The Guardian • Issue #2029

“Horses were worth more than our lives”

Victoria underwater, but Flemington dry

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2029

Photo: Chris Phutully – (CC BY 2.0)

The northwestern suburbs of Melbourne are underwater, but Flemington Racecourse remains dry. It is a timely reminder that in the battle for climate, there is one rule for the rich and one for the rest of us.

The wall around the Racecourse – where the controversial Melbourne Cup is scheduled to be held on 1st November – was constructed by Melbourne Water to protect it. Now, an investigation is being launched after the wall contributed to severe flooding, forcing the evacuation of residents in Maribyrnong.

Victoria has been inundated with flooding for the past week, with residents being evacuated across the state, including at Rochester near Echuca, and a recent report suggests that more rain might be on the way. Residents in Echuca, Charlton and Bunbartha are being told to evacuate immediately, and a flood warning is in place for Kerang. Shepparton, Seymour and the surrounding area are already underwater.

The Victoria State Emergency Service has been overwhelmed with callouts and evacuations, and people are being housed in temporary emergency shelters, including in the Mickleham Quarantine facility in the north of Melbourne. Many of those affected by the floods are now without electricity ahead of the oncoming summer. In northern Victoria, temperatures are regularly in the 40s.

Residents in Maribyrnong saw this disaster coming. In 2007, they campaigned against the construction of the wall around Flemington Racecourse. They knew that it would make them more vulnerable to flooding by directing water away from the natural floodplain.

This is an issue with many layers. The La Niña weather event means that rainfall is higher than average across the state. Though an event like this does occur periodically, meteorologists suggest it can be indicative of broader weather changes across the globe.

We have to be more strategic and climate-savvy about where and how we build. Erecting walls around natural floodplains is neither safe nor sustainable. There are things we can be doing to protect flood prone areas. But most of all, we need to take drastic measures to combat the worst effects of climate change, already being felt across the country.

Governments have refused to take action on climate for too long. In the capitalist world, the voices of those like Racing Victoria, with money and power, ring louder than the voices of the residents of Maribrynong, whose lives and livelihoods have been put at risk so the ground at Flemington Racecourse doesn’t get too muddy.

The residents of Maribrynong knew that when they campaigned against the flood wall. One campaigner against the wall, now deceased, said at the time, “I am not going to beat the racecourse because they are so powerful, but I cannot in all conscience not have a crack.” That man’s son said that when the wall was eventually constructed, it left residents feeling as though “horses were worth more than our lives.”

We can no longer stand for a world where there is one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us. Stopping climate change demands urgent system change.

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