Community spirit rises above Moree flood waters

A BLEND of community spirit and home-grown kindness and goodwill rose above the devastating floodwaters that swept through Moree and district late last week.

Within hours of the water subsiding, volunteer work crews from several businesses and community groups were on the streets helping flood-affected residents mop up, move furniture and clear debris.

Volunteers from the State Emergency Service and Rural Fire Service were joined by employees of Graincorp Moree, DD’s Engineering and Trans4m Rail, in town to oversee the Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail project.

Just hours before the Mehi River peaked at 10.43 metres early Thursday morning, team members and supporters from Moree Boomerangs rugby league football club, along with scores of volunteers and community organisations, were helping business owners and residents sandbag homes and shopfronts.

Graincorp angels Kenny Wright, Jacob McCumstie, Clint Thompson, Stephen Garrett, Peter Davidson, Will Clark, Mick Grant and Shaun Mills (Image supplied).

When the call went out on social media to help an elderly couple in Iris Street move and lift whitegoods, Graincorp area manager Mick Grant and his men were on-site within minutes.

“We’re only too happy to help; we love this little town,” Mr Grant said.

Julie Denyer, who lives in Lucksall Street, said she was “plodding along” the best she could when Mr Grant and his men arrived.

“I couldn’t do much as I still had ankle-deep water all in my yard and carport,” Ms Denyer said.

“A friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. Mick saw it and sent me a message. They came with a pump and pumped the water out so that I could get in and clean it properly over the weekend.

“These blokes are nothing short of champions,” she smiled.

Edward Street resident Debbie Sharp praised DD’s Engineering owners, Donald and Jenny Devney.

“Despite their personal situations, Donald and his staff were out early Friday morning with equipment, helping affected north-side residents clean up the mess,” Mrs Sharp said.

“I know many of them had their own mess to worry about and clean up, and some had water in their homes, so it was truly a kind gesture.”

Moree Plains Shire Council staff, the Rural Fire Service and local contractors were on the streets early Friday, cleaning, scrubbing and hosing down Moree’s vast network of sodden streets, footpaths, roads and laneways.

The main shopping and business precinct – Balo, Heber, Frome and Auburn Streets – were scrubbed clean and fully operational by the weekend.

“We had a few big days in front of us, but we got through it,” council ganger Mick Girard said.

As scores of workmen and women – and just as many volunteers – helped residents get back to a semblance of normality, eight-year-old Moree cub Lucas Bennett was breaking hearts and raising smiles as he trekked door-to-door, handing out bunches of fresh flowers, kindly donated by Coles Supermarket Moree.  

Lauren Townsend and Lucas Bennett with Coles staff Shane Gray and Tayla Mills (Image supplied).

Dad Nathan Bennett said Lucas lived up to his Scout promise to be respectful and help others.

“As parents we are extremely proud of the empathy and concern Lucas expressed when delivering flowers,” Mr Bennet said.

“Lucas hugged those overcome by emotion, shook the hands of gentlemen hosing away layers of mud, and made a point of asking if everyone was OK, and listened to their heartfelt stories.”

Woolworths Moree kept the Rural Fire Service and other vital services and organisations quenched with a steady supply of cold drinks and bottled water and Coles hosted a free sausage sizzle on Sunday – goodwill gestures that did not go unnoticed by Moree mayor Katrina Humphries.

“Both supermarkets in Moree are incredibly generous and Kylie Heffernan, the store manager at Woolies, is an absolute gem,” she said.

Cr Humphries said Moree’s community strength always pulled though when push came to shove.

“Our unity in times of disaster and sadness is legendary; the spirit of the black-soil plains soars above us and gives us the energy to put one foot in front of the other,” she said.

“Our rural folk are suffering very much. Massive help is needed to restore fence-lines and get fodder out to them – all our aid needs to run in parallel.

“Thank-you to the brave souls that came to help us – the chopper pilots, the delivery truck drivers, the volunteers, our neighbours, our elected representatives Adam Marshall and Mark Coulton, and all the people who we don’t even know but have sent good wishes, prayers and resources,” she said.

Coles Moree store manager Chris Marshall mans the barbecue on Sunday (Image: Bill Poulos)

Cr Humphries said Pallamallawa contractor Tony Hyles, and Jason and Tammy Elbourne on the Terry Hie Hie Road, went above and beyond, relaying weather updates and up-to-the-minute river levels, as it became clear major flooding across the district was imminent.

“Tony Hyles should be knighted – he saved our arses again,” Cr Humphries said.

“Tony, and Jason and Tammy, literally put their lives on the line multiple times to go out in their paddocks and trudge through mud and dangerous ground to give us the information that hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weather-watching equipment could not give us – local knowledge.

“The simple fact is that three sets of eyes and this knowledge gave me the information I trusted and needed – at all times of the day and night – to relay to our community and have the community prepared.

“I can’t thank these people enough,” she said.

Cr Humphries also singled out 2VM-NowFM announcers Cameron Scott-Bohanna, Steve McPherson and Greg Henry.

“These boys did a fantastic job relaying all the vital information listeners needed to hear. They actually camped in the 2VM building for a couple of days, keeping everyone informed,” she said.

Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said acts of kindness in times of need were what living in the bush was all about.

“It is typical of the community spirit and practical ‘can-do’ attitude Moree is renowned for, and typifies what living in the bush is all about – when someone’s in trouble, everyone rallies around to help out,” Mr Marshall said.

Coles Moree staff Clare Gett and Shane Gray hand out free 10-litre drums of water to Moree residents on Sunday (Image: Bill Poulos).

Terry Hie Hie farmer Dan Reardon, Lairdoo, said the 2021 flood was similar to the 2011 and 2012 editions.

“For us, it was probably similar to 2012. Some areas on the place got more water than the last flood, but I also saw water going to places where I’ve never seen it go before,” he said.

“We got a fair bit of erosion, as well as stubble clumps washing over the roads. There was also a bit of fence damage but, surprisingly, some areas held up reasonably well.

“At this stage, thankfully we’ve had no stock losses. If we can get our crop in and get it established, we’ll be in good stead for a pretty good winter.

“Hopefully, we might get the cost of repairs back at the end of the year,” Mr Reardon said.

Water levels in Moree itself were below levels recorded in 2012, regarded the worst to hit the district since 1955.

St Philomena’s School recorded flood heights about 40cm below 2012, and water didn’t quite reach the CBD’s main intersection, Balo and Heber Streets.

Moree golf course and Kirkby Park ran bankers and Moree racecourse suffered major damage to its cinders training track.

Dr Geoffrey Hunter Bridge, the main link between north and south Moree was closed Wednesday night and most of Thursday before being opened to restricted traffic late Thursday.

Major flooding was recorded at Pallamallawa, Ashley, Yarraman and Garah as well as west of Moree at Bendygleet, Bullarah and Mallawa.

The Barwon River at Mungindi, north of Moree, is expected to peak at 7.20 metres this week.

Mayor Katrina Humphries said Moree residents needed to find time to smile amid times of turmoil.

“We must push forward and find plenty of smiles. These often come through kind words, generous actions and the fact the sun rises in the east every morning – hug someone today, or at least reach out and squeeze their hand and let them know you care,” she said.

Words: Bill Poulos

Moree Golf Course at around midday on Wednesday, march 24 (Image: Adam Marshall).