Wiped off the map, Mutchilba fights back

WE'RE STILL HERE: The people of Mutchilba.
WE'RE STILL HERE: The people of Mutchilba.

One of Queensland's best little mango towns is fighting to puts its name back on the map after its residents last week learned their town did not technically exist.

Mutchilba was just a town northwest of Mount Misery that sat on the Walsh River, close to the Arringunna Mountain, far, far west of Australia's Great Divide.

And now the town in north Queensland is wrestling to get its name back on the map.

Mutchilba, established in 1923, was home to Australia's Mango Mardi Gras until a few years back, a key fact that was once a feature of the best backpacker guides to Australia.

But the town of Mutchilba was downgraded by the former Mareeba Shire Council in 1999, when the federal government went through Australia "classifying" small Australian towns.

Mutchilba's name went off the map.

Nobody told the residents of Mutchilba - one school, one store, one church, one hall and 10 homes - that, since 1999, they have been part of the town of Dimbulah, 20 kilometres west.

It was a very big surprise to Mutchilba State School principal Troy Brunjes, who grew up in Dimbulah.

He said last week's revelation was very disappointing for his students.

"We didn't know anything it until the local paper wrote a story about and the whole community has rallied behind it," Brunjes said.

The principal of 26-student school said Mutchilba was a terribly proud town, built on irrigation and farming.

"We have a lot of ex-students - guys and ladies who would be in their 70s - just popping to have a look at the school and remember their time at the school," he said.

"So it is a bit of a kick in the guts for them I guess."

Dimbulah and Mutchilba have the same postcode (4872) and both sit on the Bourke Developmental Road west of the Great Dividing Range.

But Brunjes said they were definitely different towns.

"You wouldn't call it a 'suburb' of Dimbulah. I grew up in Dimbulah and the tradition of sports days against Mutchilba has been around for years," he said.

"We have always known Mutchilba as its own town, with its own identity.

"They are a strong community. And I guess to take that away, well I guess they are little bit disappointed."

Leading the fightback is local farmer Karen Muccignat, who was horrified at the problems that had been pushed under the carpet since the change was made since 1999.

"Somebody has just made a decision somewhere and made our locality 'Dimbulah'," she said.

After a frustrating sequence of calls to the local council and the Department of Environment and Resource Management, she slowly learned the truth.

"I said, 'and when were you going to let the residents of Mutchilba know?'," she said.

Ms Muccignat said the changes had recently been exposed as ridiculous at a recent visit to computer records at DERM's Townsville office.

Businesses and homes in Mutchilba have been changed on the state governments records to show "Dimbulah" rather than "Mutchilba".

"We got them to click on the Mutchilba State School and the address for the Mutchilba State School is 33 Masterson Street, Dimbulah," she said.

And confused ambulance drivers have to use payphones - because mobile reception is so bad - because their on-board computer location system says everyone lives at Dimbulah, which the locals know is 20 kilometres away.

"They had to stop at the payphone, I have been told, to ring up the people to say where are you?" she said.

Mutchilba's fight has a supporter in state Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps.

"Having grown up in the sugar and banana town Tully, I have a strong connection to north Queensland and fully understand what it means to be part of a vibrant regional town," he said.

Mr Cripps has already asked his department, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, to begin the process to "re-acknowledge" the location of Mutchilba.

"This government's move to formally recognise Mutchilba should not be underestimated," he said.

"It's important that the boys and girls at Mutchilba State School learn to identify themselves as members of the Mutchilba community, much as they would identify themselves as part of a family or a local sporting group."

As Brunjes said, Mutchilba was more than just "the school, a store and maybe 10 houses in the town".

"It is all the surrounding farms," he said.

Julie Gosper worked in Mutchilba Cash Store in the middle of town, home of the town's post office.

She said about 1000 people lived in Mutchilba, if the neighbouring farms were included.

Mutchilba's fight for recognition was the talking point of the town.

"For most of the locals here in the phone book it's now Dimbulah, not Mutchilba," Gosper said.

"Mutchilba deserves its place. We have an Australia Post licence here and there is mail problems and emergency services problems."

Gosper said some people who had called emergency services, who had in turn confused Dimbulah with Dimboola in New South Wales.

"That has happened with the emergency services when someone has called the ambulance or the fire brigade," she said.

A spokeswoman for Tablelands Regional Council mayor Rosa Lee Long said: "'I am not surprised. Everything is just so centralised. They just hate that up here."

"The mayor would be just delighted if they could change that," she said.

And if things improved, Mr Brunjes said the town could relaunch the Mutchilba Mango Mardi Gras.

"It was run by the school and we have had a few years off," he said.

"But we are looking a re-establishing it, as of next year."

Brunjes said, even before the current debate, there were moves to bring it back.

"It is just important, it is our own identity" he said.

"It is our own thing, something that people can recognise Mutchilba for."

- The Brisbane Times