Your say: The 1984 floods

The floods of 1984 had a wide impact throughout Southland, cutting Invercargill in half and causing devastating damage around the province.

Some of our readers share their memories and experiences. Scroll down to leave your own comment.


  1. Thanks for the audio show bringing it all back.

    I wa working in the Kew laundry and we were sent home early. As I biked home the little creek was way up. In the morning, we were so lucky. We rowed the rowboat down McQuarrie St and rowed up McMillan street. Then Dad and the boys went to help Evansdale nurseries cos we could see their plants had been pretty much swept downstream.

    And all the afterwards, it went on and on.

    #1 Posted by Maree — 15:22 PM | Tuesday , 27 January 2009

  2. Looking back after all these years people do not realise how important it is to have emergency supplies available . I was one of the one caught up with the floods in the Bay Road area and we evacuated my parents to a property where with approx 10 to 15 people we stayed in a house until we could get out . We did not go hungry and did not have communication with town for 4 days but did have helicopter s observing us if we required emergency help. I remember going to town to get petrol for the car but did not make it because of a wall of water coming down North Road and coming into Bay Road and stopping on the railway line and trying to get people to evacuate their houses before the water breached the embankment. I t still haunts me to this day

    #2 Posted by Joe Hampton — 09:43 AM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  3. My husband and I were with Civil Defence at the time and I remember vividly on the Wednesday night, telling him to get his CD gear and gumboots ready. At 2am on the Thursday morning we got a call from Fred Harvey telling us to get to the Civic Offices. I typed up the Civil Defence Emergency Declaration for Mayor Eve Poole to read out. We spent the next few days evacuating people from their homes all over the city and spent around four nights/days with no sleep at all. Something we will never forget

    #3 Posted by Rosie Halligan — 14:12 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  4. I remember being at a friends place on Bay Road and watching the water flow over the railway lines, and come towards us, then it was a mad rush to move the mares,foals and the other horses up onto Daisy Bank which was high anough to keep us out of harms way,this was no easy task. We stayed there for quite a few days with water all around us. I was not with Mum or Dad at the time the flood hit so was seperated from them, Dad drove for Southland Horse Transport which was able to cart 10 horses so was quite large, when they found out where I was and the water had dropped enough he drove the Semi and trailer in to pick me up as it sat high off the road and was less likely to be affected by the water. Biggest boat I had ever seen. It was good to see people come together and help each other out when it was needed.

    #4 Posted by Brenda Weaver — 15:36 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  5. I was only young at the time, but i remember Otatara (where we were) being cut off from Invercargill completely. An RNZAF chopper flew in supplies and landed at the school. I thought the floods were great at the time- mainly because I was young and didn't understand the impact that they had on people who lost their possessions. We were amongst the more fortunate in that all we lost were some potatoes and carrots from the garden. But only around the corner from us there were people's houses and cars sitting in lakes of water. The one thing that stood out for me was the people. Everyone rallied around to help everyone else- and it didn't stop once the water receeded. I remember my Dad spending endless days helping friends rebuild after the damage. The people of Southland were then, and I hope still are (I've since moved to Chch) , just the kind of folk who will just muck in and help out when they're needed. Thanks for the memories Southland Times!

    #5 Posted by Carla — 16:56 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  6. I had moved to Invercargill from Wellington the previous July and was 7 months pregnant. I worked at Scott Commercial but of course could not go, i wasn't going to swim. My daughter was stranded in Wellington, she was meant to fly home that day. I remember being woken by loud banging on the front door. A neighbour was concerned as they knew I was pregnant (my husband was away with the territorials). they had stepped over the fence into what they thought was very deep water (up to their knees). In fact we had a deep trench in front of the fence for a new power cable, this was the deep water. Our house was one of the lucky ones, no water had reached inside. Two to three houses up the road were not as lucky. The care and kindness of people was amazing, everyone pitched in and helped. this was a trait i had not come across before. I do remember being very ill, vomiting etc, for weeks after and having to visit Kew hospital for monitoring of my son until he was developed enough to be born. luckily this was only three weeks early. I never went back to work. A large thankyou 25 years later for the neighbours in O'Hara street.

    #6 Posted by sharron tilyard — 19:38 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  7. Mike and I were also affected by the floods as we were married on the Saturday 28 January 1984. We were extremely lucky that our home was not affected, however the wedding party was reduced as many could not get into Invercargill for the day. I worked for Foveaux Radio at the time, and was lucky enough that my colleagues heard that Mr Black, our JP who was to marry us, was flooded, and had lost his book which let him know where he was to be on that day. So were able to contact him and advise that our wedding would now take place at the Grand Hotel where we were having the reception, as we decided that whilst it was fine on the Saturday, it was still too wet under foot to be married in the Queen's Park Rose Gardens. It was definitely a time and day we will never forget.

    #7 Posted by Claire Crump — 21:16 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  8. I was with Civil Defence at the time.Fred Harvey (CD Chief Warden) phoned at 2am and said "it was all going to hit the fan and best we get down to CDHQ". Spent the rest of the morning securing the south Invercargill area and, that done, just before lunch we got the call that a huge wall of water was heading for Waikiwi. Got out there as fast as we could but it was too late. What a hell of a mess. Spent the afternoon evacuating people and then set up a roadblock on the Waihopai Bridge for the next four days. Not a lot of sleep was had. Cannot speak highly enough of the "Sallies". What a tremendous job they did of feeding us and all the other volunteers working throughout the emergency. I don't know how we would have got through without them. The people of Invercargill can be proud of the way they helped each other out in such trying times. "Southern Spirit" prevailed again. Best memory was of the family in Dudley St(I think? Been in ChCh the last 23 years) who got "on the turps" in the morning, and were in fine form when we came to evacuate them in the afternoon. Not even a six foot policeman was going to seperate them from their "grog". What a mission trying to get them out of there. I laugh about it now, but back then, it was far from funny.

    #8 Posted by Dave Halligan — 21:23 PM | Wednesday, 28 January 2009

  9. Although my street was flooded, our house was on high ground so we weren't badly affected. The poor old town was a mess. What I remember most came a few days later as I made my way down the West Coast on a cycle tour. Whenever the locals found out where I was from, there would be an outpouring of sympathy and generosity.

    #9 Posted by Clive — 07:06 AM | Thursday , 29 January 2009

  10. I remember my Mum getting all panicky when Dad looked out the living room window to see water around the house. This was after they had heard on the radio calling out for people to help with the sandbagging. When daylight broke our house was surrounded by water but thankfully didn't come into the house. Once the rain stopped I went for a walk down Avenal Street where we used to live, our side escaped but the houses on the opposite side were flooded. By lunchtime the water had cleared from our property, it was hot enough to sit outside in the sun. In fact I had forgotton about the floods until a helicopter flew low over our house with a cow dangling on a rope underneath. I also live in Christchurch now, now dealing with very dry conditions instead of heavy rain, when all is said and done give me the dry any day.

    #10 Posted by Cynthia — 07:47 AM | Thursday , 29 January 2009

  11. Thanks for bringing 1984 floods back,we lived in Tanner street in Grassmere and worked at Hendersons Butchery. I remmber a swarm of people running up the hill most were crying and wanted to use the phone to call there loved ones.

    Last February we had 600mls of rain in six hours here in Mackay, Queensland, Oz and there was 4000 houses afected and it was like reliving the southland 1984 floods. The one thing that both floods

    had in common was the warmth that people shared in a time of need

    Cheers from Mackay

    #11 Posted by Doug Hay — 12:25 PM | Thursday , 29 January 2009

  12. We were flooded at home in Waikiwi and my work and dad's work were also flooded, so there was no getting away from it. Mum and Dad spent months drying and then fixing the house. At the Bank I worked at we had to clean all the coins, destroy records etc. It seemed endless - then a few months later it was gone.

    My parents got divorced a few years later and I'm sure the damage was done in the stressful aftermath of the floods.

    A funny sideline was the quick creation of new mini suburbs - Grasmere split into Grasmere and Grasmere Heights, Kildare and Kildare Heights etc dilineating between flooded and not flooded homes.

    #12 Posted by Russell — 13:05 PM | Thursday , 29 January 2009

  13. We will never forget the 1984 flood as we had 2 daughters their husbands and family flooded out. Our farm on the Aparima river was inundated as was our home and garden. The flood did not get inside the house thank goodness. Both families had to be evacuated, one from Bay road just over the railway line and the other from the bottom end of Renfrew Street (where all the houses had to be shifted)

    We felt helpless to help them as we couldn't go anywhere. Thank goodness the phone still worked.For months one family lived in a caravan at the back of the section and the other family lived in a Tiwai house.

    Today we have all moved on to Central Otago and out to the country on a farm high and dry.

    My memories are of the deep concern and aid from the rest of New Zealand. Baking, toys and other necessities were freely given.

    When we could get to Invercargill I recall everybody in the affected streets placing all their damaged goods out on the roadside for collection.The look of despair on some faces still haunts me.

    #13 Posted by Foster Family — 09:23 AM | Saturday , 31 January 2009

  14. That day we'd just returned from a caravan trip up the West Coast and I took our kids aged 4 and 7 from home in Tuatapere to Waikiwi to return the caravan we'd hired. If I'd heard the forecast we'd have stayed at home. Some of the time, between Riverton and Wallacetown the caravan was afloat. We dropped off the caravan and went into town, but before we got back the Waikiwi stream filled up and we couldn't get back. We stayed in a friend's flat, which was well-stocked with beer and food. At about 4 pm the following day the AA advised we could get back home but we had to drive via Edendale and Hedgehope. The road bridge to our house at the Waiau Mouth had been washed away, but our neighbours had improvised a detour through the farm next door, across the bridge on private property.

    #14 Posted by Pete Fowler — 12:58 PM | Saturday , 31 January 2009

  15. My 14 year old daughter was travelling home from Auckland on Morning of Friday 27 January, arriving at 12.25pm at Invercargill airport. My husband and 11 year old son left Thornbury in our Bedford truck to try and get to Invercargill and get her. They missed her at the airport and finally caught up with her at my sister's house in east Invercargill. By then it was toolate for them to get back to Thornbury. Along with my 2 older sons we could only watch as the Aparima River inundated the township of Thornbury and our business. My son and daughter and husband finally made it back to Thornbury around 8.00pm on Saturday night. the thing that helped the most was the friends who came from Riversdale with a water jet cleaner on the Sunday to help us clean out our business premises. Then on the Monday the local Fire Brigade and meny helpers turned up and worked very hard to assist us to re-open. I then had to use our caravan as an office for 8 months until we could get a builder to restore our business premises by building new offices and staff facilities. Those who ehlped us will never ben forgotten.

    #15 Posted by Dorothy Bulling — 14:42 PM | Saturday , 31 January 2009

  16. I was 14 years old. My mother was gravely ill in Kew Hospital and we lived in Rosedale, on the other side of the Otepuni Stream, which had become a lake across Queens Drive. We had to see her regardless of the weather, and I have clear memories of my sister and I pulling up the carpets in our car, taking off our shoes and socks and plugging as many of the leaks in the floor of our car as we could with our fingers and toes. We were lucky, many cars were stuck in the floodwaters, but we got through.

    Our house looked out over the Talbot Street Reserve, farmland in those days. We watched as the fields filled up with water. We saw the wood from Kennington come down the Waihopai River, and watched the wall of water cascade through when the bridge upstream broke. Our house was saved, but many houses in our street were badly flooded. For a curious teenager, it was dreadful and exciting all at the same time.

    #16 Posted by Ruth Sears — 18:17 PM | Monday , 02 February 2009

  17. I remember the floods very clearly, as we were due to get married at a house on Bay Road, it had gone under with the floods, luckily we found another location.

    Thanks for the memories, my son now 25 I will show him the vision, as he was just a small baby at the time.

    Now living in Australia and suffering through severe heat, quite a contrast to 25 years ago.

    I do remember everyone helping out,we had people staying with us,and for a long time afterwards you would see a caravan in a driveway with flood victims staying in them.

    I live in Canberra, I was here when the firestorm came through,it also destroyed many homes.

    #17 Posted by sue — 16:36 PM | Saturday , 07 February 2009

  18. Boy, this really brings back memories. I was working at the Southland District Council at the time, and my entrance to the office that day was via a bucket on a front end loader. Later that day I realised what hard work was all about. Myself and most of the council staff helped out with sandbagging and other civil defence work. I found it difficult to believe how just a small weedy creek like the 'Puni' swelled to make Forth Street a torrent, with parking meters stretching to keep above the waterline. By the end of the day a few of us were helping out a farmer just off Bay Road, struggling to load wet sheep on the back of utes before being caught in the current and the barbed wire. What an incredible community effort. Yes, thanks for the memories Southland Times.

    #18 Posted by Andy Meek — 13:33 PM | Wednesday, 11 February 2009

  19. Tell me, Does anyone remember 1978 when a seriously large chunk of Southland was under water or does this not matter because Invercargill didnt get wet? When the Pomahaka and the Mataura overflowed. Gore, Mataura, Wyndham, Menzies Ferry and many other places were inundated in that floods and in some places the pysical scars remain today, the emotional ones will remain forever. Many people lost everything but like true stoic Southlanders they just quietly got on with the daily task of rebuilding their lives, without the fanfare or drama that took place 6 years later when Invercargill got wet. I was living in Mataura in 1978 and living in Grassmere in 1984 and I can tell you from bitter experience which one was worse.

    #19 Posted by Brian — 12:14 PM | Saturday , 14 February 2009

  20. Oh the memories of the floods are still strong. I was a young mother at the time travelled down from Christchurch to attend my sisters wedding. Well you could imagine the inconvenience of the floods. My sister had to organise the wedding party to be transported by boat to have beauty treatments, collections of weddings essentials also transported by same means. The reception was to be held out at Woodlands but Kennington had cut that idea out.

    The expanse of the water lying around Invercargill and districts was massive. Here I am in Cairns seeing floods again but takes so long for the water to move. God bless us in these trying times.

    #20 Posted by Bronwyn — 18:42 PM | Wednesday, 18 February 2009

  21. I was a memeber of Civil Defence Rescue and remember having to go into a split level house in Tanner st by jet boat to look for some missing children. I rember ducking my head to go under the power wires to the house and jumping off the front of the boat to be waist deep in water on the patio. Renfrew st was the interesting we had to remove chatels from the homes to be sent to the refuse site you could smell the paua from one freezer 50 metres away. I feel a debt of gratitude to the people from the Salvation army who drove through the waters to feed us and take our clothes away and wash them while we were stationed at Collingwood School for the duration of the emergency

    #21 Posted by Mario Oostendorp — 10:35 AM | Saturday , 21 February 2009

  22. thanks for the audio show and like others it bought back some sad and funny kids we thought it was great having to wade (or for us shorter ones - swim) to the shop. and as kids of course we didn't realise as to what could be(and was) floating in the water around us. at the time my father was in hospital waiting to be transfered to dunedin, and it was decided that he had to go wether there was flooding or was then following the ambulance through that i remember seeing all that devastation surrounding us and thinking my god how will people live through this and come out smiling..... if anything this proved to me that there is good out there and that was proven by the amount of people that came and helped those they didn't know get through a tragic event. well done people..lets hope you arn't needed again for anything like this... thumbs up to the civil.defence you were then and still are now bloody priceless

    #22 Posted by katrina — 17:21 PM | Sunday , 22 February 2009

  23. As I look at the Southland Times daily over the internet I was very surprised that it was that long ago (as we now live in Queensland, Australia) We had forgotten it was 25 years since the floods. I still remember the heavy rain and then the sound of the Civil Defence siren. Never to be forgotten that sound. My partner had already left early for work (he got stuck on the other side of Waikiwi river)I worked for an Insurance company and for many, many, many months we were very busy. I remember our Claims Manager Mr Buxton making it to work that morning. (he was about the only one possibly another person as we all got told that it was near impossible as the water was already very high) he dealt with many calls from very distressed people. It was sooooooooo amazing to watch people come together and help each other. Sometimes a reminder is all we need to realise that times today are not so bad.

    #23 Posted by Deb — 14:39 PM | Friday , 27 February 2009

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