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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Belongil Beach erosion history

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In a recent letter by Bill Hayes of Bangalow regarding the early history of land fronting Belongil Beach, there was a reference made to an ‘Esplanade’ on the Certificate of Title in front of their land.

In actual fact this is part of a Crown Reserve notated as R1082 in a Government Gazette dated 21 January 1884 which covers the NSW coastline from the Tweed to the Bellingen Rivers which had its width set as 5 chains (100m) from the property boundary to the Mean High Water (MHW) at the date of survey in this case 1886 when 200 lots each with 33-foot frontage were created.

This is information that councils and academics are loath to acknowledge with the the ‘Byron Bay – Hastings Point Erosion Study’ (PWD Report 1978) and other PWD reports all failing to make mention of the existence of this Crown Reserve.

The further comment that part of the problems at Belongil stems from the Council’s failure to heed engineers’ advice that sand would be lost if they proceeded with a rock structure near the town beach is critical information for anyone involved to understand and take on-board.

This form of sand loss is substantiated in countless research papers which confirms that engineers have made recommendations and taken actions without understanding the on-going consequences.

One such case came to a head in 2001 when the director of the Griffith Centre of Coastal Management (GCCM) finally acknowledged in print that the engineer approved extension of the training walls at the entrance to the Tweed River in 1962-4 was the classic example of shoreline recession which in his own words ‘resulted in a depletion in supply of sand to the Gold Coast beaches of up to 10 million cubic metres’.

‘The resulting erosion of beaches at Rainbow Bay, Coolangatta, Kirra and Bilinga over the subsequent 30 or so years has had a major impact on the recreational amenity and economic activity of that part of the coast’, the director said.

However, he and his academic colleagues remain reluctant to accept that similar occurrences of sand depletion have taken place since 1862 at some 20 sites on the NSW coast where river training walls have been built which have induced periods of recession to their north necessitating in some cases remedial work to contain erosion.

This includes Coffs Harbour, completed in 1924, which they now accept is filling with sand that in reality should be moving north to maintain the natural position of the shoreline.

However, there is another aspect in the history of Byron Bay which academics have failed to investigate and that is effects on the Byron Bay shoreline from the grounding in 1921 of the Wollongbar within the tidal boundaries set for Crown Reserve 1082.

Photos of this event are available which places this grounding in front of these Belongil allotments, the sand dunes that existed during attempts to re-float the ship, the loss of these dunes by 1925 and the final comment that, ‘The site is now in the surf zone and The Wreck is a popular surf break’.

That is, wave turbulence created by this wreck has eroded the sand from under it which has led to the loss of a substantial amount of the 5 chain (100m) buffer that existed along the Byron Bay foreshore prior to the this grounding and has nothing to do with natural coastline recession or more particularly the notion that this recession is due to sea level rises.

Consequently the situation in relation to the ‘Principles and Problems of Shoreline Law’ presently under discussion in Echonetdaily as to whether the shoreline recession at Byron Bay is a natural event or the result of a man-made obstruction becomes an additional issue for the residents involved to consider.

Thomas W Eady, Kingscliff


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  1. Now is a great moment to compile a Byron Bay timeline complete with a historical reconstruction of the currents and weather. Over the past few years, many fragments of information have appeared about the former coastline, the various constructions, the currents and the weather. What we need to do is put all the information together in a time line ( say 100-150 years) which also includes a general mapping the spatial changes over time. Only then can we set about suggesting any ranking or prioritizing or weighting of impacts. There are at least three scales of impacts going on: on the shore to low tide, in the bay and along the coast. Over this time frame, there is also a change in the predominant winds (from E to SE) and the once deep area beyond Clarke’s beach (a potential port nonetheless!) has filled in. The composite over time will help organize different perspectives. Perhaps we can identify a set of impacts, nested together across different scales. Much of the world’s events are the result of multiple factors and with a bit of imagination, we can depict this and understand better collectively what we each experience individually.

    Think of traffic and road rage: you may be upset with what is right in front of you, but how many vehicles away from you must you look to get a glimpse of the “reason” — how many vehicles ahead, behind or to the side? That type of integrated imagination is what we can also do about Byron Bay over time.

  2. Thank you Thomas Eady for your factual summation of the history of sand depletion on the north coast and Council’s failure to heed engineers advice on the matter.

    I was concerned, however, to read that you placed the beached Wollongbar in front of the Belongil dunes.
    My grandmother sat on the beach and painted the wreck as it settled into the surf break at Main beach. It had failed to make sea before a large storm and was grounded beside the original Jonson Street jetty.
    A photo taken before it was gutted, available from the State Library archives, shows the same.

    /Users/janhackett/Desktop/Wollongbar photo COPY.jpg

    Belongil beach and its dunes lay further to the north.
    Agreed, the remaining hulk, like any hard object lying in the sea, affects sand movement and accelerates its loss near the immoveable object. But I doubt in this case, that the remains of the Wollongbar have played a large role in the loss of Byron Bay’s dunes. Subsequent sand mining together with poorly fashioned rock walls and man-made spits have done most of that damage.


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