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Byron Shire
June 18, 2024

Protect the beach and coast

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The last time my late father visited Byron Bay, I saw a tear roll down his cheek as he stood at Main Beach. My father was born and bred in Byron Bay and was a member of the first junior R&R (reel and rescue) team on the far north coast. ‘Why are you crying?’ I asked.

‘They’ve done the wrong thing,’ he replied.

‘What do you mean?’ I said, as ignorant as the next person at that time about the workings of our coastline.

‘They’ve put rocks on the beach,’ he said. ‘So?’ I replied.

‘You never put rocks on a beach,’ he answered. ‘The water always comes to the rocks. You’ll lose the beach!’

‘What did you do after cyclones when you were a boy?’

‘We just brought in more sandy soil and timbers and plants and the dunes were back in no time.’

I’ve been back in my dad’s hometown and my childhood playground now for close to 20 years and I’ve done a lot of observation and research on coastal erosion and the many ways we can respond. I even went on our local Council to try and stop a sea wall being built from Belongil to Main Beach. And while that hasn’t happened YET, it has started again just up from Kendall Street, where new residents are extending their property gardens up and over the old dunes and walling them in with rocks and concrete pathways onto the sand, leaving no dunes at all to best protect our coastline and maintain any beach.

How is Council letting this happen when the court case over the matter many years ago determined, that while the placing of rocks in front of established homes built on the dunes was illegal and not best practice, they could remain, but no more, NO MORE!? Only soft revetment was to be used in future to maintain those homes built, ridiculously, ON the sand dunes instead of behind them.

Meanwhile, in fear of litigation from Belongil residents, Council compounds their mismanagement and neglect of our embayment by doing absolutely nothing to resurrect the ravaged dunes between Main Beach carpark and Belongil Beach. Being particularly impacted by the rocks at Main Beach, this stretch of beach had metres of sand scoured out to sea in 2019-21 with the foredunes eaten into and collapsed. Yet instead of responsibly restoring this key stretch of Main Beach, Council has left it to be further degraded with people tramping all over the dunes and plants and creating new pathways onto the beach.

Last week I heard a BBC program Crowdscience on Radio National which says it all. Titled ‘How should we protect our coastlines’, people in Florida and Puerto Rico are working together to keep their beach communities safe. ‘Keep the dunes safe and they’ll keep us safe,’ they say, ‘It’s a no brainer.’ ‘With dunes being our primary line of defence it is possible, given our capacity to change our environment, to recreate a dune where historic dunes have been removed.’ Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3ct5rgy.

We can do that here in Byron Bay if we want to. It’s being done further north on the Gold Coast and in so many other places. Yet our Council isn’t making any moves in this direction. Will this community demand it? I live in hope!

Jan Hackett, Byron Bay

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1 COMMENT

  1. Jan, it’s a sacrificial dune- thousands of years ago Julian rocks was the cape, with a sacrificial dune between it & the headland now. 80 years ago there were at leasr 2 streets, three rows of houses (formerly squats) seaward of the current millionaires row. The sea took them. In the 70’s the squats remaining were granted freehold title, under the understanding they were perched on a sacrificial dune- doomed to eventually be subsumed to the sea. In the 80’s nearly all of these houses sold, then sold again, by the 90’s they were very expensive. The fact of the original titles being conditional on acceptance of the original reality became ‘accidentally on purpose’, lost. There was a court fight, the millionaires won, the beach, nature, the world, your dad, lost. Sick, sad, facts.

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