• Tony Bosworth

Forgotten Valley – locals left trapped, isolated, flooded, with little outside help until today

While much of the flood focus has been on closed bridges at Windsor and Richmond and mainstream media crews sip lattes in Windsor waiting for the next big scoop, wondering how high the water will get, and Council services have been almost non-existent - one lone policeman in the Macdonald Valley with the help of locals rescued numerous residents of caravan parks on Sunday evening and saved them from almost certain drowning.

The Macdonald Valley, with historic St Albans at its heart, is used to going it alone.

They have not seen any politicians there during this emergency, no council staff or councillors have visited, and mainstream media don’t seem to know they exist.

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman has been in touch with some in the community, and Hawkesbury Mayor Patrick Conolly was in touch yesterday [Tuesday], according to Stephen Brown, a past President of the Macdonald Valley Association, but he says locals have heard nothing from Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston and until recently the SES had not been seen.

Flooded homes in Walmsley Road. Pic courtesy of Martin Reuter

The folks there depend on one another and they do that for one simple reason – they are referred to as the Forgotten Valley, because, well, they are always forgotten.

Back almost two years ago, Hawkesbury Council were gifted $147,000 by the NSW Government to carry out a flood study of the region, to inform and help to plan for the sort of emergency locals are facing today. That study has not started in any practical way on the ground and Council answers queries with the same answers they gave months ago.

Hawkesbury Council’s much vaunted Emergency Dashboard – an online piece of functionality that seeks to pull together emergency information – does not feature Macdonald Valley. Not one single road closure or flood event in the Valley has been recorded on the Council’s shiny new digital dashboard since this flood emergency began.

And the LiveTraffic app does not cover the Macdonald Valley either.

Sophie Wills, founder of the Community Defib Project which has seen around 30 public defibrillators placed around the Valley, in a project which is seeing it roll out to other areas including Upper Colo, was furious about the lack of response during the first four days of the floods.

Sophie Wills (left) receiving an award for her work...she's not so happy now as floods batter the Macdonald Valley and locals have to go it alone

“It's frightening to think that if police officer Bill Andrews – our one policeman - hadn't gone and evacuated the residents of our local van parks – with no SES boats in the area, no assistance, no support - quite frankly, they would have drowned.

“It has been quite disturbing over the last few days the effects of the flood but one thing that has been noted by many in the area is the lack of support from the SES and even acknowledgement in the mainstream media,” Ms Wills said. “I do acknowledge that there is presently support on the ground but unfortunately this arrived days later and there was no assistance in evacuating prior.”

Ms Wills, who is also a trained paramedic, said many residents in the remote Hawkesbury area have been trapped and isolated by rising floods for four days.

“It's quite frightening to think that the Macdonald River has had people flooded in for three, going on four nights now. Many would have no idea because it is simply ignored in the media.”

Flooding began in the Macdonald River on Friday with Saturday morning access becoming limited to 4WD vehicles.

Complete isolation began on Sunday morning.

On Sunday night and Monday morning, Wisemans Ferry township was at risk.

Walmsley Road. Pic courtesy of Martin Reuter

“Local police officer, Bill Andrews, did a phenomenal job on his own, Sunday night evacuating local caravan parks along River Rd. I am personally touched by this, with elderly friends in the park that were evacuated late Sunday evening. Their homes were underwater Monday morning,” Ms Wills told the Post. “The Macdonald Valley is often referred to as the Forgotten Valley and the last few days we are seeing a prime example of why,” she says.

“There has been no evacuation orders for the Macdonald River, despite desperately evacuating many from the area today [Tuesday] - Walmsley Rd is underwater.

“Unfortunately there has been no reference to the Macdonald River by the Hawkesbury SES Facebook page or relevant government agencies. “The SES began assisting with evacuations yesterday. I note that a lot of the Hawkesbury SES page shares information on the Colo Region, the upper parts of the Hawkesbury, but I can simply not understand why there was no information shared for the Macdonald River. “The Macdonald River is presently spilling over to many houses in Walmsley Rd, Lower Macdonald and beyond. Yes there is support from the SES now, but I can't understand why no evacuation warning, no updates, nothing. “Even on the Hawkesbury City Council website dashboard there is no mention of the Macdonald River.

“Wisemans Ferry Bowling Club, the Kiosk at the Ferry all of the above is going underwater with multiple caravans parks yet no mention on the SES page.

“When asking the SES facebook page about why there's no information for the Macdonald Valley this was the response:

‘Hey Sophie - we are in constant contact with the folk in the Macdonald valley who assure us you are all communicating on your Facebook page and email groups. We can do an update on the MacDonald Valley - but I think you know more than us. We are here to provide any help the people of the valley need.’ “The general theme was that we need to fend for ourselves,” says Ms Wills.

“I really think as government agencies and support systems this can be done better. “The Macdonald Valley will be the last to drain, they will go the longest without supplies, power, etc, and will potentially be isolated for weeks. We really need to support this community. “All the community has been encouraged to call the SES and hopefully calls for assistance will provide more insight of the need.

"From Tuesday, we did begin to see the Macdonald Valley included in updates.

"What we're seeing now, is the SES doing a great job banding together with the local RFS from yesterday [Tuesday].

"They have provided much needed rescues for many parts of the valley, particularly Walmsley Rd, alongside local police. They have also been providing food drops along with welfare checks. It's fantastic to see the support and most welcomed.

"From my perspective and I know many, it was the lack of support in the lead up that was frightening, and now most of the valley is also without power.

"This comment is never to take away from the fantastic job that the SES does, they are amazing. We're just hopeful that government agencies can band together to get the support on the ground sooner and keep the levels of updates consistent with other areas.

"Hoping for the day we will no longer be the forgotten valley." "I am just simply asking for support if there is a way for this to be done better.

For there to be support earlier and acknowledgement and attention to the areas that do it tough, quietly.” “Macdonald Valley and environs have been cut-off, isolated and in fragmented pockets for five days now,” said Stephen Brown on Wednesday.

“Thankfully the community is accustomed to being self sustaining, however they will shortly need additional support, once this critical phase eases.”

“So far, in the SES’s 31 Flood Bulletins and Council’s own communications, the Valley has not been addressed in any informative or purposeful way. In part this is due to the BOM Flood Warning/analysis system not addressing Macdonald Valley.

“Locally we’ve been communicating and connecting, however it will be soon be time for Council to specifically reach out and connect.

I’m sure too that in any After Action Review of the flood there will be a strong voice represented from our community.”

Main picture is by Martin Reuter, who also took the other dramatic pictures we've used here. Martin is the Valley's local NRMA man.

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