Homeless Isisford caravanner says council flood advice wide of the mark

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
Updated May 4 2022 - 12:52am, first published May 3 2022 - 8:00am
Wayne Clark, inset, from Wondai, was camped with his dog and a friend's when confronted with the flooding emergency on the Barcoo River, in which he lost his caravan home. Pictures supplied.

One of the caravanners caught in Barcoo River floodwaters at Isisford just over a week ago says he was lulled into a false sense of security by the advice of Longreach Regional Council staff.

Wayne Clark, 69, a retired bush jack of all trades based at Wondai, said he worked unaided throughout Monday night, April 25 to winch his vehicle to safety in what was the worst experience of his life.



His caravan, which is his home, plus two other caravans and two vehicles were submerged as water rose through the popular riverside campsite following heavy rain upstream.

"I've had a pretty tough life but nothing like that," he said, recounting the steps he took once he realised he would have to try to get his belongings to high ground by himself.

"Once we had the first bit of rain, I packed my van and went to move my 'cruiser but it and the van had sunk two or three inches - it was then I realised there was a problem," he said. "And I was on the highest part - I knew to do that."

Wayne Clark's campsite on the Barcoo River at Isisford.

Mr Clark said when he saw the lights of the SES through the trees he went and asked for help but was told there was nothing they could do.

After making the two companion dogs with him safe and throwing some food from his freezer into his boat, he spent the next seven or so hours winching his Landcruiser from tree to tree.

"It was a nightmare, it went on and on," he said.

"Every step I took, I went down a foot into grey muck.

"I fell over three times, was covered in it all.

"The way my winch works, every time you go 10-15m, you're doing double that.

"I think I was just going on adrenalin."

All he had to light his work was a heavy duty torch and the 4WD headlights.

The wheel hubs of Wayne Clark's 4WD were totally clogged with mud after he winched it to safety last week.

Once his vehicle was on dry ground he went back into the water to float his dinghy out in stages, which he managed to do by daylight.

Mr Clark said it was then that council workers came down to offer a hand.

"They took me back to the van in their boat and I threw a few things in," he said.

Mr Clark said he had doubts about staying at the campsite but council staff had put his mind at rest when he paid his fees the previous Tuesday.



"I was told everything was monitored," he said. "The locals said the river takes about five days to come down, but that's not the point - you can't move once it starts raining."

In addition, a fellow camper who said they'd spoken to someone on the council workforce told Mr Clark that if it looked like there would be a problem, someone would come down with a backhoe.

Officer-in-charge at the Isisford Police Station, senior constable Wes Venter said last week that campers had been notified on the Thursday of the impending wet weather.

Mr Clark said no-one had come to his site to advise that rain was coming, plus he'd felt reassured by the advice he'd been given at the council office.

"I've worked on cattle stations, I'm definitely on the safety side," he said.

"I think too much of my van to want to risk it.



"I don't hold anything against anyone - I should have used my own gut feeling, but I went on what people told me.

"I've never been out here, I didn't know what the grey dirt was like, but now I want people to know that if there's any doubt, get out.

"You might have packed up for nothing and lost your lovely water view but it might be worth it.

"What campers here have got to realise, if you get into this situation, you're totally on your own.

"I've got a tumour on my spinal cord and I'm on an invalid pension but no-one gave me a hand."




Longreach Regional Council spokespeople declined to comment but local SES controller Bob Hay said there wasn't much they could have done to help.

"We've only got a Hilux here," he said.

"There was too much rain - if it was only slippery we could have hooked onto something.

"We got bogged ourselves walking around - I think the policeman still has a shoe missing in the mud."

Mr Hay added that a 4WD tractor used to be available through the council to help campers in trouble but it was elsewhere that night.



Mr Clark said as the events of the night had shown, he didn't need big equipment, just help.

"I could have laid up in my van and drowned and no-one would have known," he said.

He is currently staying in emergency housing at the town's old hospital, arranged by the Isisford Heritage Group, paying $90 a week for four weeks, and said someone in town had brought him some clothes.

"I don't really know what I'll do - I can only buy another van but I have to get insurance sorted first."

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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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