Margaret Cook is a historian who has penned a book about the history of floods in the Brisbane catchment, including Ipswich.
Margaret Cook is a historian who has penned a book about the history of floods in the Brisbane catchment, including Ipswich.

Historian delves into flooded past for future planning

MOST locals would remember the smell and the sight of mud that lined the streets of Ipswich following the floods of 1974 and 2011.

Ipswich woman Dr Margaret Cook was only five-years-old during the 74 inundation and still remembers helping her mother wash the neighbours sheets.


"I lived in Brisbane at the time, what my parents did is they took time off work and they went and rescued people," she said.

"They brought back their washing and you can't do much when you're five. So, I looked after field mice who came sheltering on high ground.

"The other job I had was to hose the mud off before the washing went into our washing machine, because Mum didn't want the washing machine full of mud.

"I still remember that smell and the stripes of mud going down those sheets."

Dr Cook is now a historian and heritage consultant who has recently penned a book about the history of the flood, highlighting the force of mother nature, political tensions and community power.

"Floods are a really good moment of crisis in society that exposes a lot of tensions. They expose political tension, economic tensions and also that moment of intensity and human relations with the river," she said.

"It started off with a PhD in history at The University of Queensland. Which I finished last year and then decided I would turn it into a book."


Flooding in Ipswich. Ipswich CBD looking. West.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times
Flooding in Ipswich. Ipswich CBD looking. West.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times


Dr Cook delved into the events leading up to the flooding, the reactions and looks at the lessons we can learn moving forward.

"Ipswich in 74 got flooded by the Bremer River, the backwash from the Brisbane River and so the water couldn't get away and the creeks were really flooded, so Ipswich was pretty much isolated for three full days," she said.

"The Bremer River doesn't have a dam on it, which is one of the few unregulated rivers in Queensland. The Bremer River can come up very quickly in about six hours and go from quite low to flood waters very quickly. So, the impact on Ipswich can be really quick and catch us unaware."

While Dr Cook was in Perth during the 2011 floods, she watched on in heartbreak as she saw vision of Ipswich under water once again.

She relived the devastation when carrying out her research for her PhD and book A River with a City Problem.


Book Cover
Book Cover "A River with a City Problem" by Margaret Cook.

"It's very hard to talk to people who've gone through a very difficult task and many times I went away with more than a tear in my eye. It's hard going sometimes," she said.

"There will be names people know, photos they recognise. There will be stories of Coles and iconic buildings that we know of that went under water.

"We talk about the Trumpy Bridge and how close it came to that. I think for Ipswich people, it will bring back a lot of memories, good and bad.

"One of the stories that have become very popular and I think a lot of people remember is the Mud Army and all the people who flocked out to help."

Dr Cook said preparation would be key to mitigate damage when the next flood hits.

"Floods will come again, we never know when and we don't know how big, but with the risks of climate change, floods will be more frequent and larger, that's the prediction and that cyclones may come further down the coast. Cyclones and floods often come together," she said.

"I just think it doesn't hurt to be more prepared regardless.

"I think we're really reactive, we knew there was a chance of floods and people came in really well and cleaned up after. But I think there's a great case of being able to come in beforehand to move stuff.

"There was a lot of landfill in the last 2011 floods that I think could have been moved to some hills and I'd like to see next time a bit more proaction. Maybe we can have a flood army that comes in the beginning, rather than a mud army that comes in at the end."

Dr Cook will be giving a public talk at the Cooneana Heritage Centre on 24 November.

Her book can be purchased at the Ipswich Art Gallery, at the bookshop at Riverlink or online at Booktopia, Fishpond and Amazon.