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Flying fox used during 1955 Hunter Valley floods was built thanks to one good golf shot

By Hannah Palmer and Eliza Goetze, Monday February 24, 2020 - 08:46 EDT
ABC licensed image
The flying fox was the only way families west of the river could get home. - ABC licensed

Sixty-five years ago, the Hunter Valley experienced one of its worst floods on record in which 14 people died and more than 5,000 homes were affected.

And as heavy rains lashed the region earlier this month, turning paddocks a brilliant shade of green, Denman locals reflected on the 1955 disaster and the community spirit that shone through.

Bev Barry said the floods were something she would never forget.

"It was a really, really savage flood — we'd never seen anything like it," she said.

"I remember going to catch the bus and there was water everywhere ... and the mud and silt after it, through the houses and the shops."

A section of the Yarrawa Bridge at Denman had collapsed due to the water levels and Ms Barry's father, Ken Pascoe, a local golfer, was asked to help build a flying fox across the Goulburn River.

His task was to hit a golf ball attached to a fishing line from one side of the river to the other, and he succeeded.

Believed to be one of two flying foxes in the region at the time, it was created to distribute supplies to isolated residents west of the river.

It was later used to transport locals across and into the main town for more than six months.

Ms Barry was with her father the day he hit the golf ball across the river, and said it was risky business.

"It was a bit scary with all the water underneath it," she said.

"I was too frightened to watch in case he'd fall in, but he was the talk of the town after, about how he was able to [make the shot]."

Golf ball given new life

John McCormick had been in possession of the famed golf ball for more than 60 years before it was brought to his attention again.

"It was given to me by Ken. I had known him for years," Mr McCormick said.

"I was a kid at the time. I was a 15-year-old kid and [Ken] said to me by the river, 'Here, you can have this ball'."

It stayed in Mr McCormick's family over the years until local winemaker Brett Keeping asked of its whereabouts.

"I told Brett about [the ball] and he asked if he could mount it at their winery," Mr McCormick said.

"I put the ball in my car centre console to give to him and it blew up in the sun.

"I said to Brett, 'I'll get a new one', and he said, 'No, we need the original one' — and he was able to repair it.

"Now, it looks amazing ... the same old golf ball with the same screw and fishing line in it."

History keeps stories alive

Gary Meissner has spent time studying Upper Hunter events like the 1955 floods, but he's also lived through them.

"I was only seven years old at the time and living in Singleton, but my family had just bought a property at Bureen," Mr Meissner said.

"I wasn't involved with making the flying fox, but I remember using it because it was the only way for us to get to our dairy farm."

Mr Meissner, from the Muswellbrook Shire Local and Family History Society, said having records available to the public was important for historic events like the floods.

"Unless we had access to newspapers, booklets or images from these times, we wouldn't have any records," he said.

"History is like piece of furniture — if you don't look after something, it will be forgotten."

Memory of flying fox and golfer who made it possible lives on

Mr McCormick said he had many memories of travelling across the flying fox, including a time he almost fell off due to the rope getting stuck.

"I'm cruising down the hill, and all of a sudden I was just about at the bottom and it hooked up and I just about shot out," he said.

"There was only a little rope across the front which stopped me."

For Ms Barry, her brother Buzzy and sister Carole Brown, reminiscing about the floods and flying fox was a time to remember their father.

"He loved to teach the grandchildren to play golf and played the game himself until he was probably 85 years old," she said.

Mr Pascoe died in 2013, a month shy of his 102nd birthday.

He wouldn't have been too fussed about seeing the golf ball again, Ms Barry said.

"He probably would have just put a golf club in our hands."


© ABC 2020

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