The death of a five-year-old boy in floodwaters in the New South Wales Central West has shattered locals who have spent years demanding a fix to a notorious creek crossing.
The boy died when a family of five tried to cross a flooded causeway in the dark on Friday, September 23, and their ute was swept into rain-swollen Graddle Creek, west of Dubbo.
His parents and two young children escaped but the five-year-old was trapped and died.
The causeway is on the McGrane Way, between Tullamore and Narromine, which was closed at the time after up to 150mm of rain in the district.
The crossing is known to locals as a place where the creek rises quickly and with dangerous force. The MR354 community committee, formed in 1998, has spent decades lobbying to have the causeway replaced with a bridge.
Authorities have long warned motorists not to drive into floodwaters and committee president and local farmer Gary Langley said the crossing was under about 1.5 metres of water when the boy died.
"I've been fairly upset that we lost a child," Mr Langley said.
"For years we've been losing people off the causeway and we have been lobbying to try to get a bridge over it.
"Now we have lost this poor child, it has got to be made a major priority and the sooner we get it done the better."
Local Rural Fire Service volunteer and farmer Fiona Aveyard was one of the first at the scene of the Graddle Creek tragedy.
She said it was one of three incidents in a week involving cars swept off the causeway and drivers commonly ignored road-closed signs or were caught off guard approaching the crossing.
"I just don't know how you change that behaviour or make people more aware of the risk," she said.
"We have known for a long time that it was a matter of time before there was a tragedy."
Ms Aveyard, who is also on the committee urging Parkes Shire to build a bridge over the waterway, said s-bends on either side of the causeway also posed rollover problems for trucks.
In 2019, the group counted 12 truck rollovers on those bends.
Between 2017 and 2021 it recorded 10 crashes that left four people with serious injuries.
But locals believe official records do not reflect the true number of incidents, given locals are often first responders and help people out of trouble.
Funding a priority, says Parkes mayor
Parkes Shire Council Mayor Ken Keith said the shire had made a bridge and new approaches a priority project, allocating $150,000 for designs.
The works are expected to cost up to $5 million, which Cr Keith said was an impossible commitment for a council that managed 2,500km of roads.
He said the council would apply for a state government grant to cover the costs.
NSW Minister for Regional Roads and Transport, Sam Farraway, said he had been working with the community over their concerns about the McGrane Way for years.
He said the boy's death was a devastating reminder of the danger of driving through floodwaters.
The child's death is under investigation by NSW Police.