There’s not much to Mutchilba – just one shop, a post office, a hall and a scattering of houses. But residents are fond of their tiny Queensland township – and they were taken aback, to say the least, to learn that it no longer existed.
Some time ago, Mutchilba was officially merged with the slightly larger town of Dimbulah, about eight miles away. But no one bothered telling the locals. It was only when their mail started going astray, and ending up in Dimbulah, that their suspicions were aroused. Then stories emerged of ambulance drivers getting lost en route to Mutchilba, because the town was not showing up on GPS systems.
One local farmer, Karen Muccignat, began investigating the mystery, and discovered that a bureaucratic stroke of the pen had wiped Mutchilba off the map. “I was in shock,” she said. “It’s lucky I was sitting down when I found out. I was quite speechless to find that my town no longer existed.”
As far as she can ascertain, rural Mutchilba – which is surrounded by mango and avocado farms – was axed during a federal government review of Australian localities. Locals were neither consulted nor informed.
Now they want their town back. Ms Muccignat said: “We’re not a suburb of Dimbulah. A lot of people have lived here for a long time, and everyone was under the impression we were living in Mutchilba.”
The state government believes Mutchilba disappeared in 1999; however, residents are convinced that it happened more recently. The government, which is sympathetic to their plight, is trying its best to put matters right, but first Mutchilba has to jump through a series of hoops, including consulting members of the community on town boundaries.
Greater Mutchilba, including the surrounding farms, is home to an estimated 1,000 people. Its pint-sized school has 27 pupils. But while the town – which was founded in 1901, when a railway station was built there – may be small, it has a strong community spirit and a distinctive identity. Far from wanting to be part of Dimbulah, it has had a long-standing sporting rivalry with its neighbour.
Local pride has been rekindled by the shock of official deletion. There are plans to revive an annual Mango Mardi Gras festival, which in the past saw Mutchilba included – albeit briefly – in some guidebooks.
The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, has promised to fast-track Mutchilba’s bid to get back on the map. But residents have been warned that the process will take several months. In the meantime, the state premier, Campbell Newman, has written a letter of support, as has Bob Katter, the federal MP, who visited the town to attend a public meeting.
The confusion over place names has created some potentially serious situations. Ambulance drivers called out by people in Mutchiba have had to stop at public payphones to get directions. (Mobile phone reception is very patchy in this pocket of inland north Queensland.)
When one local man, Harry Adams, suffered a heart attack recently, he telephoned for an ambulance, but found himself arguing with the emergency operator – who wanted to send a team to Dimbulah – about where he lived. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and Mr Adams ended up being airlifted to the regional centre of Townsville, where he was operated on successfully.
Ms Muccignat, who runs the Mutchilba Gold Produce Farm, wants the mistake remedied as soon as possible. “We’re hoping we’ll get our name back by Christmas,” she said.