When river levels started rising and inundating properties in Port Fairy last week, memories of the events of 1946 came flooding back.
Port Fairy experienced a one-in-50-year flood last weekend, but back in March 1946 the devastation of the one-in-100-year floods that inundated the town is still fresh in the mind of those who were there to witness it.
The 250mm of rain that fell over two days in 1946 - combined with king tides - claimed the lives of five members of one family in Macarthur, washed away houses, bridges and inundated the streets of Port Fairy.
In one of the most famous pictures of those floods - three men in a boat rowing down the street in front the Port Fairy Stump hotel - was Jan Willey's father Jack Emms.
She was just nine when the flood waters rose and flooded her father's bakery at 48 William Street.
The rising water sent the tables of rising dough tumbling over.
Her father and uncle had spent that night monitoring the rising waters by putting little pebbles on the railway line while the floodwaters washed them off.
And by March 18, Bank, James, William, Sackville and Regent streets were all under two or more feet of water.
"My father took us down to the bottom end of Gipps Street because the water was coming over the traffic bridge and there was a man with a rope around his middle and he waded across the river and brought a lady back upon his back," she said. "It was pretty heroic really."
A man with a rope around his middle and he waded across the river and brought a lady back upon his back. It was pretty heroic really.Jan Willey
The floodwaters cancelled school for days and it took months before train services to the town could be restored.
Mrs Willey recalls the planes that delivered blankets and bread to the park in town, and her father delivering bread to people in a boat.
She said devastation caused by the floods lasted well after the floodwaters had receded.
"I know dad couldn't get in the bakery for a long, long time. It was an awful mess," she said. "It was all over the floor and right through my grandmother's house. It was terrible.
"Dad didn't bake for quite a while it was such a mess. He was getting bread in from Warrnambool I think."
She said her father had not long taken over the bakery when the floods hit, but the damage had a major impact on her father. "Dad had a breakdown after it," she said.
There was not the help offered back then like there is now and Mrs Willey said that by the 1950s he'd sold the business because "he couldn't handle it anymore".
With the Rosebrook and north Port Fairy bridges out, people had to travel the long way to Warrnambool, but the army - which had come with their 'ducks' to help people cut off by floodwaters - also helped build a temporary bridge.
Mrs Willey still remembers how dangerous it was trying to cross the temporary bridge. "We went to Melbourne in the bread van and when we came back it was so narrow ... we nearly went over the side. You had to keep the wheels right on it," she said. "It just sort of slipped down. I can remember mum screaming."
Mrs Willey said that as a kid she remembers parts of Port Fairy would flood every year, but nothing had ever compared to 1946.
"Every year we had rain. There was a drain at the back of the gardens and all those houses along there ended up with water in the backyards," she said.
Mrs Willey's school friend lived in one of those houses. "She used to feed the chooks and they'd be up on the roof because you couldn't feed them on the ground because it was all under water," she said.
"It's something that happened every year, every winter, but 1946 was really bad.
"There was a lot of hay bales caught in under the main bridge and that caused the water to go out absolutely everywhere."
Weather records show 1946 was a wet year. In the first three months of the year, 570mm of rain had fallen - 330mm in March alone. The March rainfall that year was more than double the rainfall recorded in any month in any year since records began.
Ted Miller, 85, was about 11 when the floods hit Port Fairy. "It came right up to the bottom of the hill in Bank Street near the highway," he said.
He remembers using an old door as a boat to play in the floodwaters surrounding The Stump hotel.
"I remember the bridge going out at Port Fairy north. Dad worked at Glaxo and he couldn't get home because the bridge was gone. He was there for a couple of days. He couldn't get over," Mr Miller said.
"So they put a flying fox across and he came across on that. They bought him across with his bike."
The Glaxo factory, which was then a milk factory, had to close because the trucks couldn't get out to the farms to collect the milk and much of the factory itself was under a foot of water. Mr Miller, who was one of 13 kids, said a few of the farms along the Hamilton Road dropped some of their milk to them while they couldn't get it to the factory. "We had that much flaming milk we didn't know what to do with it," he said with a laugh.
An old black and white photo shows a young Mr Miller surveying the damage floodwaters caused along the river. "There was a lot of water coming down," he said.
A number of boats and dinghies were lost and much of the concrete wharf was also swept away along with three bridges around the town.
The events of March 1946 may have happened almost 75 years ago, but Mr Miller said "we still talk about it". "There's not too many left to remember it," he said.
Port Fairy wasn't the only place inundated by flood waters, and in nearby Macarthur the rapidly rising floodwaters claimed nearly all the members of the Sparrow family.
In the heavy rains of St Patrick's Day 1946, farmer George Sparrow yoked up the horse and cart in an effort to save his family. They had woken in their home to water lapping at the beds.
Son Roy headed to Bessiebelle to seek help, while George and wife Lillian tried to save the lives of their other children Letitia, Bruce and Ronald. While frantically trying to reach higher ground, the horse and cart veered off the path from the family home to the front gate. Lillian and the three children were stuck underneath the upturned carriage and drowned. After nine hours of trying to reach safety an exhausted George died of a heart attack.
The Port Fairy Historical Society plans to hold an exhibition to coincide with the 75th anniversary next year.