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Big Orange revival and pop-ups lift River Murray flood towns


New pop-up recovery centres are opening in River Murray flood towns – while much-needed tourism dollars and welcome revival plans for the Big Orange emerged over the Easter weekend.

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As thousands of tourists converged on the Riverland over the busy holiday weekend, new plans were revealed to transform the ageing Big Orange tourism icon near Berri into a brewery, restaurant, shop and tap house.

“It’s no secret that the community is excited about any prospect for the site to be reopened,” Berri Barmera Mayor Ella Winnall said about the application lodged with Plan SA by Adelaide-based urban planner Mark Kwiatkowski.

“The Big Orange is an icon of Berri and the whole Riverland, but it’s been closed for the best part of 20 years now,” Winnall said. “Everyone has fond memories of it, it’s quite the novelty and has a lot of nostalgia about it, so if it were re-developed, I’m sure it would be popular for both visitors and locals.”

The Big Orange was opened in 1980 with an artists’ studio and lookout celebrating the region’s citrus industry. The new plan includes a distillery with the application to build a verandah for outdoor dining, a detached amenities building, storage shed, car park, fencing and new signage.

More positive news came from Barmera over the weekend as tourists descended on Lake Bonney, which had been closed off from the River Murray during the flooding crisis, leading to toxic algal blooms.

Winnall said caravan parks forced to close by the floods were open along with some public campgrounds – including Martin Bend at Berri – while markets at Berri and Barmera drew thousands to the towns.

“Lake Bonney is stunning,” Winnall said. “Even with the cooler weather, I saw a few boats out on the lake taking the kids for a spin.

“I’ve had feedback from shop owners that they’ve had visitors who missed out on the vouchers (Riverland travel vouchers released by the State Government) but decided to come anyway which is great to hear.”

Despite the return of some tourists, the River Murray regions are still grappling with the devastation wreaked by flooding particularly over December and January this year.

The State Government today announced four pop-up recovery centres will open in the Mid Murray region following a call by local mayor Simone Bailey for more help as communities struggle with the enormous cost of rebuilding.

More than 1000 tonnes of rubbish have been collected from river communities since floodwaters receded.

About 4000 properties were impacted by one of the state’s worst natural disasters, with many roads, bridges and reserves still closed.

“This flood has really challenged our community,” Bailey said. “We’ve seen the devastation to homes and businesses it has caused, the economic impact, and the overall fatigue and anxiety that comes with living through the uncertainty of a drawn-out disaster of this magnitude.”

Swan Reach Hotel overlooking the River Murray as peak flows arrive. Photo: Jacob Jennings Photography

Recovery centres providing financial support and information will open from 10am to 3pm on:

April 12: Morgan Activity Centre, Fourth and Eighth Streets, Morgan

April 14: Blanchetown Community Hub, 3 Shaw Street, Blanchetown

April 19: Swan Reach Town Hall, 3-5 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach

April 21: Bowhill Community Centre, 88 Weber Road, Bowhill

Berri and Murray Bridge Recovery Centres remain open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, while the Mannum Recovery Centre is open Tuesday to Thursday, 9.30am to 4.30pm.

More roads were also reopened in time for the busy holiday weekend in Murray Bridge while Boggy Lake, Hume, Toora and half of Woodlane Reserve joined the list of reopened parklands.

“Every new stage of the recovery process is a win for our resilient and thriving communities,” Murray Bridge chief executive officer Michael Sedgman said.

“Some effects will be felt for a long time, but this Easter long weekend we hope that by reopening more of our previously flood-affected roads and reserves, we have been able to allow people to reconnect.”

As the clean-up continues, state and federal government-funded work to clean up the region is now being expanded.

It will now include free structural assessments and hazardous waste removal – including the safe removal of asbestos and the option of severely impacted properties being demolished.

Deputy Premier Susan Close said local suppliers and tradespeople will work with nationally recognised leaders in disaster recovery to increase “activity in coming weeks”.

“Since roads became more accessible, local crews have removed more than 1,000 tonnes of waste up and down the river,” Close said.

“This includes sand from sandbags to be reused in the rebuilding and repair of the region, and scrap metal that will be reprocessed at an Adelaide facility.”

To date, there had been more than 4000 calls to the relief and recovery hotline and 1696 registrations for clean-up assistance. Of the 1167 tonnes of waste collected, 33.62 per cent has been recycled or reused.

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