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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Belongil history can’t be rewritten

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Susan Skyvington’s 1991 memory of only two houses in Belongil area is unfortunately a few bob short of reality. If you care to have a look of any aerial shorts of the area between 1960 and 2016 she will see there were dozens more there at any time in the past 50 years.

The notion that Main Beach dunes and Clarkes Beach to Belongil Creek mouth are akin to an untouched heritage beach is completely devoid of reality.

From the first European settlement in Byron Bay to the closure of Walkers Meat Works in 1983, the beachfront was never free of structures. Byron Bay was originally an industrial town. Whaling Station, Meat Works on Belongil (FJ Walkers also had a cannery for the soldiers for the first world war, and Pig Abattoir at the Arts Factory (Budha Bar), smallgoods factory and cheese factories owned by Norco, as well as cattle and timber getters. Not to mention sand mining along the esplanade, two ocean jetties for steam ships for produce and passengers and, later on, a fishing fleet. Both jetties were destroyed by cyclones which eventually reshaped the beach toward Belongil Creek.

Before and since early settlement, cyclones have ravaged the east coast from Queensland and northern NSW. Their long-term impacts are still seen today. In the 1960s council armoured the beachfront at Jonson Street to protect the main street and to save the swimming pool and surf club. It didn’t work too well and was redone before and after 1974 storms.

Walkers Meatworks came under threat and possible loss of 400 jobs, (which were important to the community in them days). Council and community worked together to rock armour these areas. Further down the beach, council and community working bees worked together to protect Don Street to Manfred Street. That’s right, rough rock walls and old car bodies to protect the Belongil houses were there by a combined effort of the residents, volunteers and council. Again, these structures interrupted the transport of sand to Belongil Creek area which of course, was intentional.

Between 1970 and 1973, the entire Main Beach dune between the Clarkes Beach Caravan Park and the surf club was rebuilt and reshaped by council and Crown Lands in order to close the dune blow-out near where the current café is located. Council and Public Works Dept. were worried that another cyclone could see the entire sandhills area and the town inundated. As part of the deal, Lawson Street was constructed giving direct access to town and the Lighthouse.

The point of this letter is you can’t just rock into town, whether it be 1990 or 2016, and undo history of the past 100 years. The jetties interrupted the flow of sands within the embayment. So did the structure of the swimming pool, not to mention the impact of Tallow Beach sand mining on the Byron Bay dunes, the blowout at Clarkes Beach being just one possible outcome.

These were the economic and social imperatives of the day for a town community intent on maintaining the industrial base of the town. Admittedly mistakes were made and that is a given. However the notion that decisions to protect the town and its industries were somehow unlawful is not a given. In those days, council could take these actions without resort to any formal approval process. This was the order of the day right across NSW before the EPA came into effect in 1979.

Since 1990, there have been three or four attempts at a Byron Bay Coastal Zone Management Plan and all to no avail. All have foundered on the rocks of ill-conceived attempts to rewind and rewrite history. As a result the council has endured 25 years of seemingly endless litigation and little to show in terms of managing our beaches.

It is time for the 2016 community to learn to accept the history of the town. Byron Shire Council of 2016 has to accept and live with the decisions made by earlier Byron communities and the previous councils of the past 100 years. The community has to do so likewise.

Crying conspiracy theories and abusing councillors who are required to somehow weave past history into compliance with the laws of 2016 adds nothing to the debate of managing our beaches for the next 100 years. There is no going back to the 1880’s before white settlement; it’s just the way life is. Our present council should be congratulated for at last getting a workable and acceptable plan. Let’s support it and just move on.


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  1. Pauline
    I grew up in Byron Bay and was here until 1965. I also do not recall any houses west of Kendall Street in the vicinity of Belongil Creek – perhaps they were out of sight, or maybe we were more focused on whether our little Hillman would safely make it across the awful wooden bridge without being squashed by an oncoming truck or some-such. I would be interested to seeing a link to any aerial photos from the time if they are online. Your description of the facilities around Anderson’s meat works and of the Bay as an industrial town is very good; I agree too that you have to recognise the context when you consider historical decisions. Some people like my grandfather who grew up in the Bay at the turn of the previous century,did voice concerns about the dangers of building on fragile dunes.. Most of the decision makers though had been through the depression and the wars so they sought growth and employment at all costs (where have I heard that recently).
    I will not buy into arguments about managing the delicate environment around the Bay. I would comment though that if you do limit further development in its immediate vicinity then you need to consider where the Bay’s workforce and their families will likely live and how they will get to work and around. If you do that in an unplanned way you end up with an unaffordable town with traffic and environmental issues as people use private cars to come in from less expensive locations.


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