‘The memories the house contains’: loss in Darraweit Guim

Neville West outside his flood-hit Darraweit Guim home. (Elsie Lange)

Elsie Lange

The day before the floods hit Darraweit Guim, Neville West was receiving lung cancer treatment in his home on Darraweit Valley Road, across from the local primary school.

Just 24 hours later, the same room was filled with near shoulder-height flood water, his home of 35 years inundated.

Like many others in town, the result was the destruction of decades of belongings and severe damage to the weatherboard house he shares with his wife Joanne and grew his two children up in.

“We had a good cry about it, but what do you do … you can’t fix this,” Neville says.

“It’s mainly just the memories that the house contains.”

Standing at his front door, the dark mark of the water still lingers on the cream paint, where it pushed through the windows and into the house.

He lingers on his front step, the highest point water had risen in the past, prior to this flood.

Raising up their belongings hadn’t been enough. Much of his beloved book collection was destroyed, like almost everything, now strewn, wet and ruined, in a pile outside.

He fears his insurer won’t cover everything, but he’ll fight for it. He’s sad to let go of the house, but he wants to bulldoze now and start again, afresh.

“We’re in limbo until the insurance company decides what they’re going to do, sitting around twiddling our thumbs,” he says.

Next door, Gavin Smith’s and Jane Clarkson’s weekender cottage, which was the former shop, stands “totalled”.

The windows are boarded up and out the front is an enormous pile of broken, waterlogged, muddy possessions.

Walking inside the house he’s had for two decades, Gavin points to the water line on the wall, above his shoulder.

“Over the years … there’s been floods, but just floods to the road. Everybody’s used to those,” he said.

“This year, it jumped up from about 1.5 metres in 1.5 hours. Nobody expected it, nobody had any chance of preparing for it.”

He’d been in Melbourne when news of flooding came through, but it was too late to make the journey to salvage their things because the roads were closed or impassable.

Gavin’s mum died a month before, so they’d taken her things to the house for his whole family to use when they stayed there. Her belongings were in the house for five days before the flood came.

Jane had just brought all her family’s history there too, including family photos dating back to the 1800s all the way through to today.

“We’re lucky, we’ve got a place where we live in Melbourne,” Gavin says.

“It’s horrible to have lost [things] … But I feel more for our neighbours who have lost everything, their whole lives.”

To reinsure the house, everything has to be decontaminated. Once the assessor comes and ascertains how much it will cost to take off the plaster, pull up the tiles, replace the kitchen and bathroom and toilets, they’ll find out what’s next.

Both Gavin and Neville praise the council for their response to the flooding, and the community for banding together. Gavin says 10 blokes from Wallan had made their way down to lend a hand.

Back on his front porch, Neville says it’s about moving forward.

“If you think about it, you might say ‘oh well, that was one section of your life,’” he says.

“Now, you’re moving onto the next section.”