Snow and ice brought down branches & power lines

By Peter Valder

The first storm disaster in my lifetime was the heavy snowfall of July 1965. My parents were away on a Bill Peach tour of the Northern Territory and East Timor (of all things) and I was unable to telephone anyone at Mt Wilson to find out what had happened or to go there as the road was closed for two or three days and, as in the recent disaster, the power was off for days.

The damage in 1965 was caused by the sheer weight of snow and ice on branches and power lines as the snow had fallen in windless circumstances and accumulated on the upper branches of trees which presumably had developed without ever experiencing such stress. These branches then broke off and fell on those beneath them which then broke off and so on. When I got to Nooroo it looked as if an atom bomb had gone off. Some of the small trees and shrubs were completely broken down, all the shade houses my father had built for his nursery were flat on the ground and out of sight beneath the snow, some of the gutters had been pushed off the house, the wisteria pergola at the back of the house was completely flat and so on.

Eventually my father restored order, rebuilt his shade houses, including the one he had converted the old tennis court into, and cleared out all the wreckage from the garden. One benefit of all this was that we were able to open up the garden a lot as it had become crowded and overgrown. And in rebuilding his shade houses my father felt confident that such a snowfall would be unlikely to occur again in his lifetime. But in 1970 it did, though I can't remember in which month. This time the damage was not as bad though the shade houses were flattened once again. This time he rebuilt them so that the roofing covers could be removed in autumn and replaced in spring, a task he carried out each year until he died. Even though this proved to be unnecessary it gave him peace of mind. It was this second heavy snowfall, incidentally, that caused him to decide not to reroof the old tennis court and to allow me to convert it into a wisteria garden.

It was as a result of these two disasters that he installed a gas stove and gas heaters so that survival in relative comfort would be possible in times of lengthy disruption to the electricity supply. And he decided not to change the diesel pump on his dam to one powered by electricity. He was aware, too, of the wisdom of retaining the gravity feed system of providing water pressure for the house and garden that he had installed and expanded over the years.

In the subsequent 40 years there have been no heavy snowfalls though gales have repeatedly caused minor damage, occasionally uprooting the odd tree. The last severe gale I can recall was in September 1986, if the date on my photos can be relied upon, when a couple of the elms in the front drive at Nooroo were broken down though, like those in The Avenue, they were old and a bit rotten. I also have a photo taken at the same time of a huge old cypress at Campanella (at Mt Irvine Road and Davies Lane) which had been uprooted and tipped over.

As I see it, one of the problems facing Mount Wilson is that, in the settled areas, both the early plantings of introduced trees and the retained native ones are now elderly and so are more vulnerable to damage by storms of whatever kind.