Locals lead the way after the Mungindi fire

Mungindi, Queensland

The smell of smoke had barely cleared the air of the main street of Mungindi, straddling the NSW/Queensland border in the hot central west of the state line when the town was called on to act as one.

It wasn’t a bushfire. It wasn’t a flood. But it was something equally as distressing.

The small town lost its supermarket, its butcher and its wares store that provided the clothing, workwear, boots, belts and hats that are necessary to live and work in the bush in the highly productive lands on all edges of the town and over the hills beyond.

After the cruelty of drought, this blow was coming just when the locals and the businesses were expecting their first bumper harvest season in years. A season of relief, but now one tinged with the danger of losing vital services.

Mungindi has risen to the challenge.

Lock, stock and barrel the town’s Progress Association led the way to recover a supermarket for the town in the skeleton of a disused RSL building. Townspeople swept floors and cleaned up. They unpacked boxes and stocked shelves. They’ve priced and diced, they’ve prepared a proper alternative supermarket that’s not quite the SPAR branch that went up in flames, but it will more than service their town.

Most importantly it will give the locals the chance to shop in their own main street and support other stores still in business in their community, rather than having to travel elsewhere and take with them the prosperity on which their town relies.

New Drought and Flood Agency Regional Recovery Officer for South-West Queensland, Bryson Head, says the town’s efforts have demonstrated the best of regional Australia’s attitude to survival.

“They’ve turned adversity on its head. I can’t wait to get the chance to say g’day and well done to the people who have made this happen and see whether there’s things we can do to help – even if it is after this initial massive effort. I’ll be making my way to Mungindi quick smart.”

Anna Harrison, President of the Mungindi Progress Association is justly proud of the community’s strength of spirit and resilience.

“Almost everyone got involved,” she said. “It took a massive effort, but we had to make a decision that would be for the benefit of everyone involved.”

Mungindi is one of those communities massively inconvenienced by straddling the border in these days of COVID-19 restrictions which vary from state-to-state. The town is in NSW, but the hospital is across the river in Queensland. Of its staff, 80 per cent live in NSW and were in daily limbo about how and where they could work.

“We are now allowed to cross over for the right reasons but the initial lockdown was incredibly difficult,” Anna said.

“Getting things up and running with the temporary supermarket was a massive effort led by a strong Progress Association executive. We cannot risk people travelling to do their shopping elsewhere and had to prove we were big enough to stand on our own two feet and help ourselves.”

The supermarket is owned by the Progress Association but has had some assistance from SPAR to help with shelving and some materials.

“It will give us all a breather while people are deciding the long-term future – whether to rebuild, and how and when. Our goal is to see a new supermarket here eventually, but that’s a decision some way off.

“We had to act fast to give our community a chance at its own future,” Anna said.

The former employees of the shops that were lost have been re-employed by the new store.

Anna said the Progress Association plays a significant role in the town, bridging liaison between the NSW Moree Shire and Queensland’s Balonne Shire, both of which have a significant role to play in Mungindi’s welfare.

“We have to be able to broker the interests of both to get things done, but our strategy is to keep the locals spending in our town for the good of everyone.

“I’m enormously proud of the effort that has gone into this in a very short period of time to make it work.”

Deservedly so.