Fire destroys remote border town’s only supermarket

A remote border town has rallied to establish a ‘pop-up’ supermarket, set to open just over a week after fire destroyed the only supermarket within 120kms.

The SPAR supermarket in the remote town of Mungindi was destroyed, along with a butcher shop, clothing store and residential flat after the fire broke out late last Tuesday night, causing an estimated $1 million in damage. Devastatingly, residents have been told it could take up to two years to rebuild.

Now, less than a week later, a combined effort from locals, SPAR and surrounding councils has led to a temporary supermarket being set up in the disused RSL club, which is expected to be operational by the end of the week.

It will save locals a three hour round trip of 120km each way to the nearest supermarket in Moree, which was initially off-limits due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The town sits on the border of New South Wales and Queensland and residents were told they would face two weeks of quarantine if they visited Moree before they could access healthcare at the town’s hospital, which is located across the QLD border. It would have left residents having to travel 170km drive to the closest QLD town of Goondiwindi.

However following lobbying from both the Balonne and Moree Plains Shire Councils and MPs on both sides of the border, the Queensland Government has extended the travel bubble to include the Moree Shire.  

SPAR Regional Business Manager Andy Rouse said this was still a far from ideal solution and together with the Mungindi Progress Association, the company was working to establish the temporary supermarket.

“We’ve managed to get about $150,000 equipment so far, from shelving to refrigeration and point of sale. Some has been donated, some lent and some offered as cheap as suppliers can provide it. Between these donations and $100,000 provided by the NSW Government to the Moree Plains Shire Council it’s enabled us to start setting this up. We have a semi trailer full of equipment arriving tomorrow and more on Wednesday and stock will be there on Thursday, we’ll get this up and running later this week,” he said.

The SPAR store was a second generation supermarket for owners Jeff Sykes and his wife Prue who also operated the clothing store next door, and is a significant loss to the tight-knit community, Mr Rouse added.

“It’s been in the family for at least 37 years, it’s one of those stores where you turn up and there’s always a crowd outside the front door of people chatting. A lot of the guys live on properties and shopping there was their chance to catch up with people in the town, it was very much a community type store.”

“It was razed to the ground, there’s not a single thing left. There’s really no retail now besides the servo and cafe left in town. And it’s only three weeks away from harvest, when there’s an influx of people in town and a hive of activity, the supermarket is always really central to that.”

The pop-up will stock basic essentials such as bread, dairy, fresh produce, meat and toiletries.

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