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truck crossing
North Richmond Bridge, 1956

If there's a Hawkesbury story we all know about, it's the 'flood' story, right? Well, you might be surprised. As recently as February 2012, a Hawkesbury resident was reported as saying that he did not realise his McGraths Hill home was at the risk of flooding. And he is not alone: a 2001 survey conducted in Richmond revealed that one in five of those surveyed did not know that they were living on a flood plain.

It's a big story, and we aren't trying to cover every aspect of it. Rather, we have chosen some main themes, including how reports of floods have changed, from the dramatic descriptions of nineteenth century scribes, and painstakingly prepared illustrations and engravings, to photography, film and TV. It includes the oldest known documentary footage of Windsor Bridge in flood, as well as ABC TV news reports from 1961, 1986, and 1990. In 2012 the Hawkesbury Gazette's Facebook page showed how social media can be used to inform and engage the local community in ways never seen before.

We also look at the history of flood rescue – in 1869 the first ever volunteer flood brigade in the country was formed at Windsor; stories of tragedy and heroism; and what it means to live with floods, a learning curve that began with Governor Macquarie, and continues to this day. There will almost certainly be another major flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean, but are we ready for it? What will its impact be? What have we learnt? We hope to show people how their homes could be affected in the future, and how they can prepare themselves for an emergency.


The Richard Coley Lodge

The Richard Coley Lodge

Windsor's important role in the development of the colony of New South Wales is well-known. What is less well known is that its importance allowed it to establish one of the earliest Masonic Lodges in the country, in 1841. At the time, Windsor had a population of just over 1,400 people, but it had three breweries, two tanneries and provided much of the food for the Sydney Region.

The three breweries supported no less than 14 hotels, one of which, The Australian Hotel at McGraths Hill, served as Windsor Social Lodge's first meeting place before the lodge purchased the Odd Fellows Hall on Macquarie Street, Windsor in 1844. Prominent Hawkesbury citizen, Robert Fitzgerald, was its first Worshipful Master, followed by Richard Coley, after whom the Lodge was renamed in 1888.


From underwear to hardware

The Richard Coley Lodge

Hunter and Ross Hordern were the great grandsons of Anthony Hordern, the founder in 1825 of Anthony Hordern & Sons, which at its peak in the early twentieth century employed 1200 people, served 30,000 customers a day and operated the largest department store in the southern hemisphere. It died an ignominious death in 1970, but by then Hunter and Ross had set up their own store in Windsor, where they sold hardware, manchester, haberdashery and clothing, as well as power boating accessories to cater for the water-skiing crowd.

The museum is in possession of a large number of items donated by the Horderns when the store closed down – things like ledger books, display cases, manikins, signage and cash registers, as well as remnants of a cash carrying system that operated on overhead wires and transported cash in small containers from the counter to a room out of view.

'Many of these items have never been on display before,' says Museum Curator, Rebecca Turnbull. 'We know that many older visitors will enjoy re-visiting what was once a landmark in Windsor's shopping centre, and that younger visitors will be surprised to see how retailing has changed.'


River, Land, People

Image of Margaret Catchpole
Margaret Catchpole

The main exhibition paints with a broad brush the themes and events that have made the Hawkesbury what it is today, beginning with the Darug people, whose lives revolved around the Deerubbin (better know today as the Hawkesbury) River. The river was vital to the survival of the Darug, as it was for the white settlers, who were subjected to its tendency to flood on many occasions. The worst of these was in 1867, and on display in the museum is a gauge showing the height of the flood at its peak. Margaret Catchpole wrote:

'This happened the 22nd of last March [1806]… Some poor creatures riding on the houses, some on their barns, crying out for God's sake to be saved, others firing their guns in the greatest distress for a boat. There were many thousands of head [of pigs]– all kinds of cattle lost, and so many bushels of all sorts of grain was lost so now this place is in great distress.'

Catchpole had arrived in the colony after being convicted of horse-stealing, sentenced to death, commuted to seven years transportation, making a daring escape from gaol, being recaptured and sentenced to transportation for life. She was one of many peoplewho left their mark on the local community as well as making a contribution to the wider world. Others were Mary Archer, who set the precedent by which Europeans became legally accountable for killing Aborigines, and Andrew Town, who made a fortune as one ofthe most successful horse breeders in the country, only to lose it all in the economic recession of the 1890s.

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