Residents of Wyanbene struggling to access supplies, medicine due to regularly high floodwaters

Wyanbene is an area located about 105 kilometers south-east of Canberra, with a population of about 100.

Surrounded by a national park, a small causeway over the Shoalhaven River is the only way in and out of the area.

“We have one way in, one way out — whether it’s fire, flood, whatever — only one way,” resident Julie Brown said.

And with three consecutive La Niña events causing constant rain, residents have recently found themselves stuck for weeks at a time.

“We have flooded 11 times this year,” Helen Stig, another resident, said.

“The day you get out, you get as many supplies as you can, and you get back in.”

Ms. Stig said last November that she required medical assistance due to an emergency and had to be airlifted out of the area.

Helen and Julie smile at the camera, standing in front of a river.
Wyanbene residents Helen Stig and Julie Brown have been trapped there for weeks due to flooding.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

She said she loved living in Wyanbene, but the lack of access meant she had recently been spending a lot of time away from home.

“Most of the time I have to stay with family in Canberra because my health is such that I have to go to the specialist quite a lot,” she said.

“I am really cautious about how often I come home or how much I have to stay away from my husband and son.”

Medication ferried in by canoe

Astra and Randall Temple sit holding hands and smiling together.
Astra Temple and her late husband Randall struggled to access town during his cancer treatment.(Supplied)

Astra Temple also has to cross the Shoalhaven River to get into her rural property.

Her husband Randall died of cancer in October, and she said for them to be stuck in the town while he was sick took its toll.

“Being flooded in when he was here was very difficult for him because he was the quintessential people person, so he missed having company or visitors,” she said.

“The biggest problem I think for us through that … was [access to] medication.”

At one point, a friend and neighbor used his canoe to get Randall medication.

His wish was to die at home, but Ms. Temple said it was not possible.

Randall has his arms in the air and a leg up, playfully, on a sloping rock with a camera around his neck.
Randall Temple struggled without the social contact he enjoyed during his cancer treatment due to flooding.(Supplied)

“You couldn’t have had a doctor on call to see him or anything like that, so Randall accepted that at the end,” she said.

Ms. Temple said they had received huge amounts of relentless rain for months.

“We have had a considerable amount of rain for the last two and a half years and have been flooded in for 28 days once, 26 days another time,” Ms Temple said.

“It is because the Shoalhaven River has a massive basin, and everything comes past here.

“We are up near the headwaters, but it has gone up to just under five meters while I have been here.”

‘You just have to be resourceful in the country’

Brian and Elspeth Newby smile, standing outside wearing brightly colored t-shirts.
Brian and Elspeth Newby stock up on groceries every time they visit town, just in case of further flooding.(Supplied)

Brian and Elspeth Newby use their canoe to get across the river when they are stuck, but that is not always safe.

“Because of the hours I work, 11:30pm to 7am, it means one of the crossings I have got to do in the dark,” Mr. Newby said.

Mr. Newby works in Canberra and has used up a lot of his long service leave because he has been physically unable to get to work.

Ms Newby said the problem was only getting worse because it is taking less rain to get flooded in.

“The ground is so wet after three years of constant rain that it has only got to run off now — it won’t soak in or anything anymore,” she said.

“That is why it comes up quickly.”

Every time they can cross the river, they stock up on groceries.

“I always shop like we are stuck,” she said.

“You just have to be resourceful in the country of some things you have to do without if you run out.”

Council says funds aren’t there for bridge

A car drives across a rushing causeway, covered in river water.
Floodwaters have made living in Wyanbene, NSW, a struggle for locals.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

Residents in the area have been calling for the causeway to be upgraded for years, saying residents are taking a risk every time they drive across it.

“The causeway is quite a small, badly lit, badly marked road so in the dark it is very hard to come across at any depth,” Ms Stig said.

“You cannot see where the causeway is – it is very dangerous.”

The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council supports the idea, but in a statement said it cannot afford it.

“Council would be supportive of constructing a bridge to replace the Wyanbene crossing,” they said.

“However, to be able to construct a bridge, we would need sufficient funding to complete the necessary planning, design and environmental approvals, and further funding to construct the bridge.

“We do not have funds available for this work at this time, however this project will be referred to future budget deliberations for council’s consideration.”

The council spokesperson added that other crossings in need of replacing had also been identified as of a higher priority than Wyanbene’s.

But the council said it would continue to undertake routine maintenance on the crossing.

Leave a Comment