Marianne McCormack, Billinudgel
I originally wrote to the Byron mayor and council on 7 February this year but I have not yet received a reply that makes any sense, so I am forwarding my letter to you regarding the unnecessary death of Verena, a 29-year-old woman from Berlin, Germany who died on 21 December last year while visiting our local municipality and surfing at New Brighton Beach.
I am, very sadly, the lady who firstly noticed her struggle in the water on her fateful day and was the last holding her hand as she died on the beach one hour after initially sighting her.
After the alarm was raised, a surf life saver had to run to her rescue from South Golden Beach, as he did not have an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) available to him. Obviously, he was unable to carry the life-saving equipment required to save Verena’s life.
With an ATV at his disposal he could have arrived on the scene within two minutes, carrying a surf life-saving flotation device, oxygen and a defibrillator.
Presently, our tax money is being spent on researching ‘black spots’ along NSW’s long stretches of beach, New Brighton Beach included. It seems morally irresponsible to me that some of this money could not be spent on supplying council life savers with ATVs in order to adequately patrol such beaches.
The population of Ocean Shores, New Brighton and South Golden Beach exceeds that of Byron Bay and Mullumbimby combined and this excludes the swelling numbers of people during holiday times.
I find it astounding that apart from flags and two amazing, but ill equipped, life savers (no ATV) on South Golden Beach during holiday time, no other area of the beach is patrolled.
I walk this beach almost every day, and particularly on weekends in summer there are dozens of swimmers in the water who ignore the presence of flags (when they are there) and safety warnings.
I understand that these people are taking their lives into their own hands, but it seems clear that people will continue to swim outside of flagged areas regardless of warnings. Does this mean we should not provide an ATV to save lives?
The Tweed council has come up with a great solution. Along stretches of beach, such as Pottsville Beach, they have provided a shipping container in the dunes nearest a flagged area. Safety equipment, including an ATV and jet-ski, is kept inside the container and easily accessed by surf life savers when required.
I have asked the Byron Shire Council why it cannot adopt this solution, but to date I have not received a reply, apart from a councillor stating that the environmental impact on the dunes would have to be considered. Should the human environmental impact of not supplying life-saving equipment be considered?
Recently I received a card from Verena’s mother, Monika. She is coming to visit our beach very soon. She tells me that she wants to see where her daughter died.
Verena was working on a documentary about the plight of women in Sierra Leone and a friend of hers will now take over its editing. Verena’s death will be explained at the end of the documentary. Verena was an only child.
We may need to remember that all our Australian waters are internationally known for being the most beautiful and swimmable globally. The ‘Where the bloody hell are ya’, our proudly advertised international promotion campaign, entices tourists to our beaches.
I believe we can no longer remain unprepared without adequately equipping the surf life savers we employ. It would be a shame if another swimmer, local child, neighbour, friend or again unsuspecting tourist would meet with Verena’s fate.