A major landslide on a regional road between Moruya and Braidwood, in southeast NSW, has virtually landlocked residents, including health professionals who work in Canberra and farmers who rely on Sydney markets to sell their produce.
It’s the second landslide in 12 months on Araluen Road in Deua National Park, home to about 40 blocks, as a result of damage caused by the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires and floods.
These catastrophes meant the road closed to the general public for repairs on 23 October, which was six months ago.
The first landslide fell at Knowles Creek, on the Moruya side, on 2 November, 2020, and the more recent landslide fell at Merricumbene, on the Braidwood side, near the boundary between Eurobodalla Shire Council and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, on Friday, 7 May.
Now, the only official way in and out is via unmarked and tricky to navigate fire trails – a detour established by Eurobodalla Shire Council around the Knowles Creek landslide.
Araluen Road residents Dr Adrian Webster and his wife, Rebekah Bowman, a midwife, are due to return to work in Canberra on Thursday, 13 May. They are weighing up whether to follow the detour to Moruya and onto Canberra – a three-hour-plus trip – or through a private and muddy track on their neighbour’s property.
They are also worried about rain predicted this week, which may cause further landslides or block their detours.
Dr Webster said he is frustrated that nothing has been done by council to improve the road’s condition since creating the detour, and that another resident’s life had subsequently been put at risk.
“Following a health incident, an ambulance was called to this person’s place,” he said. “In transporting the resident to hospital along the detour road, the ambulance became lost, ending up on very severely degraded roads.
“Thankfully, they were ultimately able to make it to Moruya in time, but it could so easily have resulted in a much worse outcome.”
However, the patient’s trip home from hospital with a family member coincided with a major rain event, said Dr Webster.
“During their journey, the conditions worsened so badly the only way they could proceed, either forward or backwards, was with a guide walking in front of the vehicle directing it,” he said. “Straight out of hospital, they were forced to walk in the rain and fog in front of their vehicle to make it home.”
Hamish Hudson is the closest resident to the new landslide, and he said trucks are unable to travel along Araluen Road because of the landslides, which means fruit unable to reach markets is rotting and neighbours who lost their properties in the bushfires can’t rebuild.
“A friend of mine owns an orchard here and is having to carry fruit on a pallet on the back of a ute to a truck away from here to make the markets,” he said. “Meanwhile, my neighbour, who lost his property in the bushfires and has been living in my shed, can’t get building materials via a truck to rebuild.”
Mr Hudson said it wasn’t unusual for rocks to fall on Araluen Road and that he or neighbours with tractors often clear the debris. However, this isn’t a landslide they can fix.
Even Eurobodalla Shire Council said it is too dangerous to begin work immediately, with debris covering the left-hand side of the road, while the right-hand side of the road has fallen due to floods.
“The road cannot simply be cleared and reopened to traffic because of major instability on both the high and low sides of the road,” said council’s director of infrastructure, Warren Sharpe.
“Initial inspections were undertaken in daylight on Saturday, 8 May, and a geotechnical specialist and engineers will be inspecting the site to commence development of solutions.”
Dr Webster said he’d noticed a change in residents’ mental health since the first landslide.
“People who are normally calm and gentle become teary and fiery when this topic comes up around the campfire,” he said.
Several residents and friends of the Deua River community have written letters to Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips, Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain, NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency asking for help.
Ms Phillips told Region Media she has contacted NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole about funding assistance for council.
“While I have had no response from the NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, I will continue to advocate for further assistance for Eurobodalla Shire Council to help fix Araluen Road,” she said.
“As people would be aware, the terrain is extremely difficult and a fix is complex. I understand Eurobodalla Shire Council is undergoing testing of an alternate route and obtaining costings. It will require both federal and state funding.”
Ms McBain said that Eurobodalla Shire Council and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council had applied for funding under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Package to remediate parts of the road.
“And I don’t want to hear anymore that the fund has been oversubscribed – our recovery is being underfunded if vital improvements like this don’t take place,” she said.
However, Dr Webster said Araluen Road residents couldn’t wait for months for funding applications to be approved and need trucks on the ground to clear the landslides “this week”.
Region Media also contacted Mr Constance and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency for comment.