The 1955 Maitland flood was one of the most severe catastrophes to ever hit the region.
It destroyed thousands of homes as water inundated the city and claimed several lives.
On Wednesday February 23, 1955 heavy rain began falling in the Upper Hunter Valley. This would be the beginning of a horrendous week for the people of Maitland.
By Sunday February 27 the rising waters on both the upper and lower reaches of the river system resulted in widespread flooding. According to SES records released by Floodsafe Hunter, the total flood volume for the entire Hunter River system was 2.1 million megalitresenough to fill Sydney Harbour over four times. In Maitland, the flood reached a peak height of 12.1 metres at the Belmore Bridge gauge.
STORIES OF THE FLOOD
BY REBECCA BERRY
Growing up on a farm at Oakhampton Road, Maitland was a carefree, happy adventure for the Hill family siblings.
But as Barbara Hill (now Leake) recalled, everything the family owned was lost in the February 1955 Maitland flood.
At that time, Mrs Leake was 14-years-old, the oldest of four children, and unlike their experience in the 1949 Maitland flood, they had no idea what was about to rain upon them.
Mum decided to stay at the house despite being told to get out, Mrs Leake said.
She thought it would be safe because in 1949 the house had two feet six inches of water inside and she decided we would stay and sweep out the water and mud as it came in and everything would go back to normal fairly quickly.
But this time it was quite different the water came in up to the ceiling.
We had stacked the furniture but we were unable to save a thing, there was nothing left in our house.
The Hill family decided to go across the road to higher ground and to the safety of a neighbours veranda, and then on the roof.
As a teenager I remember thinking this is a bit of excitement, watching water go by, bloated cows and hay bales.
Then it got serious. We had been sitting on the verandah with our neighbours, the Braziers, when we were told to alert some older neighbours about a quarter of a mile walk up the road.
The water was up to our ankles at first and by the time we got back to the Braziers, the water was up to our knees and rising quickly.
Dad got a ladder so we could all climb onto the roof. There were 17 people on top of a weatherboard house.
The house started to rock under the force of the water. We had to climb across the ladder onto a brick house next door. I went first and held the ladder for everyone else.
Mum had packed her basket with bread, corned meat and a torch and it fell into the water. She was not happy about it.
By this time it was raining and dark so we removed a sheet of iron, climbed into the roof cavity and sat on the rafters for the night.
It was a scary time for all and Mrs Leake will never forget the roar of the flood waters and houses being washed away.
We had no idea what was coming. The water came in like an ocean, in waves.
These are childhood memories for me and when I think it about now it must have been hard on Mum and Dad. They had four children to keep safe, they lost all their possessions, it was pretty horrific, then they had to start again.
Everyone in that roof top survived and all were rescued the next day by a surf club boat which tore through the raging water to get everyone to safety.
The Hill family was taken to Cobbs Hill near Maitland Hospital.
Mrs Leake remembered staying at her grandmothers house in Bulwer Street, Maitland for the next six weeks, where there had been no flood damage because it is the highest part of the city of Maitland.
Mum and Dad left Oakhampton after that. They bought a house in Brooks Street, Telarah and later moved to Lorn.
I was doing my intermediate certificate at the time at St Marys Dominican Convent in Maitland but because it had been flood damaged we had to attend school at Monte Pio at Campbells Hill, until St Marys was cleaned up.
I will never forget how I wrote about my experience in the flood and I received a good mark for it, although the teacher did not believe it was a true story at the time.
But I lived through it, along with a lot of others who did not go back to Oakhampton Road.
For more on the 1955 flood: