Flood-affected residents of Melbourne’s suburb of Maribyrnong say a flood-prevention wall built around Flemington Racecourse 15 years ago made Friday’s major flooding worse for neighbouring streets and properties.
Pictures showing 1.27 square kilometres of untouched racecourse grass surrounded by brown floodwaters at the weekend sparked fury from local residents and politicians who originally campaigned against the flood wall being built in 2008.
— Prof Emma L Johnston AO FAA FTSE (@DrEmmaLJohnston) October 14, 2022
“It’s just stark how on the racecourse there’s no water over there [which] meant that the water had to go somewhere else,” Greens Senator and former Maribyrnong mayor Janet Rice told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
Rice was on the Maribyrnong City Council when the flood wall’s construction was being planned and said all three councils that abutted Flemington Racecourse — Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley and City of Melbourne — opposed it, along with residents who fiercely protested.
“People were concerned about what was going to happen in a big flood and was it going to make the flooding worse elsewhere,” Rice said.
“Despite that, the State Government made the decision to allow the racecourse to [build] the wall.”
— Aisha Dow (@aishamae) October 14, 2022
Racing Victoria chief executive Andrew Jones said on Saturday the Victoria Racing Club was “entitled” to build the flood wall, “[and] that’s obviously had unintended consequences for neighbouring residents”.
“Obviously there is no intention of the VRC to cause harm. They are trying to protect the Spring Carnival and the Melbourne Cup Carnival, which is a massively important part of Victorian life and the Victorian economy,” Jones told Nine’s Today.
Local residents agree it is “entitled” and say they don’t have a similar ability to protect their homes from floodwaters, which they argue were higher due to the wall.
Maribyrnong resident Tanya Williams, who set up the Flood Warriors Facebook group to coordinate volunteer clean-up efforts, called Jones’ comments “insensitive”.
“I think theres going to be people boycotting spring carnival to be honest,” Williams told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“There are some pretty angry residents.”
Williams said locals were aware of the Flemington Racecourse flood wall because they regularly walk past it but many — especially those who moved to the area after it was built in 2008 — never realised its purpose.
The Flemington Racecourse flood wall is some kind of perverse tragedy of the commons. A privately-owned floodplain refusing to take on water, ensuring worse flooding for the city of Melbourne. pic.twitter.com/1kXcFjX8L3
— Alistair Kitchen (@alistairkitchen) October 14, 2022
Now residents faces an uphill battle to clean the mud and salvage items from their homes.
“It’s the mud, the mud is just thick and stenchy and you actually have to wet it to get it out.
“We’re just volunteers, we’re not trained. I’m literally door-knocking like, ‘right, who needs what?’”
Hydrology and flood warning expert Geoff Crapper told PEDESTRIAN.TV the wall certainly hadn’t helped the flooding situation in some areas.
“[Flemington Racecourse] is absolutely huge, it’s a substantial natural retaining basin to mitigate flooding downstream from Flemington,” he said.
“Instead, what you’ve got is the wall. The water can’t go through it so it’s gotta go somewhere and its anyone’s guess how much that obstruction has worsened the flooding upstream.”
Crapper worked at Melbourne Water from 1972 to 2003 and was responsible for Melbourne’s flood warning service in his last decade in the job. He said he was concerned when he first saw the proposal for the wall and wrote a report with five recommendations which was sent to the consultants of the flood wall plan. But he said despite residents, experts and councils protesting its construction, “essentially, nothing was done”.
“Everyone was against it except the VRC,” he said.
“Expert flood drainage consultants were against it and nothing happened, it just went ahead.”
Flemington Racecourse’s first residential development in its 182-year history is currently under construction and Rice said, despite strict regulations around building on floodplains, the rubber-stamping of the flood wall suggested one rule was applied to the VRC and another was applied to everyone else.
“Somebody is making a massive amount of money out of the fact that this land, which used to not be able to be built on because it was in the floodplain, is now able to be built on,” she said.
“It’s a combination of the power of the gambling industry and property development and the sway they have over politics which I think really stinks.”
Maribyrnong Mayor Cr Anthony Tran and Moonee Valley Mayor Cr Samantha Byrne told PEDESTRIAN.TV their focus this week was on the residents and the clean-up effort, but they awaited the findings from the review of the wall Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday.
Andrews said Melbourne Water would review whether the wall contributed to flooding that led to the evacuation of people from their homes in Maribyrnong on Friday.
“Obviously their strategy was to project their racecourse and hats off to them, they’ve protected the racecourse,” Tran said.
“I can’t say if it’s because of the wall or not but the damage around here is definitely significant.”
People in need of assistance can reach out via the Flood Warriors Facebook group or call 1800 560 760.