Pop Gus Ryder talks about the Northam floods, 1949 or 50

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Anyway all of a sudden when I woke up the morning, the river had I think, from one of the banks that we used to play on was six feet difference, and then the trees that grew on top of them was another eight, seven or eight feet higher. And the water levels was, all you could see when you were there, was the leaves of the trees. And I had to get across because my horses was on the other side in the corner. It was a corner of fence like that, and they were all stuck here because they couldn’t go across the water, and the water was coming, rising higher and higher. So, I was thinking to myself, I said so many prayers, but I don’t know what happened and the next thing I knew I had my clothes off and I had shorts on. And then I strapped all my clothes on top of my head and I went doing a dog paddle through the water. And I started to get tired somewhere but in the middle of it and I thought, no, if I turn back that way it’s the same distance as going over this other way, although that where I was living was deeper. It was about eight or maybe more, twenty feet at least depth. And alI I could see as an escape for me was a tree top was like that, and I thought if I could get to there, I’ll hang on to that for a while because I was starting to get tired. So I managed to swim out there and then I held on to this for a long time, because I started to get enough energy to go across again. Then there was another one in between that so I swam to the next tree and then I hung on to that leaf and then I thought no, no good going back that way. I might as well keep going straight ahead and I could see my ponies anyway. Seven of them I think it was. I could see them and one of my dogs was missing and that’s the part that hurted me most. Anyway I managed to get across and I put all my clothes back on again and I raced up to get the ponies out. And I let them loose and let them run along the river, the top end of the river where there was plenty of food and everything for them. And I got the one I wanted most of all, my pony Flicker. And then I realised there was another dog that I’m missing. I can’t find that dog so I went down to the house where we were living in. And without a word, I swear by the almighty God that in that house it was high as this.

Denise Cook: About four or five feet.

Gus Ryder: Yeah and my Dad used to hide his bottles of wine in what we used to call it a little dark room and he used to hide his bottles of wine in there. And, one night I went looking for him because he was a little bit crook and I said, Dad, I kept shouting around the house and when I opened the door he was looking for his bottle of wine. He’d stuck it in a mattress. It used to be in them days a kapok mattress and he was trying to find his bottle of wine and all this kapok was all in – and look – who’s this here? But anyway going back to the water was about that –

Denise Cook: About two metres high.

Yeah, inside the house. And I was missing my dog, see. And I went on my pony right into the house; I tied her up on the outside. And she was scared anyway, I could see that, but I give her a pat down. She knew I was in the house anyway. So then I had a job to go down under the water to open the doors. You know that little bit more to go down to find the locks. And when I found a lock I could see my little dog was floating on top. She was trying to get out. She couldn’t get out. So I managed to get her and I poked her head under the doorway till she got up to find a bit of fresh air. Then we went to the kitchen door and then I poked her down again. We got her out. Yeah. In that way.

Denise Cook: Well done.

Gus Ryder: Yeah. That was and then I went around the town to have a looking at my friends because my friends was on the other side of the river and I went around on my pony, when I got to Taylor’s Bridge – Mum used to work on the CWA then Taylor’s Bridge was down a bit further, they couldn’t cross. The policemans and that couldn’t cross and here I am going on my pony, I’m riding along and going over this big bridge and they telling me afterwards the bridge was rocking. And here I’m going along I thought oh this is all right and when I got in the other side the police, I think he was Constable Rudd, he said can I use your pony for a little while, I want to go and see an old lady in one of the houses where I think his mother or his grandmother was. Anyway he jumped on the pony, he went in there but I don’t know what happened with him but he came back, he bought the pony back in, then I rushed around to see my friends down at the other end of town. Yeah that was one day that I never forgot. It was just one of those days.

From: Pop Gus Ryder, interview for South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, 12 August 2008.

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SWALSC followed cultural protocols to obtain permission to use this oral history on the website. It is also protected by copyright law and may only be used for private study, research, criticism or review. If you would like to use it for any commercial purposes, including publication, making copies for sale, or modifying it please contact SWALSC on reception@noongar.org.au or PO Box 585, Cannington, 6987.
Note: In some cases the written transcript has been edited with permission from the person interviewed and may differ slightly from the audio recording.

Permission to use this audio recording kindly granted by Pop Gus Ryder

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