The Great Flood Of 1852
The Australian Women's Weekly|June 2021
In Wiradyuri country, the life-giving waters of the rivers can make or break dreams. When the floods come Wagadhaany survives, but is her life now better than the fate she escaped?
Anita Heiss

Wild wind and torrential rain thrash the Bradley home. The pitter-patter of the first drops to fall has been quickly replaced with a pelting that hits the windows so hard they risk smashing. Wagadhaany shivers with fear as a bitterly cold draught come through a gap in the door frame.

‘We need to sandbag,’ Henry Bradley says forcefully, his role as the patriarch of the family never more tested than now. ‘Others have already done it. We’re going to lose everything if we don’t take action now!’

It’s an announcement and an order in one, his four sons jumping to attention instantly, as does Wagadhaany, waiting for her instructions as their servant.

‘No!’ Mr. Bradley’s wife, Elizabeth, has never raised her voice in their home and her challenge to her husband comes out with a tremble. She is fighting back tears and is visibly shaken by the torrential rain that is drenching their town. ‘We should just leave now, we should go to higher ground.’

She looks pleadingly at her husband as she keeps a firm grip on her Bible and prayer beads, shivering in the winter cold as it has been impossible to keep the living-room fire alight. By the look on Henry Bradley’s face, he isn’t happy being chastised by his wife. Wagadhaany is reminded of her father saying White men never listen on the day that she first saw Mr. Bradley.

So much has changed in the fourteen years since – the size of the town, the number of shops and houses, so many new townsfolk, and more Aboriginal people working for White families. Her own father is one of many men who have become stockmen and shepherds on the Bradleys’ and other local stations, riding horses with the skill to herd cattle and sheep-like her Uncle Badhrig said they would. The one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is Henry Bradley’s refusal to listen to people who know better. Wagadhaany has vivid memories of her father saying it was a bad idea to build here. Her ears are filled with his wise words as the rain continues to fall without mercy.

‘Only those families in the lowest part of the town, over on the north bank of the river, have moved,’ Henry says, looking at each family member in turn, but bypassing her altogether. ‘We are fine here, I think. Those living above shopfronts are still there.’ He strains to see the lights on buildings on either side of their home. ‘The river will not reach us.’

The four Bradley sons move in silence as they follow their father outside, falling naturally into the order of age from eldest to youngest. The bossiest, James, she believes to be twenty-six years old. The physically strongest, David, is only a year younger. The usually chattiest of the four, Harry, is twenty-two, while the kindest of the brothers, Andrew, she thinks is probably only a couple of years older than she is, but she can’t be sure. Andrew is the son always by his mother’s side, though all four of the brothers adore their mother.

‘I don’t think we have enough gunny sacks,’ Harry sings out to no one yet everyone. ‘We need to get more!’

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