February 1972 was a wet month in Melbourne. The recorded rainfall was about five times the monthly average, setting a precipitation record for February that still stands.
The heaviest single day of rain was February 17.
Around 3.30pm on that day, a sudden, particularly violent storm blew up over the CBD. The skies became black and a fierce wind screeched along the canyonous city streets. Rain began pelting down at a furious rate, quickly overwhelming the storm water drains and flooding the streets. The deluge would continue for seventeen minutes, enough to put the southern half of the city under several feet of water.
One of the most famous photos ever taken of Melbourne captured the moment:
The image was snapped on Elizabeth Street by Age photographer Neil Bowler:
While Bowler's image has become iconic of Melbourne's fickle, and sometimes hostile, weather, other photographers were also able to capture the downpour that day:
And the chaos wasn't confined just to the low lying areas of the CBD. The surroundings suburbs were soon awash, as 75 mm's of rain fell in less than twenty minutes. The late afternoon timing of the flood also meant massive problems for workers trying to get home:
While Melbourne's CBD has flooded many times over the life of the city, the great flash flood of '72 was probably the most sudden and dramatic of these events. Substantial efforts have been made to improve the city's drainage in recent years, but floods are still experienced down the river end of the city, most recently in 2010: