Melbourne Water to investigate Flemington racecourse flood wall as community frustration builds 

Brendan Rees

Kensington residents impacted by last month’s extraordinary floods have welcomed a review that will determine whether a wall built around Flemington Racecourse may have contributed to the inundation of surrounding communities.   

As the clean-up gets under way, Melbourne Water confirmed it would review the “possible impacts of constructed assets in the flood plain including the Flemington flood wall” while also investigating the “causes and impacts” associated with the Maribyrnong River flooding which resulted in more than 100 homes being inundated.

Aerial footage of the racecourse, which was gearing up for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, showed the grounds were left unscathed by floodwaters while surrounding streets were swamped, sparking anger among residents.

The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) was given approval to build the wall in 2004 to protect the racecourse from flooding despite opposition from councils and residents at the time that it could have devastating consequences. 


While the review process was in the “scoping stage”, Kevin Chamberlin, chair of the North and West Melbourne Association, which addresses a range of community issues, said he was “very concerned” that such an investigation would be conducted by Melbourne Water “even though they were one of the approving authorities in the first instance”. 


“It should be a truly independent inquiry, not an in-house job,” he said.

“Fundamental to all of this, is that it shows the power certain groups from the big end of town have over the decision-making processes we have in this state.”

“There are a few of these groups around Melbourne and they always get their own way.” 

Mr Chamberlin also questioned the “great mystery” of what role former Melbourne Labor MP Bronwyn Pike played when the wall was approved and completed in 2007 “given she was a member of the ruling government, and actually a member of the cabinet”.


“It’s clearly a massive failure of government.”


Kensington Association chair Simon Harvey shared Mr Chamberlin’s sentiment, saying the floods had “brought into question the ramifications that resulted in the building of the wall” that the association, along with other groups, had “strongly opposed”. 

“It is understandable the community is sensitive to power imbalances and that doesn’t do the community any good in terms of relationships between various groups and the community,” he said.

Victoria Racing Club’s chief executive Steve Rosich said his organisation would “fully cooperate” with Melbourne Water with its review of the floods, adding its “thoughts are with those that have been impacted across the state from this extraordinary weather event that has caused flooding across Victoria”.

As flood waters recede, major arterials including Kensington Rd, Dynon Rd, Macaulay Rd, Smithfield Rd, and Racecourse Rd have reopened, the Department of Transport said.

The City of Melbourne said all local roads had also reopened while clean-up crews hitting flood impacted streets and footpaths to clear debris and sweep roads. Kensington Rd was identified as a priority. 

Residents also swung into action as they used high-pressure hoses to clean the mud and sludge from the front of their homes in the aftermath of the floods.

City of Melbourne councillor and Kensington resident Rohan Leppert said he too welcomed the Melbourne Water review, noting the City of Melbourne had opposed the construction of the racecourse flood-prevention wall.

But he added, “let’s establish the facts so that we can learn from this experience”. 

He said Kensington Banks was built to withstand a one-in-100-year flood, at least as modelled in the 1990s and, except for the entrance to the basement carpark of Riverside Place apartments having “topped over” with flooding, residential buildings in the area had mostly avoided inundation. 

“The residents I’ve spoken to have all been pretty angry about the symbolism and reality of dry grass in the racecourse next to a flooded Smithfield Rd, stock route and Kensington Road, but I would say that Kensington residents’ sympathies are overwhelmingly with Maribyrnong residents upstream, who have lost so much,” Cr Leppert said.

North West City News spoke to a few Kensington businesses with many lucky to have escape the brunt of the floods. 

But it came at a cost for Tushar Bhatnagar, co-owner of The Premises café on Macaulay Rd, saying he had experienced a drop in takings of up to 40 per cent over the weekend as customers were confined to their homes or faced hours of traffic diversions.

“I honestly didn’t think something like this would happen. We were fully staffed with all the prep for the food ready to go,” he said.

“It did affect the business, but luckily it didn’t flood all the way where we are in Kensington.”

State Greens MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said the flood wall at Flemington Racecourse appeared to benefit the “profits of the horse racing and gambling industry, despite the impact it would have on nearby homes and public space”.

“The racecourse is on a floodplain and should hold floodwater when needed,” she posted on Facebook.

“Instead, it’s the only dry land for miles around, while people have lost their cars, some in nearby Maribyrnong have flooded homes and businesses and people were evacuating in rubber dinghies.” 

“I can’t think of a better symbol of the state government’s priorities.”

Former Maribyrnong councillor and current Greens Senator Janet Rice said the “VRC got what they wanted, despite it not making sense from a planning perspective. But somehow, they managed to convince the government at the time”.

Maribyrnong council mayor Anthony Tran said while the council’s efforts were devoted to supporting the clean-up, it welcomed “any reviews or investigations that might assist in managing these kinds of events in the future”. 

A Melbourne Water spokesperson said the construction of the flood wall was subject to a range of additional flood mitigation measures by the VRC as well as ongoing maintenance and management.

In a statement Melbourne Water said the flooding of Maribyrnong River had been caused by a significant rainfall event associated with La Nina weather conditions. •

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