18 May 2007

Outback services overstretched

Both the ABC and Adelaide Now report that 100 - 150 tourists have been stranded at Innamincka by the heavy yet welcome rains of the last few days.

Innamincka once had resident police and nurses, as photos on
this link confirm. The nearest SA police station is now (or was when I travelled in those parts three years ago) about 500kms away at Leigh Creek, and the nearest medical facility available to the public is ... I don't know where: probably in western Qld or NSW.

While there are no reports of anybody suffering much at the moment, events like this show how the withdrawal of services from remote areas makes it harder for police and emergency services to react effectively . In fact at the moment the emergency services are literally as well as metaphorically winging it, relying on air observation to keep an eye on things:

[SES] Regional commander Matt Maywald says the group of mainly tourists has been stuck for several days and may not be able to leave the area for another five days. He says the SES will fly over the region today to see if there is anyone else stranded in surrounding areas.Mr Maywald says the situation is not critical yet.

"At this current point in time there are enough supplies and the town is able to sustain those people for a few more days," he said."However, at this stage we believe the roads won't be open possibly for another five days and we may have some longer term issues with the sustainability and getting food in."

Mr Maywald is unsure when the roads will reopen.

"In outback areas it's now heading into the peak tourist season, the weather's lovely, the environment's generally green and no that's not ... [unusual] at all for that many people to be there, in fact, it could reasonably be quite a lot more," he said.

What measures are in place to deal with emergencies? The estimable Flying Doctor is on call, but what if the landing ground is waterlogged? Does Innamincka , like a number of other remote settlements, have a volunteer ambulance service with at least a qualified nurse available?

I've no reason to doubt that Mr Maywald is doing a good job with the resources available to him, but it would reassure travellers in the region to know that, if required, the no doubt significant resources available at the mining and petrochemical town of Moomba, which is about 100kms south of Innamincka but normally closed to the public, were available for emergency use.

I expect that there are other parts of Australia where similar situations prevail. The mining and related industries have a considerable presence in, and derive considerable benefit from, outback and remote Australia, yet they don't seem willing to offer public support in emergencies where a Good Samaritan would be handy. I may be mistaken about this, but the signs I saw outside Moomba warning people off and the notices on various maps of the region (note how Google Maps recognises the location yet doesn't identify the town) don't make me too optimistic.

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