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Byron Shire
April 20, 2021

The man whose house fell into the sea

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Garry Egger took Gosford City ouncil to court after neighbours’ rock walls caused his house to fall into the sea. From www.bze.org.au
Garry Egger took Gosford City ouncil to court after neighbours’ rock walls caused his house to fall into the sea. From www.bze.org.au

By Mandy Nolan

Meet Dr Garry Egger. When his neighbours built a rock wall, his house fell into the sea.

Coincidentally Dr Egger was in town last week when Byron Shire Council voted in favour of constructing a controversial wall at Belongil beach.

Dr Egger’s case is often quoted regarding coastal management and is one of the first of its type – he took Gosford Shire Council to court after approval for nearby apartments and a sea wall caused the loss of his family home in Terrigal.

The case dragged on for nearly ten years, with ‘Egger v Gosford Shire Council’ concluding in 1987 with a surprising verdict.

‘The judge took a year to make his decision,’ says Dr Egger.

‘It was the first case of its kind in the country, and it was decided in the end that we won on the facts and lost on the law. The judge [ruled that] council may not have known that when they allowed this block of home units to be built beyond the sand dune, that we would lose our home.’

Dr Egger’s lawyer’s claimed that this was not the case as there had been numerous protests against the development.

‘Strangely all the documents relating to that protest went missing during the court case,’ says Dr Egger.

‘This was not a case that governments would like to have seen as successful, because it set a precedent for every coastal property around the country.

‘In the end, the fact we established what caused the erosion did set a precedent.’

He says the decision showed that ‘yes, the development had caused the erosion that led to the destruction of our property’, but council was not liable for its decision to approve the seawall because given the lack of knowledge about coastal erosion at that time, it may not have been aware of this as a potential outcome.

Dr Egger says his family home was built on the primary sand dune and had been there for 50 years.

‘It had never been troubled with coastal erosion,’ says Dr Egger, ‘We had been there 28 years. The block of home units that was constructed along from us was built out to the edge of the primary sand dune. In 1974, we had a freakish weather event and the erosion started from there.

‘If the units had been built back and they hadn’t put in the rock wall [to protect the apartments from further erosion] then nothing would have happened.

‘You could say we were the first victims of climate change in Australia; two cyclones that met off the coast, and that caused the initial erosion and then four years after that the continued erosion ate around the house.’

This was 1978. Dr Egger’s mother lived in the family home until its destruction.

‘It was picked up as international news at the time and ever since has been published in school textbooks as an example of coastal erosion.’

When their house fell into the sea, Dr Egger’s family lost everything.

‘We were insured but this was seen as an act of God.’

He says council took no responsibility and refused to help while the insurance company refused to pay.

‘If it had been a bushfire at least we would have had some sort of assistance.’

But it was Dr Egger’s aerial photos of the beach that helped establish that the apartments and sea wall had caused the destruction of their property.

According to Dr Egger, rock walls create what is known as a ‘rich man’s rip’.

‘It happens three or four houses down from the construction. The place next door is usually protected.’

Unknown liability

In relation to potential erosion effects on neighbouring properties, Cr Duncan Dey asked council staff at last week’s extraordinary meeting, ‘How certain is council that this wall won’t create liabilities for the damage it will cause to neighbouring walls?’ Staff took the question on notice.

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  1. It interesting to note that Gosford Council CZMP proposes additional rock-walls in their Gazetted CZMP .
    Clarence Valley Council has abandoned planned retreat for Wooli.

  2. Isn’t it wonderful, that it’s up to our eminent local and international comedienne, to remind us of some facts regarding rock wall caused sand erosion!!

    Isn’t it time that laws are changed pronto, to protect ratepayers and councils from the imminent onset of exponential costs of funding all futile attempts to “protect” any property, whose owners failed to sell in time?

    Be it climate change, or increasing rogue weather events, properties in the firing line, are investments gone very sour.

    If anyone invests in anything at all, that goes bad, or out of fashion, you simply chalk it up as a loss. Period . . .

    So why is real estate any different?

    Well it isn’t, is it?

    Except of course, for Byron Shire . .

    Funny, isn’t it?

    This whole shire’s financial catastrophe in the making, really should only be pure comedy.

    Back to you Mandy.

  3. Mr Egger,
    Thank you for your story.
    Hopefully the “high five” (councilors) will listen, because they don’t listen to their community!

  4. Most of the rocks already at Belongil have been there for many decades, to protect the Meatworks, the old Esplanade, and homes. to my knowledge the 160 odd blocks at Belongil were sub-divided and sold in the 1800’s. They are part of the Byron bay town. It has also been established (which is really quite obvious) that the erosion at Belongil in the 70s was caused by the rocks built in the centre of town, sand mining didn’t help. Yes I own one of the dozens of properties at Belongil. It was built in the early 80’s before the new conditions. Due to the old walls there has been no erosion in recent years and there is plenty of stable beach out the front. I appreciate that some people would prefer the Belongil spit to be a national park. But the horse bolted on that one 125 years ago when the land was sold. I’d like the sand dunes back where the town is too, but hey – it’s called building a town. Fortunately as a community we have many kilometers of coastline on crown land that has never been developed and this should be protected. I find it quite bizarre that that some of the councillors advocate assisted destruction of people’s homes when they are entrusted to protect all rate payers interests, and happily spend the many thousands of dollars of rates I pay every year. It’s easy to get votes with calls to ‘save the beach’ but the beach isn’t going anywhere and it’s all the councillors first job to protect their residents.


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