• Sculpture of Yarri and Jacky Jacky unveiled on the main street of Gundagai. (Michelle Aleksandrovics Lovegrove )
A new sculpture pays tribute to local Indigenous people who risked their lives to save their European neighbours in one of the most devastating floods in Australia’s history.
By
Amanda Copp

13 Jun 2017 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2017 - 3:16 PM

The New South Wales town of Gundagai could have been wiped out during the Great Flood of 1852, if it wasn’t for the efforts of two Wiradjuri men.

Over the weekend, on the 165th anniversary of the Great Flood, Gundagai unveiled a sculpture honouring Yarri and Jacky Jacky who risked their lives to rescue a third of the town’s population.

Peter Smith is a Wiradjuri man himself and chair of Yarri and Jacky Jacky Sculpture Committee, he said Yarri and Jacky Jacky did what was necessary despite the tensions between European settlers and Indigenous people at the time.

“These men are Wiradjuri men and they didn’t worry about any sort of race or colour or anything when they were doing their bravery act,” he said.

“They just do what they need to do, just did what they thought was necessary to save the people and didn’t think twice about it.”

In 1852, Gundagai was a budding village with 250 residents but when flood waters rose along the Murrumbidgee River the town was totally unprepared.

It’s estimated 89 people died in the flood, making it one of the most deadly natural disasters ever recorded in Australia.

Yet the death toll could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the actions of Yarri, Jacky Jacky and other Wiradjuri people who saved an estimated 69 people from drowning in the flood.

Aunty Sony Piper, is also a member of the ‘Yarri and Jacky Jacky Sculpture Committee’ and said she was very proud of the sculpture.

“To be Aboriginal men, there's not many statues around and we wanted that to be in Gundagai,” she said.

“For a lot of the tourists to come through and see about these heroes - these two Aboriginal heroes.”

When Gundagai was settled in 1838, the town was built on river flats along the Murrumbidgee River.

The local Indigenous population warned them not to build so close to the river, but their advice was ignored.

Ian Horsley is a descendent of one of the men Yarri rescued and said things could have easily been different.

“They [Yarri and Jacky Jacky] would have been quite entitled to sit on the bank and say, ‘We told you so’.”

“So it makes it particularly poignant that they didn't do that, they started executing these amazing rescues,” Mr Horsley said.

“It is a most extraordinary story of heroic action by men who had warned the white men that sooner or later there would be a really enormous flood that would cover the floodplain where the little hamlet of Gundagai had grown up.”

There are a large number of Gundagai residents with a connection to the floods, and they, with the local Indigenous community, hope the sculpture can solidify their shared history.

Broadcast vision courtesy of OurMob.

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