Locals at Menindee in far west New South Wales have hailed funding to seal a key regional road as a project that could “save” the drought-stricken town.
- $25 million announced to build sealed road for Menindee, making the town more accessible
- Currently the road to the closest town, 80 kms away, is unsealed and gets cut off by rain during the wet season
- The proposed road would help bring in tourists, provide better access for freight and boost employment in the region, say locals
Menindee was thrust into the spotlight over summer as the scene of several mass fish kills, due partly to the drying up of the Darling River.
The decline of the river and the Menindee Lakes has killed off most tourism to the town, which once boasted a healthy grape and citrus industry that has also all but collapsed.
An announcement that State and Federal authorities would spend $25 million to seal the 70-kilometre road to Pooncarie, south of Menindee, has prompted hope that it could help to revive the town.
Currently, the only sealed access to the town is from Broken Hill — 110km in a different direction.
“It’s the only thing that’s going to save us,” local businessman John Coombe said.
“The water’s gone. The road is our next best bet.”
Upgrade to attract tourists, industry
Mr Coombe runs a freight company and said the project would cut travel time and make both Menindee and Pooncarie more accessible for businesses and tourists.
“When it does rain, the road can be closed for us for up to five or six weeks at a time — especially if you get two or three rains in succession, so that’s a big deal,” he said.
“The other thing is we can’t travel with beer and groceries and stuff like that, that’s going suck dust in under our tarp, so we don’t travel that road when we’ve got that type of load on, which means those people down that way suffer and have to wait for their freight.
“I think they’ll get a shock, once it’s sealed, at the amount of traffic that does want to travel on that road.”
Motel owner Darryl Cowie said property owners along the notoriously-rough road would benefit, as would tourists wanting to follow the so-called Darling River Run from Wentworth to Bourke.
“A lot of people get hire vehicles and hire companies tell them they’re not allowed to drive on a dirt road so that restricts where they can go on their holidays,” Mr Cowie said.
“It’s unfortunately a few years late for the grape industry.”
Local employment boost
The Federal MP for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said the Government would do what it could to ensure jobs stayed in the region.
“If it’s spread out over a period of time, roughly three years, it can be done by a local workforce rather than bringing in a major contractor,” Mr Coulton said.
Menindee contractor Bernard Blore said the sealing of the road would create 12 jobs.
“It’s unbelievable for the town and my men, they’ve got stability and can look forward to the next three years of work,” he said.
“Seventy per cent of our men are Indigenous and everyone who has left is coming back to the town to work.”
Mr Coulton said while discussions had taken place prior to the fish kills, locals intensified their lobbying after the ecological disaster.
“This was a practical thing that would help the community in the long term,” he said.
“By the time this road is completed we’ll probably see a big change in the climate out here.”
Topics: road-transport, regional, regional-development, water, water-management, water-supply, tourism, menindee-2879
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