Probe into Flemington Racecourse wall as Maribyrnong mops up mud

Melbourne Water will review whether the controversial construction of a wall around Flemington Racecourse contributed to flooding that led to the evacuation of people from their homes in Maribyrnong on Friday.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the review would focus on the flood wall and not other concerns about the timing of evacuation warnings.

“I can confirm that Melbourne Water will conduct a thorough review of that flood event, and any impact that had. It will do that work at arm’s length from the government and will report on its progress,” he said.

Maribyrnong residents had campaigned against the wall, which was built in 2007, arguing it would direct muddy floodwater away from the natural floodplain and into their homes.

A Melbourne Water spokesperson confirmed the review. “Emergency flood response activities are still under way and remain the priority. Melbourne Water undertakes a review as standard practice after every major flooding event has finished.”

Maribyrnong resident Shane Trewin, who died three years ago, was among the campaigners against the wall. His house in Chifley Drive had been flooded in 1984 and 1993, and he said the wall would remove 1.2 million square metres of floodplain and force water into new housing developments and industrial estates along the valley.

Tyson and Jane Trewin in Jane’s flooded home. Jane holds a photo of late husband Shane, who fought against the Flemington Racecourse flood wall.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“Shane said, ‘I am not going to beat the racecourse because they are so powerful, but I cannot in all conscience not have a crack,’ ” his widow Jane Trewin said.

Early on Friday morning, the home the Trewins lived in together for almost 40 years was inundated.

Their son, Tyson, said the water came far higher than in previous years, which he believes is a direct consequence of the racecourse flood wall. “Dad would be dirty,” Tyson said. “[Racing Victoria] were worried about getting their grass wet and a little bit muddy. Horses were worth more than our lives.”

In 2006, as national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, Maribyrnong MP Bill Shorten wrote to then-state water minister John Thwaites calling for an “urgent independent assessment” of the modelling supporting the wall’s construction.

In the letter, Shorten said many residents were concerned the flood wall would worsen the flood risk.

“These residents believe there are serious flaws in the hydraulic modelling carried out by the consultants (for the Victoria Racing Club and Melbourne Water) and in Melbourne Water’s review of the modelling,” he wrote.

Shorten called for an independent and comprehensive assessment by former University of Queensland professor Colin Apelt.

But the state’s planning minister, Rob Hulls, rejected the calls, telling Shorten Melbourne Water was satisfied with the assessment.

Hulls said Melbourne Water and the Victoria Racing Club’s methodology was reviewed by a Monash University academic.

Shorten told The Age on Sunday that while he did not know what role the flood wall played in pushing up water levels, Melbourne Water needed to urgently assess its impact.

“I did raise concerns 16 years ago, which were dismissed,” he said. “As locals clean up their houses and the council begins the task of repairing local infrastructure and sporting facilities, I think residents will want to know the cause of what happened.

“I am a big fan of racing, but that doesn’t mean its interests trump everyone else’s.”

Residents of about 60 homes on the low-lying tidal flat around the Anglers Tavern were forced to leave their homes on Friday morning after one of the highest floods in the history of the municipality.

Maribyrnong residents continue with the flood clean-up on Sunday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The Maribyrnong River peaked at 4.18 metres. The highest recorded event, in 1906, was 4.5 metres, followed by 4.26 metres in 1916 and 4.2 metres in 1974.

April Bedeau and her 10-year-old son were woken just before 6am on Friday and told to immediately evacuate their Newstead Street home.

“We just grabbed whatever we could shove it in the car and took off,” Bedeau said. “We have got maybe three days of clothing each, a couple of pillows, my medication and an iPad.”

Bedeau said her house was covered with a thick layer of mud and unliveable.

Maribyrnong residents clear out damaged belongings.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“We are essentially homeless … I am losing it every two seconds. I don’t know where we are going to go.”

Bedeau, who is on JobSeeker, said she was due to have surgery on Tuesday to repair a hole in her heart.

“It’s been a pretty rough sort of 18 months and now with this on top of everything, pardon my French but we’re f—ed.”

Maribyrnong City Council said a large team of council staff were clearing debris, sweeping affected roads and pressure-washing footpaths.

Kitty Scott started the Flood Warriors Facebook page on Friday night.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“While there is still more work to be done, Chifley Drive is the only area we have not yet managed to get to. The mud there is shin deep,” the council said.

Hard waste collection is scheduled to begin Monday, October 17, and continue through the week.

On Sunday at the Maribyrnong Community Centre, Kitty Scott was triaging volunteers to deliver food and help residents mop up the mud from their homes.

Scott, an administrator of the Footscray and Niddrie Good Kharma Network, started the Flood Warriors Facebook page on Friday night. By Sunday, it had more than 1000 members, many of whom volunteered to help with the clean-up.

Volunteers bring food and water to people in Maribyrnong on Sunday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“It’s like Tinder, we are matching people up,” Scott said. “There are hundreds out there helping, which is bloody amazing. Mainly, at the moment, people need help moving mud, silt and debris. They need manpower. And they will need it for several days if not weeks.”

With Roy Ward

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