Brisbane the Flood-prone City

Here is an article written by my friend and historian, Yvonne Perkins. The original is in Online Opinion – Australia’s E-Journal for Social and Political Debate

Photo Flooding Brisbane 1893

1893 floods in Brisbane – Queen St. in the CBD. Source: Wikimedia

We have all been shocked by the devastating floods in southern Queensland and our hearts reach out to those living through this destruction. This is not just a crisis in one city, three quarters of the state has been affected by floods over the last three weeks.

At last count over eighty six towns and cities in Queensland have been either flooded or isolated due to floods. There has been constant reference to the floods of 1974.

The image above indicates that these floods are not an aberration – they have been occurring ever since European settlement and there is evidence of flooding prior to this.

We live in a country that is very dry, often drought-stricken and prone to fierce bush fires and paradoxically suffers periodically with floods.

Like two years ago when Victoria had devastating bush fires at the same time as north Queensland was suffering from severe flooding, this time southern Queensland has suffered from a huge torrent of water while firefighters in Perth, Western Australia were battling a large bushfire.

Historical Records

The floods in Queensland, as well as the floods in New South Wales, Victoria , Brazil and Sri Lanka, will have consumed countless photos, diaries, letters etc. At the moment the priority is where it should be – saving lives and creating safe living conditions. There will be little time or resources to save personal memories.
Natural disasters such as these floods are terribly damaging to our historical records. All the homes that have been flooded will now have waterlogged photo albums, diaries and hard disc drives. While the State Library of Queensland has given good advice on how to save some of these precious memories, in many cases owners will not be able to restore them.

I read about Brisbane’s flooding problem while doing a geography major at university. Through an article by Rahman and Weber we learned that Brisbane is prone to flooding because of flash flooding of creeks within the city due to severe thunderstorms, overland flooding due to built structures impeding and redirecting the natural path of rainwater overland and flooding of the Brisbane river (Rahman and Weber, p. 74). Brisbane is hilly and therefore has many valleys where floodwater accumulates. Unfortunately buildings have been sited in areas where floods can occur. The Bureau of Meteorology has summarised the history of flooding in Brisbane by graph and a chronology. This shows 1841 was the year when Brisbane suffered its highest flood levels. 1893 saw flooding that almost reached the levels of 1841. The 1974 floods were severe but considerably lower than the floods of the nineteenth century. While the 1974 floods were higher 6,700 homes were affected whereas in 2011 14,700 homes were affected.

Graph of the hisotry of flooding in Brisbane sine 1840







Source: Bureau of Meteorology


The inescapable issue that the authorities will have to grapple with in the aftermath of this tragedy is how to plan for the future. These floods will occur again and again. New buildings and structures will need to be constructed to replace those that have been destroyed. Where will they be placed?


Print Sources

Rahman, K., and T. Weber, ‘Sustainable urban development in Brisbane City – the Holy Grail?, Water Science and Technology, 47 no. 7-8, pp. 73-9.

Towns affected by floods in southern Queensland: Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan 2011.
Topographical map showing places in southern Queensland affected by floods: Mail Online, 12 Jan. 2011 (scroll down the page to find the map).
Excellent map showing flood affected areas of Brisbane: Brisbane City Council Flood COP (note the ability to zoom into street level on this map).
Detailed Photomap of Brisbane created by photos taken on 13 Jan. 2011: Nearmap
More historic maps of floods in Brisbane: Short Sharp Science


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