River flood risk to primary school

Mypolonga Primary is a little school with a very large River Murray at its front door. While its levee is holding, parents hope the school stays dry so their children can return to classes in a few weeks.

Jan 04, 2023, updated Jan 04, 2023
Water laps the Mypolonga Primary School levee. Photo: Jacob Jennings

Water laps the Mypolonga Primary School levee. Photo: Jacob Jennings

Levees already have breached nearby, flooding pastures and forcing dairy cows and buffaloes to higher ground as the surging river’s peak continues to approach the town later this month.

School parent and Murraylands business owner Courtney Blacker said water had reached the levee bank in the rural town 17km from Murray Bridge.

“The new levee is built directly in front of the school oval, and the water is lapping up against it at the moment,” Blacker said.

“It’s a bit worrying and talking to some of the other parents, we’re all just hoping it doesn’t flood….. I think we’re the only school in SA that’s under threat from the floods at the moment.”

State Emergency Services Minister Joe Szakacs and Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt met with dairy farmers in Mypolonga yesterday to discuss the recently announced additional $126 million relief package, with primary produces eligible for grants up to $75,000.

River Murray water held back by the levee at Mypolonga Primary School. Photo: Jacob Jennings

They also surveyed the levee built around the school oval, with the century-old school attended by 140 students.

Blacker said local volunteer Ashley Martin has been “working around the clock to manage the build of the temporary Mypolonga levee bank”.

“He’s an incredible local volunteer – and has even gone down and reinforced the temporary levee bank around the school this week.”

Water is also impacting mooring spots for the Murray Princess and Proud Mary boats that regularly stop at the school so tourists can visit the  students’ shop and buy the chocolate-dipped apricots they make to raise funds.

A government spokesperson said the Education Department was regularly joining briefings through the State Emergency Centre and Emergency Management Cabinet Committee to ensure school and preschool communities are supported as risks arise.

The department’s primary aim is the safety and wellbeing of staff, students and their families, with schools and preschools experienced in ensuring continuity of learning and care within our communities when disruption to services arise, the spokesperson said.

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Blacker is keeping a close eye on the levee as she works with local tourism businesses and governments to continue attracting people to River Murray regions, including the Mypolonga community that was named Ag Town of the Year in 2022.

Her company Commshake Media and Engagement with offices in Murray Bridge and Port Lincoln, has worked on regional tourism campaigns that helped it recently win a silver medal as national Small/Boutique Agency of the year in the Public Relations Institute of Australia awards in Sydney.

The company’s Destination Riverland and the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong Tourism Alliance also won SA Tourism Awards.

Now, Blacker said it was important to work even harder to support tourism companies from Renmark to the Murray Mouth affected by flooding.

Courtney Blacker works on campaigns attracting tourists to the River Murray. Photo: supplied

She said some were already pivoting to cater for day trippers and visitors wanting to see the River Murray with its impressive high flows but there would need to be ongoing campaigns to support businesses into the future.

Kelly Kuhn from Juggle House Experiences is still running stargazing tours but is also taking groups to a clifftop overlooking the River Murray to show the impact of floods.

“Swan Reach Hotel also ran out of stock on New Year’s Day, they have a beer garden on top of the cliff and they had so many people there,” Blacker said.

“It’s the same story at the Bridgeport Hotel in Murray Bridge and the owner of Café Mannum that is part of the Mannum Motel – they don’t usually serve lunch but they have brought it back because they have so many visitors.”

While the flooding is impacting many businesses like houseboat operators being forced to shut down, Blacker said organisations are already talking about campaigns to attract visitors to see the environmental impact of water inundating flood plains once it recedes.

“Everyone is doing their best to adapt,” she said.

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