If evidence were ever needed about how country folk band together in a crisis, go no further than the village of Gunning on Halloween night last year when a freak weather event nearly washed away the small community.
The rain started around 5:30 pm and, according to locals, didn’t stop till the early hours, quickly flooding the main street. Not one business was left untouched when more than 70mm of rain fell in a matter of an hour.
Water flooded into the Telegraph Hotel at one end of the main street, reaching up above the barstools while at the other end of town, the historic Coronation Theatre was flooded, not long after it was granted funding for urgent restoration work.
Described as a once-in-a-lifetime weather event, when the torrential rain combined with the already saturated ground, nothing was going to stop the torrent.
Locals reported that the main street was underwater within a matter of minutes.
Last Monday night, Mayor of the Upper Lachlan Shire Council, Pam Kensit hosted a meeting of local residents with invited guests from police and emergency services to discuss what they had learned from the crisis and what could be done if it ever happened in the future.
Ms Kensit, who inspected the scene about 7 am the morning after the flood, said residents were keen to discuss what could be learned from the disaster.
“We learned that nothing could have stopped it,” she said, and that “none of us had ever seen anything like it.
“It was devastating. We couldn’t believe how quickly the water came up.
“This is why I thought it was important we have this debrief, to talk about what happened.
“But the one thing that was clear about the whole ordeal was the way the Gunning community banded together to help each other out,” she said.
“The people who weren’t affected as badly were quick to help the people who were. There was the most remarkable community spirit on display.”
At the height of the storm, Monday night’s meeting was told, there had been 13 rescues by the State Emergency Service. Two men lost their lives when they were swept off their ute.
“That was as bad as it got,” Ms Kensit said. “Losing two people was terrible – but 11 people were saved.
“By talking about this now, I believe it helps people to recover, to learn how to cope if something like this happens again.”
It took the village 10 days to get up and running again, an effort described by Ms Kensit as a miracle.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The next morning I was wading through water up to my knees in the pub. By the next day there was still a fair old mess – but the water had at least receded.”
She said it was a joy to see how the community helped itself over the next few days. “People who might not have spoken to each other for years were talking like they did every day,” she said. “It is true that bad things can often bring out the best in us.”
Ms Kensit said there were a number of takeouts from this week’s debrief, including a pledge to work closer with the emergency services to organising community workshops on how to fill sandbags.
“But the main thing I came away with from what the emergency service workers talked about was the importance of human life – how everything else just comes second.
“They said saving human lives would always take priority, and they’re right.
“It was tragic that two lives were lost that night, but it could have been so much worse.”