• Museum of Fire Engagement Officer

The Narrabri Floods and What to do if flooding comes to you.

Here at the Museum, we focus on local firefighting history, but did you know that floods are the most expensive type of natural disaster we face? The costliest summer for floods in Australia was 2010-11 across Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane which cost 7.45 billion dollars!

Narrabri Fire Brigade and Station, November 2000

This week, we’re looking at the town of Narrabri, which due to its geography, is no stranger to a flood or two. Narrabri is located in the Northwest Slopes of New South Wales on Kamilaroi country, about 521km northwest of Sydney, with a population of about 6000. Narrabri experiences floods about once every 10 years on average. The longest period between floods in their recorded history is 14 years (on two occasions).

In 2000, Narrabri was hit by a major flood. Only two years earlier in 1998, the town had faced three floods in one year. In November 2000, the Peel and Namoi Rivers flooded Tamworth before moving through Gunnedah and Boggabri, with Narrabri next up. The North West of NSW was declared a Natural Disaster Area.

At this point, the NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue NSW) set up an Emergency Operations Centre in Narrabri to support the Combat Authority (SES) and other local emergencies and to prepare and protect the community. In their preparation efforts, they sandbagged the CBD and vulnerable residences and businesses. They evacuated people and property from low lying areas and helped the elderly to stack up furniture and roll their carpets. Once the flooding started, a number of roads in Narrabri closed, so firefighters played an important role in getting meals to elderly citizens, collecting urgent medical supplies and transporting emergency staff to and from their work in hospitals and nursing homes.

Narrabri Floods, November 2000

The flood reached its most harrowing point on Thursday, November 23rd 2000. Narrabri residents braced their homes for a peak of 8.4 metres of water, and fortunately, the water stopped at 7.9 metres. Owing to the preparation efforts of emergency services, the CBD was in a salvageable shape. Yet, many outlying homes and businesses were swamped. When there is flooding in towns upstream (Gunnedah and Boggabri in this case) floodwaters often mix with sewage from overtaxed sewerage systems and spread bacteria. This bacteria can expose people to a variety of infections and illnesses, so it’s crucial to remove it from homes and properties. Fire and rescue crew were of enormous assistance in cleaning up and disinfecting the affected homes, fixing up over 60 homes and businesses, so that everyone could get back on their feet. Fire and Rescue NSW play a versatile role in natural disasters and are crucial at the preparation stage, the event stage and the aftercare stage.

“I think that the work the Fire Brigades do is a true representation of what community is all about. They’re always there, no matter what the crisis. You can always depend on the firies.”

The above is a quote from the manager of the Narrabri RSL Paul Gordon in Fire News, February 2001.

So what can you do to prepare yourself and your home for a flood? According to the Red Cross there are four key steps to staying safe and preparing for a flood: know, connect, organise and pack.


In these situations, knowledge and preparation is king. Get in the know about your flood risk and plan your alerts. Learn about your local flood history, about the heights at which your home or business could be affected by floodwater and contact your local council if you want more information on how flooding could directly affect your property. Understand the natural warning signs of floods which include predictions of heavy and/or prolonged rainfall, East Coast Lows affecting the region and heavy, sustained rainfall events in upstream catchments. Make sure you know how you’ll receive important information. Official warnings and flood advice are provided by the Bureau of Meteorology on their website as well as from the NSW State Emergency Services (SES) on radio stations and their social media. In some cases, you won’t see flooding in your neighbourhood before being told to evacuate, so official warnings can make all the difference. Learn about your safest route of travel in the event of an evacuation and identify at what height the floodwaters may cut off your route. Find out where evacuation centres in your area may get set up. Know the plans of your children’s school or care centre in the event of an emergency, and plan for your pets or animals.

A local resident helps with flood relief in Narrabri, November 2000


Get connected and plan who you’ll need to find in a flood emergency, such as family, neighbours