Weather News

Ten years after Victoria's wettest January, some flood-prone towns are still at risk

By Charlotte King and Tyrone Dalton, Thursday January 14, 2021 - 17:16 EDT
ABC image
Some towns are still waiting for infrastructure, 10 years after record flooding in Victoria. - ABC

Flood-prone communities in central Victoria say inaction and mismanagement from local authorities has left them without protection from the next disaster.

Extraordinary tropical moisture and persistent low pressure systems brought Victoria its .

With it came a torrent of water that flooded more than 100 towns, sweeping through homes and businesses and destroying swathes of pasture and livestock.

"We'd seen the creek flood before," said Ian Boucher, the CFA captain in Carisbrook, south-west of Bendigo.

"But the amount of water that came overland through the west was just phenomenal."

Seventy municipalities were affected by the disaster, which prompted inquiries into the state's flood warning, response and prevention systems.

"Many millions of dollars have been required to rectify the major damage that occurred throughout Victoria," concluded the authors of the .

"Some of this damage could have been avoided through effective planning and mitigation."

The State Government provided $21 million towards flood prevention works and clarified the roles of authorities in a 2016 strategy to ensure they were the ones deciding where to spend money on levees and what was best for their area.

But, 10 years on, the outcomes have varied wildly, and bungled processes have left some towns unprotected from disaster.

Evacuation 'the only solution'

Mr Boucher was the last to leave Carisbrook in 2011, where an inland sea damaged hundreds of homes and forced the entire town to evacuate.

"If you've lost over 200 houses I think you've got a right to expect a solution to it," he said.

The Central Goldfields Shire drew up plans in 2014 to build a levee to the town's west, but it remains incomplete due to hold-ups over land acquisition and internal instability at the municipality.

The entire council and its chief executive after an external inquiry found evidence of chronic financial mismanagement and governance issues.

The chief executive was later for misusing the council credit card.

"If you can imagine finding out that your leadership is corrupt, that is an absolute shell shock," said Camille White from the North Central Catchment Management Authority.

"And unfortunately the previous administration created some ill-will that the community are still suffering from today."

The current council says it is waiting for the next state funding round to open so it can apply for the grant needed to complete the levee.

"The only solution at the moment if we get another 2011 flood event is to evacuate Carisbrook," Mr Boucher said.

"We'd go under again."

Upstream, the story is different again

Dozens of homes and businesses were also flooded in Creswick, where a levee and additional drainage infrastructure is now in place.

Neighbouring Clunes, where 57 homes were flooded, is part of the same local government area but a solution there is yet to be found.

"There were a number of options that were considered," said the Hepburn Shire's director of infrastructure Bruce Lucas.

"There were some varying views in the Clunes community as to the extent of the levee system and the level of protection needed and trying to balance that with the aesthetics of a levee system running through a historic township."

But long-term Clunes resident Barry Goldsmith said even without a levee, authorities had failed to do basic maintenance along the creek to protect the town.

"It just makes me fear that I'll see people's fridges and TVs floating around down the bottom end of the street again," Mr Goldsmith said.

"It's just horrific."

The former public servant said part of the problem in the 2011 floods was that the creek was full of overgrown vegetation and debris.

"As [the water] comes in it's gotta go away that quick and fast, that it roars like a train," Mr Goldsmith said.

"But now the suckers slow it down, and it just builds up and slowly builds up and then that's what happens, it floods the whole town.

"We'd go under again."

The ABC understands the council has received a permit to clear the vegetation but it's unclear when work is due to start.

Local cooperation 'the key'

Kerang, further north-west, and its neighbouring communities , which flooded rural farmland in Benjeroop and Murrabit for months and .

Former Gannawarra Shire mayor Max Fehring, who carried , said it was important that local municipalities worked independently from bureaucrats at higher levels of government.

"We got on and spent about $26 million and over about 18 months ? the work was completed," he said.

"Due to our CEO and our staff, and the community, we were able to reinstate things in a pretty good way pretty quickly, which was important."

Kerang now has a .

"But we need to learn to manage the way of the water through our countryside a bit better; local input, local knowledge and local cooperation is the key,"

Mr Fehring said the visit from the Prince still stands out in his memory as "a very uplifting event".

"Prince William spent six or seven hours with us, at least 3,000 people in Kerang had the chance to see him, meet him ? some were still vying for his affection because he wasn't married then.

"So that was a real tonic in a way," Mr Fehring said.


© ABC 2021

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Wide Bay Burnett remains desperately dry despite La NiƱa drenching much of Australia

20:49 EST

It is a map that tells an encouraging story for most of Australia but a cruel tale for an unlucky few.

Tropical Cyclone Seroja makes landfall, weakens to category two system

18:48 EST

The destructive core of Tropical Cyclone Seroja is moving inland north of Geraldton after wind gusts of up to 170 kph were reported during landfall.

Get a sneak peak into the new Weatherzone Beta website experience while we continue to build out its full functionality.
Explore new datasets, map layers, 7-day charts, 12-month trends and much more!