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Byron Shire
May 14, 2021

Jetty removal caused road collapse

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MAYDAY – MAYDAY – One hundred years ago today

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In reply to the recently published letter from Bill Hayes regarding the so-called Esplanade Road to the Belongil.

I moved to Byron Bay late in 1970 and I can remember the old road that ran just behind the beach from near the swimming pool and nearly all the way to the Belongil. It could be accessed from the Main Beach car park adjacent to the Byron Bay Swimming Pool and ran up on the top of the sand hills all the way to and beyond the whaling jetty and continued on towards the last house and the Belongil Creek mouth. You could also access it from the whaling jetty road. It was used mostly by the occupiers of the many properties built up on those sand hills and local fishermen in those days. Although people called it a road it was barely that in places, in fact it was more like a large bush track but could be accessed by two wheel drive vehicles without any problems.

At that time the beach from the swimming pool swept right around the Bay beyond the Belongil and on towards Brunswick Heads in a smooth curve. From the car park to the Belongil the beach was much wider than it is today. Between the beach and that track were sand dunes mostly covered in low green growth that prevented the sand from being blown away by the strong northerlies in the summer time.

Prior to 1970 at times of very low tides people could walk out on the wide sandy beach almost to the rudder of the old Wollongbar wreck and hardly get their feet wet. There are photos in existence of this. The Bay suffered a number of bad storms and cyclonic weather in the 70s during which a lot of beach erosion occurred all around the Bay but in particular around Clarkes Beach and between the main beach car park and the Belongil creek mouth.

The relatively short rock wall that was put in place over the remains of the town jetty was not the major cause of this erosion but was certainly a factor, particularly for the area just in front of the caravan park next to the pool. Prior to that erosion during the 70s, the area in front of the caravan park was wide sand dunes slowly descending to the beach and between the sand dunes and the caravan park was the road mentioned by Mr Hayes.

There were many homes along that road from near the caravan park and right to its end, all facing the sea, and the occupants used the road for access to most of those houses. It got a lot of use in those days and was considered a public road although I don’t remember if it had an official name or not. From my memory it was just called ‘the track’.

There was not much in the way of severe erosion prior to 1970 in that area. The rock wall around the car park appeared to protect that area of beach and dunes to the west at that time but it was a constant fight between the sea and the beach depending on the weather.

The real erosion and the demise of that road, particularly towards the Belongil end, started almost immediately after the [department of] Public Works demolished what was left of the whaling jetty. The remains of that jetty up to that point had a calming effect on the strong currents that continually swept around the Bay but once the jetty pylons were blown up and completely removed erosion immediately followed to such an extent that the natural refurbishment could no longer keep up replacing the lost sand.

But the removal of the whaling jetty pylons was not the only factor either. Some time later the small rock wall was built over the old town jetty straight out from the car park, after which severe erosion started to those fragile sand dunes right in front of the caravan park and then spreading further west along past Walkers Meat Works and to the whaling jetty.

The erosion was so bad that between the car park and the whaling jetty the road on top of the dunes and several houses fell onto the beach and were washed away. It cut deeply into the sand dunes towards Walkers Meat Works and Border Street, near the old meat works shop, was in danger of collapsing into the sea along with the shop itself.

It was about that time that dozens of old car wrecks were dumped along the back of the beach to try and slow the erosion down or to stop it. This did have some effect in slowing it down and some of these wrecks can be spotted after times of bad storms.

After having been away from Byron Bay for some time I now notice that Border Street has been realigned and now cuts through the area of the old meat works cattle yards to avoid the area of erosion near the old shop.

John Woodlands, Tintenbar


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  1. This is good to know. We can also put this info into the larger and longer historical context. To quote Ian Goodwin, historical oceanographer “as our climate has shifted during the last 60 years, the subtropical anticyclone has migrated further south in latitude, resulting in a higher frequency of easterly winds and waves occurring along the North Coast of NSW and SE coast of QLD. This has resulted in the redistribution of sand across the shore face and a preferred pathway for sand transport from the Cape to deposit the Pass Spit and nourish Clarkes Beach.” And …”{during the 1800s] the sand transport then continued across the embayment to reconnect with the surf zone near Belongil Creek entrance.” (from Rusty’s Byron Guide)


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