Rising Goulburn and Murray rivers force homeless campers from their tents


People sleeping rough in bush campsites along the Goulburn and Murray rivers are being displaced by floodwater and, with a third consecutive season of La Niña declared, wet conditions are expected to persist.

Homeless people commonly camp in the scrub between Shepparton and Mooroopna, but as levels rise in local waterways, they have been urged to move on.

Shepparton Search and Rescue president Nicole Standfield helped a man whose tent had been surrounded by water in a low-lying area last week.

“We assisted with moving his camp to dry land, where he would then be able to find a new location,” she said.

The river flats are the first to flood when water levels rise in nearby waterways.

“Even if someone has their tent on higher ground, they could still become completely encircled by floodwater,” Ms Standfield said.

“The advice was to move completely out of there, especially between Shepparton and Mooroopna, because essentially they would be encased by floodwater.

“They would have no way to get food or water.”

The bush between Shepparton and Mooroopna is an outlet for the Goulburn River during floods.(ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

Crisis accommodation ‘very limited’

Beyond Housing client services manager Catherine Jefferies said those asked to leave their camps had nowhere to go and often struggled to transport their belongings.

“People are asked to move on because it’s not safe, and that’s easy to say — but how does someone move on?” she said.

“Move on to where? They’re on the river because there is nothing else available for them.”

Ms Jefferies said there was an increase in the number of people who had been camping near the river requesting assistance at the service’s Shepparton office.

But she said crisis accommodation was not a long-term solution and was “very limited”.

“Our community needs more affordable housing,” Ms. Jefferies said.

“It’s critical.”

A brown velvet cough is half submerged in floodwater, with tents in the foreground and background also partially underwater.
A couch, barbecue, clothing, cooking utensils and shelves are among the belongings at this flooded Shepparton campsite.(ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

Leaving it all behind

At the border between New South Wales and Victoria, the Murray River rising had also caused problems.

Uniting Victoria Tasmania emergency relief coordinator Catherine Byrne helped two people displaced by flooding in Wodonga yesterday.

“Luckily they’re bunking with friends that they’ve made, so they’ve got somewhere to stay for the moment,” she said.

“But they’ve had to leave behind all their belongings.”

A tent on a gravel campground on a creek.  A billy and a gas stove sit beside it.
The owner of this tent has taken to higher ground in Wodonga while waiting for emergency accommodation.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Gaye Pattison)

Ms Byrne said Uniting could offer tents, swags, blankets and a hot meal, and make referrals to organizations that allocated crisis accommodation.

She said many of the campers would be “river wise” and know to move to higher ground.

“But flooding hasn’t happened like this for at least 10 years,” she said.

“So it’s a bit of a different situation and we don’t know how high it’s going to get.”

Four tents are pictured on the other side of a river, among gum trees, with the water of the swollen river below.
A campsite on the banks of the swollen Goulburn River in Shepparton. (ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

Ms Byrne urged the community to leave seemingly discarded camping equipment where they found it.

“I saw on Facebook that someone had picked up a swag that was under a bridge,” she said.

“A homeless person cannot always take their items with them — they’ve only got their legs and their arms generally, so they need to stash their stuff somewhere.

“They will be back to get it.”

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