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Byron Shire
May 13, 2021

Falling ‘folly’ endangers beachgoers

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belongil ruins-WP


belongil - creek-WP

Chris Dobney

The ruins of a former function centre that once perched on the northern headland of Belongil Creek are breaking off and toppling into the creek as the dune is increasingly undermined.

The building, which is owned by one of Australia’s richest men, was demolished more than a year ago but the foundations still remain. The soil beneath the concrete slab has been eroded and the slab is now partially cantilevered over the escarpment.

Pipes, wires and conduit are also poking out from the ruins and a large chunk of cement brick wall has fallen several metres down the hill, uprooting two critically endangered pandanus trees.

Although the owner, mining magnate Brian Flannery, has organised for a picket fence to be built on the landward side of the escarpment there is no fence, nor even any signage, on the beach side.

Earlier this week, Echonetdaily reader and Sunrise resident Jan Hackett forwarded us a photograph of a family with their towels spread out directly below the collapsing foundations.

Ms Hackett told us she had been communicating with Council for at least a year over the problem but had yet to see any improvements.

She said that large lengths of electric cable and conduit had ended up in the tea tree stained creek and that she was concerned children playing in it could get caught up in the wiring and potentially drown.

‘Personally I think the many tonnes of conduit and electrical wiring and light fittings, not to mention concrete blocks and bitumen from the old road, are creating a safety issue for unwary beach goers, especially unsupervised children,’ she said.

‘People should be cautioned. They need to know what’s submerged in that creek. Materials have been slumping in for over a year now, with much more to come, from what I can see hanging out of the embankment. Once in the creek, it is impossible to remove.’

‘Surely the remaining land bound materials can be excavated and removed from the headland before further subsidence rolls it out into the heavily polluted creek?’

Ms Hackett told Echonetdaily she was concerned Council plans to extend rock walls south of the Belongil estuary could worsen the erosion.

‘The sand that is bounced off the rocks at Belongil flows north and forces the creek against the high dunes there, causing most of the recent collapse.’

Following enquiries by Echonetdaily, Byron Shire Council’s governance manager Ralph James acknowledged the building and road materials falling onto Belongil Beach is coming from ‘a private property’.

‘Compliance staff have spoken with the Belongil property owner who has assured them that the materials would be cleaned up,’ he told Echonetdaily via Council’s media liaison.

‘The materials on the beach are a result of coastal erosion from the recent storms and large ocean swells,’ he added.

A spokesperson for Mr Flannery’s Byron Events company, Jeremy Holmes, told Echonetdaily the erosion ‘is a concern to us, and my staff have been progressively cleaning up the area after storms to collect any debris falling over the scarp, when it is safe to work there’.

‘The erosive issue is predominantly coming from the periodic meandering of the Belongil Estuary, usually associated with heavy rainfall and large seas. Unfortunately there is very little we are able to do in the way of preventing further erosion,’ he said.

‘I can assure you that we are conscious of this issue and will continue to do what we can to manage it,’ he added.

Our enquiries prompted Byron Shire Council’s executive manager of community infrastructure, Phil Holloway, to urge beachgoers ‘to read all beach access signage before going onto the beach’.

But as previously pointed out there is no signage relating to the potential dangers anywhere north of Belongil Creek.

Mr Holloway said that Council officers would visit the beach again on Thursday 18 to further assess the situation but when Echonetdaily visited there mid afternoon nothing had changed.

Mr Holloway also cautioned beachgoers about sun baking or sitting at the base of eroded beach dunes.

‘The dunal escarpment can become unstable when eroded and may collapse,’ he said.

‘It is also a good idea to check the tides and walk the beach during low tide.

‘At some beach locations during high tide there is little space to walk or to escape large waves should they reach the shoreline,’ Mr Holloway added.

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