Afvter flood, levees and rebuilt town lift spirits
Bittersweet: Brickhouse Station owner Rebecca Burt on the levee. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

On a clear, crisp Saturday morning, Gascoyne Junction is buzzing with activity.

Locals are chatting over coffee, warming themselves in a sunshine-filled beer garden as children play nearby on gleaming new play equipment.

On the sports oval, volunteers are setting up for a concert that night that will attract hundreds of people, some of whom will end the night curled up in swags on the freezing grass.

Inside the pub is an artwork made with the remnants of century-old green bottles. They are all that remains of the historic Gascoyne Junction pub, which was wiped out along with the town's main infrastructure when record-breaking floodwaters swept through the region in December 2010.

The town of 70 people, which also services tourists and the wider shire of 350 people, could have easily become "a Wittenoom", says Upper Gascoyne Shire president Ross Collins.

But thanks to the community's determination not to let their town die, and $8 million in Royalties for Regions funding, Gascoyne Junction is again open for business.

FLOOD BROUGHT PAIN AND LOSS

Kirsty Butler and Jodie McTaggart toast the new pub. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

The new pub, caravan park, general store and 24-hour fuel station were officially opened on Saturday, when locals shared stories about the day their town was nearly wiped off the map.

Pensioner Judy McGregor had spent only one night in her new home when the Gascoyne River flood tore through it on December 19.

"It was just before Christmas and I had the freezer full," she said on Saturday.

"All I could think of was to grab the ham."

Mrs McGregor returned the next day to find her house destroyed.

"My brain couldn't comprehend what my eyes were seeing," she said. "The main part of the house was in the caravan park and the kitchen was up a tree."

Mrs McGregor now lives in a new home bought with the help of the Lord Mayor's Distress Relief Fund and furnished through donations.

Jodie McTaggart, husband Hamish and her in-laws Jane and Lachlan spent the night of the floods huddling on top of water tanks at their Bidgemia cattle station.

"But the following day was the worst, seeing the destruction, the mud and the clean-up job," Mrs McTaggart said.

Judy McGregor at he new home. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

"We had no machinery to start cleaning up, no roads for people to come and help and we lost lots of livestock."

Mrs McTaggart said with the social hub - the pub - gone, and locals busy cleaning up, the community lost touch for about two years.

"Having (the pub) here now is a central place for us all to come on a Friday night," she said.

Jane McTaggart said the new tourist precinct was an example of "something really good coming out of something really bad".

The floods caused $90 million damage to the Gascoyne district, most of it felt by farmers and fruit growers.

On Friday, they celebrated the completion of 16km of flood levees to protect Carnarvon's horticultural district - part of a $60 million Royalties for Regions project.

Returning to the area at the weekend, Regional Development Minister and Nationals leader Terry Redman recalled visiting with local member Vince Catania immediately after the flood.

"Unless you've seen it, it's hard to appreciate the impact that such events have on those communities," Mr Redman said.

Brickhouse Station under water. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

He said both projects were evidence of why Royalties for Regions was so important.

"The faces of these people here today give you a boost of confidence to keep pursuing a good outcome for regional West Australians," he said.

For Carnarvon Shire president Karl Brandenburg, the levees meant growers could go to bed at night without worrying about whether their investment was at risk.

"The human cost of that . . . (of the flood), I'm so pleased these levee banks are in place," he said.

The West Australian

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