ruin being reclaimed by the National Trust. 

The dream of small farms to reward fighters for Victoria’s Empire was violently washed away in a few hours. 

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The Walkaway Museum contains contemporary records of the 1888 flood. Photo courtesy Walkaway Museum

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One response

  1. I knew nothing of that, absolutely fascinating read, thanks Ted.

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