When the bridge providing the only road access to her Plenty Valley property was swept away by floodwaters, Kim Hutchinson thought it would be covered under her insurance policy.
The May 2018 flood also destroyed Kim's fencing, irrigation hoses and water pumps, but worst of all, it meant Kim and her family were landlocked in their own home.
Following the flood, Kim's family was isolated for several days until they could cut a makeshift road using their own bobcat and a friend's excavator. The track was rough, muddy, and located on a steep bank with a 100m drop to the river, but it at least provided 4WD vehicle access to and from the property.
The track enabled Kim's husband to resume his mobile locksmith business a few days after the flood. But Kim (who fortunately had left her car at a mechanic in nearby New Norfolk) and her 15-year-old son were forced to walk out of the property for weeks to get to school and work. Kim eventually obtained a loan to purchase a 4WD ute. But in winter, even the ute couldn't manage the boggy, potholed track, so Kim and her son pulled on their gumboots and walked out in knee-deep mud every day until spring.
Even with the track, the family remained isolated. Friends and relatives, including Kim's daughter, couldn't safely access the property until a new gravel road was completed.
Because the bridge was her only road access, Kim had always believed it was part of her property, and initially thought her insurance would cover replacement. After discussions with her insurer, the Government and the local Council, she learned that the structure was actually located on Crown land and therefore not covered by her policy. Her pumps, irrigation and fencing (which was partly on Crown land) were also not covered.
Kim embarked on a long, stressful and expensive process of obtaining quotes, applying for leases and permits to access Crown land, taking out loans, and arranging construction of a new road into her property. While she was eligible for some disaster relief funding to help replace her fencing, she has had to bear most costs herself—an estimated $35,000.
After many delays, a new gravel road with a 50-year Crown lease was finally completed in May 2019. As of October 2019 the bridge, which will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace, has still not been rebuilt. So far, Kim has not had the financial means to replace her water pumps and irrigation hoses—leaving her property worryingly vulnerable during the summer fire season.
Counting the cost
Kim says that the impact of the flood has been incredibly difficult—from the physical isolation, to the logistical nightmare of getting to work and school, the emotional trauma of cleaning up dead livestock and wildlife, and the stress of dealing with insurance, local authorities, contractors and banks. The event has taken a major toll on her financial and mental wellbeing, and that of her family.
Take nothing for granted
Kim's advice to rural property owners is to assume nothing when it comes to insurance, and to request a site visit with your insurer, to discuss your policy in detail.
She also recommends checking that your property has clear access in the event of a natural disaster so that help can reach you—remembering that, in some situations, your insurance may be voided if emergency services cannot get to you because of blocked access.