Disused Gympie caravan park reborn as crisis accommodation wins Resilient Australia Award

Unprecedented flooding in Gympie was the catalyst for a stunning transformation that saw a disused caravan park become crisis accommodation and a blueprint for the future.

The flood of January 2022 destroyed hundreds of Gympie properties in just a few days, and when it did the city found itself short on emergency accommodation.

Further complicating matters were other major flooding events simultaneously unfolding across much of Queensland, plus a lingering COVID pandemic still putting a heavy strain on usual disaster assistance and recovery solutions.

Necessity, however, is often the mother of invention, and for Queensland’s Department of Housing and Gympie Regional Council the unique conditions revealed potential for an old caravan park to house displaced residents.

After signing a lease, work commenced to demolish redundant infrastructure and upgrade services to establish 26 accommodation units and 18 caravan sites.

Overcoming logistical headaches and delays caused by ongoing wet weather, the site was reborn as the Gympie Recovery Accommodation Park – a supported accommodation centre to provide temporary accommodation with connection to other services for people and the community to recover.

Each residence had a kitchen, lounge and dining areas, bedrooms, shower and toilet facilities, and some had a laundry as well, with a separate laundry facility also located on site.

The residences were also equipped with household standards such as linen, crockery, cutlery, beds and some furniture, creating liveable homes for those who had lost everything.

The caravan park makeover included driveways and roads, and fur children were catered for with dog kennels built so tenants could keep their much-loved pets with them.

Flood resilience remained a priority of course, with power units and switchboards installed above the maximum flood level and one-way valves used to stop water entering buildings.

Access was made available to health, financial, employment and mental health support services.

Residents took pride in their accommodation, establishing small gardens to give the site a more comfortable and homely feel.

Gympie’s wider community benefitted from the project too, with local businesses supplying items such as beds, fridges, televisions and microwaves.

Local labour was used for landscaping and cleaning, and the Gympie Men’s Shed assisted with the construction of furnishings for the units.

Since May 2022 more than 30 households have been supported through the park with a place to live while they recover.

Fifteen of those households have successfully transitioned from the park into either private rental accommodation or social housing, or have been able to move back into their own house.

The project’s scope has evolved from initially being an emergency and natural disaster response model to providing temporary accommodation for homeless people.

Complementing the park’s original residences, small relocatable homes have also been installed on site and can be moved to other areas in need. 

Since its establishment the Gympie Recovery Accommodation Park has formed the basis for other housing projects at Toowoomba, Rothwell, Clayfield and Redland Bay that together now offer more than 140 accommodation units to Queenslanders.

It also prompted the Queensland Government to ask Gympie Council to implement a local housing action plan for their region to address broader housing issues.

Local housing action plans are part of the Queensland Government’s strategy to increase and diversify housing supply, with Gympie’s plan having the distinction of being the first of its kind developed in the state.

The innovative project was recognised at the 2023 Resilient Australia Awards, receiving a Highly Commended acknowledgment in recognition of the importance locally led organisations play in communities when faced with natural disasters.