Letter from Lyn Berlowitz, Bullita Station

Bullita Station
P.M.B. 29
Timber Creek Via Katherine
N.T. .. 5780
3rd April 1977

My Dearest Min,
Your telegram arrived 1st. Yes dear it has been a shocking catastrophe for us. We are still busy cleaning out inches of river silt and burning mattresses, clothing etc, for everything is ruined and oh so smelly. The Timber Creek people rallied to our aid with a coupe of frocks for me (of course far too big), panties, a couple of nighties, talk powder and even perfume. Happy's work mates contributed tinned food, vegies, a petrol engine, freezer box and a water pump, and these wonderful men gave up a long weekend jaunt into Katherine to bring out a graders and three 4 wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers laden with stiff brooms, a washing tub, scrubbing brushes, disinfectant and everything that was needed to clean the dreadful flood stench. People are really wonderful when one is in distress.

Our trouble really started on Tuesday night of the 15th March. (I think in my telegram the date given was the 14th, but I was so distraught I couldn't think straight). During the month of February which is usually our heavy monsoonal rain month only 117 mm or nearly 5 inches of rain registered, normally 20 to 24 inches falls, so we all concluded the "wet" was to be a very dry one. The month of March to 15th (AM) only 256 mm or just over 10 inches had registered, and no one was concerned.

Happy and the men folk were away on their job about 50 miles from here and were not due home until Saturday night. 0n the 15th I went to bed about 8 PM (the insects are such a pest one can't do anything at night). It had rained off and on all day, but fairly lightly and the river was at normal height.

About 2 AM I was wakened by a bit of a crash, and thinking it was a big frog hopping in the kitchen I ignored the noise. Within 10 minutes there was a big crash of glass so I grabbed my torch and went to investigate. Just in front of my elevated stove was a terrible mess of cornflakes, sugar and All Bran mixed in with the broken jars. When I raised the torch higher to the mantle shelf over the stove I just about fainted, for there was the longest and fattest brown snake I had even seen. Of course, by this time the rain was falling heavily and steadily and a beaut electrical thunderstorm was right over the station (Bullita). Couldn't put the generator on as it's housed away from the cottage, and I would have got sopping wet, and also the lightning was playing off around the hills and might have struck the engine.

I went and got my Browning pistol, and holding the torch took aim but missed the snake which slithered down from the mantle shelf, down under our dresser in the kitchen. Sent off a coupe of more shots, but as I was trembling so much I am never sure that I hit the beastly thing. There seemed to be quite a bit of blood oozing out so was hoping it would bleed to death. Couldn't bear to go back to bed knowing the snake was still alive so got a chair and holding the pistol sat and watched until daylight came and I could see what I was doing.

By this time the rain had really set in, so as soon as it was light enough to see, went out to look at the rain gauge and got quite a shock as it had evidently been running over for some considerable time, as there was quite a lake around the galvanised iron container. (Bullita is a registered rainfall observers reporting station), and at 9 AM each morning we telegraph in the amount measured. I think the gauge takes about 10 inches of rain. Noting this I went to have a look at the river (East Baines) which is only 40-50 yards from the cottage. The river had risen and was running swiftly and had broken its banks on both sides, and was almost up to our windmill which stands 15 yards from the back door. Even then I didn't panic as each year this had happened, but the water had not gone beyond the windmill.

I quickly went down and opened the doors to the fowl and duck pen which already had 12 inches of water swirling through them. Our pet dog Princess five week old puppies which we used to bed down to our bathroom each night for fear of snakes. I grabbed a strong mail bag and put the puppies in but unfortunately the load was too heavy over my back, so took three out intending to go back and get the others. Called the Royal Flying Doctor Service Base at Wyndham and reported the river was so very high and that I was leaving for higher ground up at the goat yard. I slung the mail bag and the 2 puppies over my shoulder and set off to wade up to the goat yard. I had on an old back plastic raincoat of Happy's and white "wet proof" bowling hat and your brown desert boots for which later on I was very thankful. The water was only to my knees to the breakaway "overflow" from the river, and I was in no way concerned. Each year this area in front of the cottage needed to be negotiated when the river flooded and broke its banks.

I dumped the two puppies down to the goat yard and made their mother Princess stay with them and set off again back to the cottage which is about a short 1/4 mile away. I tried to follow the road but the rushing waters pushed me into a deep rut where I lost my footing and was swept away downstream to the overflow of the river, which by this short time had spread almost up to the goat yard. I got very frightened as the noise and the waters swept me along ............ but kept saying to myself "Don't panic". Hampered by the big mail bag I let it go and within seconds the water swept it out of sight. It was too deep for me to stand so when I came near to a big dead tree lying on its side (it was a white gum which had only collapsed six months previously in a wind blow) I grabbed it and held on, and climbing up on of the forks wedging myself to the fork with my right foot. This is where I was grateful for your desert boots. I was wearing only a sleeveless seer-sucker button down the front dress. And as the thunder, lightning and rain didn't let up you can imagine how cold I was. As the river rose and rose I needed to climb up the slippery crumbling bark. Afterwards I found my knees, arms and thighs were all lacerated, and my right foot having to be so tightly wedged in the fork got very cramped and sore.

When it became unbearable I just had to lift it for relief, and when I did the raging river tried to snatch me, and I went under twice, but each time grimly I held on to the lower end of the fork by one arm. Big logs and living trees 30 to 40 feet long were all being uprooted and were swirling past at a terrific pace. It was a wonder I wasn't t struck by one. Smaller trees and logs I managed to steer off and they got tangled in my big tree roots.

By this time all of the huge fencing posts near the cottage and are 4'6" above the ground could not be seen, and looking up I could see I only had 9 inches of my right fork, if the river rose further than that I knew I wouldn't make it.

From 8:20 AM till dark I was standing bent over the fork with both arms hugging it to my chest, with only my head above the water, saying my prayers and talking with God. He felt very close and I knew he would support me in my old tree I called my "Rock of Ages cleft (especially) for me". Twice I tried to board a huge living tree just to my side and to the rear of mine, but just could not make it. It turned out to be luck as towards the late afternoon the living tree was up-rooted and joined the throng of trees, cattle, drums, snakes etc. racing down river towards the sea.

Having notified the Royal Flying Doctor Service base I felt sure a helicopter would be sent to rescue or even to check if I was OK. But amid the storm no one came. Late afternoon the rain stopped and river was starting to go down. I was amazed how quickly the water was receding and just before dusk I was able to see the top of the fence posts. Feeling the water slowly receding I waited another hour before I left my "Rock" and waded back to the cottage.

What a dreadful seen of wreckage and devastation greeted me. I couldn't open the door because of the 18 cubic foot freezer, was lying on its side together with the refrigerator and another small fridge.

The kitchen dresser, side board buffets were all over and smashed, louvres broken, fly wire torn, beds up-ended and the inner spring mattresses of and lying in filthy evil slime. My dresses in the wardrobe were ruined up to the waistline, badly marked and oh so smelly.

Clearly everything has to be burned. Even my precious piano. The Viscount Caravan was torn from its moorings and swept up towards the native quarters where it lies a complete write-off.
Two Toyota Land Cruisers lie amongst dozens of up-ended trees torn out by the roots.

The house paddock is now denuded of trees, and at the back of the fowl and duck pen where there was very thick trees the course of the river has cut a channel which now takes the river much nearer the homestead.

We lost most of the fowls - only six hens and a rooster left, and most of our 60 goats went. The ducks died, and also my dear little puppies I tried to save.

When I arrived at the cottage so wet and shivering with cold I made up my mind to have a hot rum and milk to warm my body and stop my teeth from chattering, but of course everything was caught up in the flood with nothing warming left. You can imagine how shocked and ghastly I felt. All I wanted was to lie down somewhere, but there was nowhere dry to lie and nowhere to go. How totally alone I felt.

To my complete surprise Princess ran whimpering into the house having swum the now shallow lake out in front, then thinking I could hear faint yelping I went out to the gate where happily I could definitely hear a puppy crying. I asked myself "will I or wont I" knowing I needed to wade up to the cattle yards, but of course I had to go. When I eventually spotted the pup it went made with joy, and strangely it was the little runt of the litter. How it survived is a mystery. It was so cold and hungry like myself. I picked it up and cuddled it taking it back to the house.

Back at the house with the rain falling steadily I found an old loll-about wedged near the gate, set it up to one of the evil smelling rooms. Searching for anything dry I found a woollen cardigan that only the sleeves had touched the flood, and wrapped my feet in it, then tried to sleep with the puppy on my lap. Then the vomiting a purging started and went on all night.
Princess looked so worried. Early the next morning I heard a plane overhead, struggling outside and waved trying to tell them I needed help.

Unknown to me it was a charter plane with Happy on board. Happy said later when he saw me standing and waving the cloth he assumed I was OK. In the afternoon another plane circled and I did the same thing, only this time the pilot flew very low over me and dropped a note saying to get a sheet and make a minus sign if OK or make a cross if help was needed. The note also said happy was on his way, walking in from Dingo Springs as he couldn't get any further with the vehicles so decided to walk and swim the 10 miles in. Knowing Happy was on his way I naturally made a minus sign. Happy arrived and the men arrived about 9:20 PM and couldn't believe the chaos and wreckage. The big generators, pumps, piano, all our furniture and personal possessions, photos were all ruined .... It means tying to start all over again.

Since the ordeal I haven't been well. My whole body took such a battering from the rushing waters, debris and logs that my arm, chest, back and thighs arse exeedingly painful. It's agony to turn over in bed or even get up. However, I am getting there. Today my right foot which was wedged in the fork of the tree has swollen and flared up, I can hardly walk. I have been turning to God for comfort and support. I feel sure he won't let me suffer.

We thank you for your telegram Robin's offer of accommodation but we have to remain here as we owe the bank $20,000 and could hardly walk off not honouring our commitment. We believe something will unfold.

Now Min darling, I have tried to give you a true and accurate picture of what happened. Four days later a family of six, 3 men and a woman and two children on Dorisvale Station on the Daly River all lost their lives when the big flood struck (and they had a boat), so it is one of God's miracles that I survived!

All our love, Lyn



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Last updated: Monday, 12.04.2010 9:13 AM