The recent destruction of Nitjpurru (Pigeon Hole community) housing and community assets may have been avoided if local voices had been listened to, the Mayor of Victoria Daly Regional Council says.
Severe flooding across the Victoria Daly region has resulted in evacuation orders for hundreds of people across in Kalkarindji, Daguragu, and Nitjpurru (Pigeon Hole).
On Thursday, ariel images emerged of Nitjpurru (Pigeon Hole) Community submerged in water, with only rooftops showing.
Home to around 150 people, the community is situated approximately 100 kms from Kalkarindji and 400kms from Katherine.
This flooding has impacted the whole of the community, including new housing construction built by the NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics from 2019 onwards.
The development of the six properties was strongly opposed by Council before, during, and post-construction due to the fact the new development was in the middle of the flood zone.
In a letter addressed to the Minister for Local Government, Gerald McCarthy in 2020, Mayor Pedwell warned the new development was at risk of “serious and costly damage” because of it’s location.
“Despite community’s calls for all new housing to be located on higher ground, inappropriate housing continues to be constructed in flood-prone areas,” the letter said.
Not a new issue
The threat of flooding is not a new issue for Nitjpurru (Pigeon Hole) residents. Flood waters in the community can reach a heigh of 3.4 metres above ground level at the height of the wet season.
And with no official warning system, community members rely on family living upstream in the communities of Kalkarindji and Daguragu to warn them of rain and potential flooding activity.
Additionally, Nitjpurru (Pigeon Hole) is in a mobile black-spot and can only receive warnings from family via one public payphone located in the centre of town.
Mayor Pedwell said that after 20 years of advocating to both sides of the Northern Territory and Federal Governments and the Northern Land Council for the community to be moved out of the floodplain, this latest disaster was a reminder of why local voices must be listened to.
“For the last two decades, we have been yelling from the rooftops about moving the community – this includes the health centre and school – to higher ground,” Mayor Pedwell said.
“Following the 2001 floods the NTG moved the power station, sewerage ponds and the airstrip to higher ground. Unfortunately, the houses and other major infrastructure remain in the flood zone.
“And instead of listening and doing something about it, the NTG built the new houses right on the banks of the river. It’s no surprise to anyone, that these houses and the livelihoods of the people who lived in them have now been destroyed.”