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Earthmovers go from competitors to comrades as Murray River locals share gratitude for non-stop levee works

It's a normal day at the office for Dave De Grancy and his fellow earthmovers, sharing a laugh and working around the clock to maintain the extensive system of levee banks protecting Riverland towns.

Murray River floodwaters are slowly travelling downstream from Renmark. It's currently at a peak of 190 gigalitres a day, about 2 metres higher than usual.

However, workers such as Dave will stay on the job, working tirelessly to reinforce the temporary banks against the strong flows and the threat of wind damage.

He'll do this until the floodwaters drop below 120GL, sometime in February.

"It's important for us to make sure that we're here maintaining, every day, seven days a week," Dave says.

"We want the community to feel like they're safe here."

Making friends with the competition

Despite the flood's heavy impact throughout the region, Dave says there's an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie between the earthmovers, who are usually fierce competitors working for different companies.

"Generally, when we're not all working together on saving the world, they're competing for work against one another," he says.

Dave says there isn't any tension on the ground as they get to work.

"It's just a whole bunch of people getting together, saying, 'This is what we have to achieve' and we actually have a real fun time doing it," he says.

"Everyone's having a laugh and stirring each other up. I reckon this has created a large bond with these blokes."

Working hard, around the clock

Dave is supervising some of the projects, where crews have worked seven days a week for the past two-and-a-half months.

Up to 58 workers have been on the ground at any one time, and they've excavated about 200,000 tonnes of clay to place on the banks, he says.

This week, a smaller team worked together to drop a seemingly endless supply of rocks along the Paringa Football Netball Club levee edge, protecting it from crashing waves brought on by the wind.

However, whatever crucial task is on his agenda, Dave says he loves being part of the flood response to help to protect Riverland communities.

"It's been unreal," he says.

"Apart from the birth of my son, this is probably one of the coolest moments of my life."

Around six local contractor groups have supplied crews, equipment, time and energy towards maintaining the levees, with many putting their own works on hold to help out. 

Tony Siviour is chief executive at Renmark Paringa Council and says it's been amazing to see the earthmovers work so well together.

He says the two-way radio conversations he hears between the workers make it clear they're having a positive experience.

"The banter that you hear … they're enjoying essentially saving the community with the work that they've done," Mr Siviour says.

"They've been incredible and the journey continues."

Great lengths to say thanks

Riverland locals have been sharing their gratitude with earthmovers such as Dave — whether it's waving hello from afar or coming right up to the levee banks to say thanks.

However, one local felt so strongly he wanted to share it with the whole town.

After six weeks of trucks rumbling down John Harding's usually quiet street, the Cobdogla resident picked up a paintbrush and made a sign to show his appreciation.

"It's a lot of noise, which is not what we're used to around here, but I gladly put up with it," John says.

"Since they started building the flood banks I've been sitting out the front verandah watching all of these different trucks.

"So, I thought I'd get out to the garage and make up a sign, to save me getting out there and yelling at them every time they went past."

His wife Merrilyn said while the couple were initially worried their home would be vulnerable to the deluge, they were put at ease by the huge levee constructed around the town.

"The preparation has been fantastic, I feel very safe," she says.

"We have our sandbags ready but I don't think we'll need them."

One of the workers who has seen John's sign is truck driver Stephen Clarke.

The contractor, who has driven his road train almost 400 kilometres from his home in Broken Hill, says the warm reception from communities has made all the long hours worth it.

"We're trying to do our best to block all the water and do the banks," Stephen says.

"I just hope we do it all properly and hold all the water back from flooding people out.

"We have shifted a lot of dirt, and a real lot of effort has gone into it."

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