When the Upper Colo Bridge was destroyed in the March 2021 Hawkesbury River flood, Trevor Ward knew it would be a nuisance.
The scale of the problem came as a total shock.
“We’ve driven between 22,000 and 25,000 kilometres extra [since then] with the loss of the wooden bridge,” he said.
Ordinarily, the six members of the Ward family would drive their cars across the Upper Colo Bridge to their respective jobs.
Now, they’ve been forced to use a single access road that is plagued with potholes and landslips after successive rain events.
While the diversion has added just 12km to everyone’s commute, midweek family dinners have been halved.
“Four family members stay in town through the week, and they come in on the weekend,” said Lucy Ward, Trevor’s second-eldest daughter.
“It’s just too much for everyone. It’s too exhausting, too taxing.”
According to the latest Census data, just 48 people live in Upper Colo, 90km north-west of Sydney.
While the Wards accept that isolation is a part of where they live, they say the damaged infrastructure has impacted the family dynamic.
“It’s divided us, separated us, and you don’t see them every day… so [we’re] just growing apart, really.”
‘Robbed’ of basic hygiene
Pete Cserhalmi, 36, lives on a neighbouring Upper Colo road that’s been washed away four times since March last year.
Mr Cserhalmi, who was born with one arm and one leg, says the destruction and subsequent delay in repairs has “robbed” him of basic personal care.
“I have enough care through the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme]… to have a person here every day… but with the floods, that’s non-occurrent,” he said.
“You can’t get anybody in.”
Earlier this week, Mr Cserhalmi drove a tractor through 4km of paddocks before friends picked him up and took him to a carer’s house, where he was able to receive his first shower since the flood.
In 2021, the road was in such bad condition he used a kayak to cross the flood-stricken Hawkesbury River and source groceries.
“It’s hard enough getting up and just living the way I have to live,” Mr Cserhalmi said.
“It’s a struggle when you have those things that are meant to be there to help, not able to be. It’s like a tease.”
Mr Cserhalmi said he was disappointed by the lack of clarity from Hawkesbury City Council about when his road and the Upper Colo Bridge will be fixed.
It’s a feeling shared by Lucy Ward.
“I do totally understand that there’s heaps of issues all around the Hawkesbury and there’s other areas that are more populated,” she said.
“But to leave it that long, and they haven’t even started [to build a new bridge]… that’s insane.”
In a statement, Hawkesbury City Council’s director of infrastructure services, Will Barton, said roads were “triaged based on the severity of damage and the importance that the road plays in connecting our communities”.
Mr Barton said council was aware of people with special needs in the Upper Colo area and “continues to offer them support during these difficult times”.
The council has engaged a contractor to start building a “low-profile concrete bridge” as a replacement.
In the weeks before the most recent flood, council had worked to clear away what was left at the site.
Weather permitting, Mr Barton said he expected the new bridge to open in January 2023.
This strategy, whereby repairs are prioritised based by importance, is one familiar to natural disaster experts.
“Councils have a remit to cover all of the constituents and quite often they have to prioritise the greatest number,” said James Cook University lecturer in disaster studies, Yetta Gurtner.
Dr Gurtner said while it’s not intentional, this “utilitarian approach” often puts small communities last.
“It’s hard to justify spending large amounts of money on 100 people, versus spending the same amount of money on 100,000 people,” she said.
Until Mr Cserhalmi’s road reaches the top of that list, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get a carer out to his property to provide his next shower.