Natural disasters archived online

ARCHIVAL PROCESS: Helen Erskine and Leonie Knapman look over old newspaper articles at Ms Knapman's home office. Photo: Madeline Crittenden.

ARCHIVAL PROCESS: Helen Erskine and Leonie Knapman look over old newspaper articles at Ms Knapman's home office. Photo: Madeline Crittenden.

THE history of natural disasters in the Southern Highlands will soon be available online.

About four years ago, SES volunteer Leonie Knapman decided to start archiving past newspaper stories about floods in the Southern Highlands, dating back to as early as 1864.

“The SES was given bound copies of old newspapers and at the time I had hurt my arm and I couldn’t do much, so I started ordering and sorting stories about natural disasters in the area,” she said. 

Ms Knapman started off by writing summaries about floods in the Southern Highlands and ordered them chronologically. 

But when she realised just how many natural disasters had occurred in the Highlands, she decided to expand the project. 

“I thought, there is no way we can just do floods, there were so many other interesting stories so it grew and we started looking at bushfires, frosts, earthquakes and even the civil defence,” Ms Knapman said.

Three other volunteers work with Ms Knapman every Tuesday morning to sift through the old papers. 

The group gathers at Ms Knapman’s home, in a space that was converted into an office, and archive the old newspapers.

Each of the articles from the old papers have been cut out and itemised by date and disaster. 

From there the articles are summarised and logged in digital folders. 

The information is then passed on to Linda Emery from the Berrima District Historical and Family History Society, who is creating the website. 

Ms Knapman said the archival process had brought some local mysteries to light. 

“When we looked at flooding we noticed that something called Chinaman’s Hole kept popping up,” she said. 

“We know it has to do with the water hole around Bong Bong Bridge, but we can’t actually find it. We would love the community to get involved and help us find it.”

Volunteer Helen Erskine said she hoped the online archive would be used not only by locals but also government bodies. 

“I’m starting to notice things like disaster trends and people that were mentioned in a number of stories, because I’m working in chronological order,” she said. 

“This website will be useful to the Bureau of Meterology, to family historians, firefighters and the SES.”

The website is set to launch in the next couple of months and will be constantly updated with new information as it is archived. 

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