Jingellic's Mary Hoodless to speak at bushfire royal commission

Mary Hoodless putting together food hampers in the wake of the Upper Murray Bushfire. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
Mary Hoodless putting together food hampers in the wake of the Upper Murray Bushfire. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The month-long communication blackout that occurred amid the Upper Murray bushfire caused absolute chaos, says the Community Safety Officer.

Ahead of her appearance at the bushfire royal commission next week, Mary Hoodless said it was unacceptable that the town was left without phone service as fire raged towards them.

The Jingellic phone tower lost power about December 31 before being destroyed on January 4.

Generators were brought in after the tower lost power but were quickly destroyed by fire.

Mobile service was returned to Jingellic on January 31, and a new tower was constructed by February 7.

The Jingellic RFS volunteer and coordinator of the town's recovery committee said volunteers had to travel door-to-door to pass urgent messages to residents.

"Right through the catastrophe we had no mobile communication which lead to congestion on the roads," she said.

"We had to go door-to-door, I was responsible in my role as community safety officer for knowing where our vulnerable residents were and getting them safely relocated."

Mrs Hoodless said the lack of mobile service made an already challenging time more difficult.

"We just couldn't communicate," she said. "It was absolutely chaotic."

Mrs Hoodless said initially the community was promised a temporary communication cell for the emergency welfare centre but was later told it was being delivered to an area with a greater population. She said they were never offered an alternative.

Mrs Hoodless said the town was experiencing ongoing power outages at the same time. She said Essential Energy had kept them abreast of the situation, but they felt in the dark about the communication issue.

Although hopeful the royal commission will be a catalyst for change, Mrs Hoodless said a common communication platform should have been established earlier.

"It's been 35 years... and it hasn't changed," she said.

"We've had fires during that time, serious fires in '85 and nothing was resolved after that, nothing has changed."

Mrs Hoodless will also talk to the commission about fuel reduction, recovery and the need for a cross-border liaison throughout disasters.

Backup generators were brought in to restore the tower while power was down but were quickly destroyed by fire.

Mobile service was returned to Jingellic on January 31, and a new tower was constructed by February 7.

This story 'Unacceptable' that as fire raged toward them town had no phones first appeared on The Border Mail.