Calls for aid in Doomadgee, residents face weeks trapped by floodwater with 'bare' supermarket shelves

Calls for aid in Doomadgee, residents face weeks trapped by floodwater with 'bare' supermarket shelves

The only grocery store in a vulnerable Indigenous community is being criticised for exorbitant prices and limited supplies and residents — isolated by floodwaters since December — are calling for the government to step in.

Each Tuesday supplies are air-dropped into the remote town of Doomadgee, in Queensland’s north-west, as it endures the wet season.

By Thursday, the shelves are almost bare and the items that are available are too expensive, local leaders say.

They are blaming the store owner Community Enterprise Queensland (CEQ), for the exorbitant grocery prices in Doomadgee. The store is a statutory body of the Queensland government.

“The prices are horrific for a community that struggles so much economically,” said Gangalidda traditional owner and community leader Barry Walden.

“It’s costing families an arm and a leg.”

An outstation near Doomadgee inundated with water.
An outstation near Doomadgee inundated with water.(Supplied: Micheal Cairns)

Meanwhile, Mayor of Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council Jason Ned said CEQ was unprepared for the wet season.

“We have wet seasons every year. It is not unusual for us to be cut off during this time,” he said.

“But in the past, store managers have prepared properly to get the community through.

“They usually stock up before Christmas, they would have a lot of hard food and stocked up the cool rooms.

“This year we have bare shelves.”

Mayor Ned says the town needs another plane to deliver more supplies to the community as it prepares for further rain this week.

“With more rain on the way, river levels are yet to peak,” he said.

“We need another plane each week, we need more fuel and we need the prices of the food to go down a bit.”

Horses run through floodwater, surrounded by trees submerged in water.
The region has been flooded since December.(Supplied: Scott Hays)

In the long term, Mayor Ned says the town, which sits next to the Nicholson River, needs a bridge.

“The river is nearly a kilometre wide and there’s only a causeway that allows access in and out of the town,” he said.

A history of high prices

While food prices fluctuate, residents have reported paying hundreds of dollars more for a grocery shop in Doomadgee compared to if they did their shopping in the neighbouring city of Mount Isa, about seven hours away.

This week, a 1-kilogram bag of home-brand flour costs about $2 at Woolworths in Mount Isa while it costs over $3 in Doomadgee.

A four-pack of tinned SPC spaghetti is about $5 in Mount Isa while, in Doomadgee, the price is $7.66.

A 96-gram tin of Woolworths brand tuna goes for about 90c in Mount Isa whereas it costs $2.25 in Doomadgee

A kilogram of A2 full cream milk powder is $18 at Coles, yet Doomadgee residents will pay $20.

In a low-socio economic town, the costs add up quickly.

a bare grocery shelf with bags of flour
A bag of flour costs several more dollars in Doomadgee than in Mount Isa.(Supplied: Barry Walden)

Excessive prices in the town triggered a federal parliamentary inquiry in 2020, but it failed to deliver any meaningful results, according to residents.

Chief executive of CEQ Michael Dykes said the organisation had spent $373,000 flying in 40 tonnes of stock since roads closed.

He blamed panic-buying for the bare shelves.

“We have witnessed community members in Doomadgee buying more than they would normally need in a weekly shop, and ask that all community members consider each other when they are deciding on the quantity of items they are purchasing,” Mr Dykes said in a statement.

“Any claims that these flights are causing an increase in the price of goods in our Doomadgee store are completely inaccurate.

“We have not increased any prices in store due to the need to fly goods into Doomadgee.”

A bare grocery shelf
By Thursday, supplies in Doomadgee have nearly run out.(Supplied: Barry Walden)

After being alerted to the situation by the ABC, a spokesperson for the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships said there was “sufficient supply” at the supermarket.

“Two flights [are] arriving this week carrying 8 tonnes of food and other items,” the department spokesperson said.

The department said the Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council was able to request an additional flight to resupply the store, which could be paid for under local disaster management arrangements.

aerial picture of remote community
The remote town is cut off by floodwater every wet season.(ABC News: Brendan Mounter)