11 November 2022

Gunning townsfolk turn the tide on disaster

| Sally Hopman
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Flooded main street

Outside Gunning’s Telegraph Hotel in the main street – before and after the flood that dumped more than 70mm of rain on the village in just a couple of hours. Photos: Sally Hopman and Lauren Woodbridge.

Some truths were told last week, real-life stuff that usually only surfaces when we’re talking platitudes.

You know the sort of thing: “It’s only in times of crisis/despair/something bad that you know who your real friends are”.

Seems the folk of Gunning have a lot of friends. When a flash flood turned the main street, and most everything in it, into a river last week, it brought out the best in folk. Those who live there, those who have ever lived there and even those who had never heard about the place till then.

It could well have been the images of Gunning River floating through town – it doesn’t actually have one – or the water tank that also came down the main street swimmingly, clearly confused about its purpose in life.

No-one knows when disaster will hit, but Gunning? That nice little town near Yass? The place that became so couth once they drove the highway out of it. The quaint village that has been home to An Australian Living Treasure for more than 20 years?

So, what happens to the town that’s never done the wrong thing by anyone? It gets dumped on. Literally. More than 70mm of rain in just a matter of hours. And spookily, right on Halloween. Seriously?

When something like that happens, you just stare. At the water, at each other, at where your house was. But in Gunning, everyone came out to the main street. One local said she had never seen so many people in the main street. Ever.

READ ALSO Flash flooding fails to dampen Gunning’s community spirit

They all looked wide-eyed at the torrent of water gushing down the main street. At the water rising up the side of the drinking hole, the Telegraph Hotel, which had been advertising its Halloween night special dinner for days.

But the stares didn’t last long. Help was needed, and it was needed then and now. People checked their kids and animals were safe and then went to see what their neighbours needed. Buckets, mostly. I was going to say they were all in the same boat, but I won’t.

Turns out platitudes can tell the truth, that disasters do bring out the best in people. In Gunning, if water wasn’t flooding through your front door, you were more than likely helping out someone where it was.

It was also a time when social media came into its own. Even though it was disconnected at the height of the flood, because the equipment had to be moved to higher ground, when it did come back, it was all about “what do you need?”, when the working bees started up. A fridge, lounge, dry everything and anything, the words got out on social media and a few of the locals organised it all for whoever needed whatever.

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A fellow from Canberra, who knew no-one in Gunning, turned up with a carload of meals for whoever needed them. Even the hardest hit of them all, the local pub, worked through the night so that it could provide some food for locals the next day.

If there is a best bit about something like this, it’s the post-disaster discussion about the BIG Issues. Was this Gunning’s Biggest Flood? The old-timers reckoned not. They said the Big Flood of the 1950s was way worse. It took out the main street and most of the rest of the village in tow. They ended up winning the debate because there weren’t too many folk left who could remember that Big Flood. But there was some debate about whether it hailed over the Big Storm, also of the 1950s. Then there was, of course, the Big Wet. But by then, the debate had dried up.

Postscript: If you’d really like to do your bit to help Gunning, buying some tickets to a concert in the shire hall on Sunday, 20 November, will help. If you opt to get a coffee or have lunch in one of the fabulous village cafes beforehand, that will be even better.

The concert, presented by the Gunning Focus Group, will feature John Ma leading Canberra’s splendid string symphony orchestra Musica da Camera for a concert entitled All Baroque, including pieces by Bach and Vivaldi. Tickets: $40, concession $30, Under 18s free. Book here.
For more info: call 0429 906 834 or email [email protected].

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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