Collarenebri’s Community Spirit in Flood Crisis

11 November 2022

The roar of the helicopter overhead echoes across town as it prepares to land near Collarenebri Central School, laden with essential supplies for a community isolated by floodwaters.

Collarenebri’s a small town on the Barwon River northeast of Walgett, and like many other parts of NSW is continuing to deal with rising floodwaters in what’s known as “Blue Sky Floods”.

What this means is that even though rain may intermittently stop falling, water is still moving quickly in riverine and catchments, with flood peaks flowing into the Barwon-Darling River system from multiple tributaries.

Road access into town via the Gwydir Highway is closed between Moree and Collarenebri, and Walgett, Lightning Ridge and Mungindi are also all cut off.

The only safe place for a helicopter to land with essential supplies is at the Collarenebri Central School Oval, greeted by the SES, police officers and locals.

The small local store has very limited supplies and the community needs the basics due to an ongoing food crisis. Meat. Bread. Vegetables. Baby formula, nappies and personal hygiene. Many of the supplies donated so far have come from Paul and Erin Strahan from the Australian Indigenous Ministries in Moree.

Ros McGregor is Chairperson of the Collarenebri Local Aboriginal Land Council and the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer, and is a key organiser of community support. The LALC building is home to central co-ordination.

“None of us can control the flood situation. All we can control is how we organise ourselves and support each other. And I’m proud to say that our dedicated Board and strong Members of the LALC are pulling together to help everyone, black and white, in our little community.”

The LALC’s Acting CEO Jason Hall has travelled by SES boat to check on the welfare of residents isolated by floodwaters at the Walli Aboriginal reserve, as well as helping co-ordinate care packages. The SES boat travels to them twice a day and maintains constant contact.

LALC Members have volunteered to collect re-supply drops brought in by chopper from Moree and disperse them to families and vulnerable community members, many of whom have no transport. They’re also co-ordinating activities to keep the children occupied and engaged outside of school hours. And as the community faces further predicted rising floodwaters, it was all hands on deck last week to bag a massive 12 tonnes of sand in preparation.

Ros McGregor says 30 senior students from the Central School worked shoulder-to-shoulder with local police officers, community and the SES to get the job done.

“The children were incredible, and they didn’t shirk from the job. Although this is a very difficult time for us, we’re showing our kids that it’s vital that we support each other and work for our community’s wellbeing,” she said.

And how did the children go? Ros laughs.

“It was a very big day for everyone shovelling those bags. We also had to learn how to tie them off properly so they stayed put! Once we were done,  the LALC made sure that we gave the kids a little thank you later, with some chips and lemonade kindly donated by friends in Moree,” she said.

Support work continues seven days a week and Ros says communication and collaboration with the local SES members and police officers Peter, Adien and Nick is excellent.

“I’m happy that our communication is so good, though it’s pretty hectic most of the time. We keep tabs on how people are doing emotionally as well as physically. I’m so proud that we’ve come together as a community to make sure we get through this.”