BEST OF 2021: Are private landowners destroying the courtesy of community access on the South Coast?

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Rosedale Beach

Rosedale Beach on the South Coast. Photo: Kim Treasure.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2021. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2021. Today, Zoya Patel puts her argument for ‘right to roam’ laws to ensure access to public places like beaches.

Like most Canberrans, I spend a fair bit of time down at the South Coast. We’re lucky to be able to drive just a few hours and access (in my opinion) the best beaches in Australia, without the crowds of beaches closer to big cities.

Since childhood, I have enjoyed wandering down the little trails that weave through the forest that fringes beaches from Moruya to Bermagui, trodden down by hundreds of fellow visitors and residents to provide access to the hidden bays and coves along the coastline.

By unspoken mutual agreement, we have maintained these paths over generations, keeping them clean and free from litter, and limiting our impact on the surrounding forest by sticking to the trails we’ve made.

One such path that I’ve only recently come across is the trail that leads from the base of Tranquil Bay Close at Rosedale to the eponymous beach – a tiny, secluded stretch of sand only a few hundred metres long, with some of the clearest, calmest water and additional trails leading off the beach to cliff walks that locals have enjoyed for a long time.

Tranquil Bay path

The boundary fence on the path at Tranquil Bay. Photo: Zoya Patel.

Only on my latest visit, we started down the trail to be confronted by a large swathe of cleared bush and a wooden and wire fence, cutting off the path to the beach. Glancing in either direction, the fenceline stretches on and on – technically you can still access the path if you go all the way along the fence to where it ends, and head around it. But the beautiful, uninterrupted forest trail is no more.

Asking the locals, it turns out that the land they have shared and used as a common path is actually partially owned by the residents of one of the houses that sits behind it.

I don’t know the intricacies of this specific case, and I don’t own a property in Rosedale, so I can only speak from anecdote. But I have to wonder, in the absence of common land, can’t we at least retain common decency?

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This landowner, and any other who chooses to take similar actions on their own big bush blocks at the coast, is technically within their rights to erect a boundary fence, and clear the land on either side of it for access (and potential fire hazard reduction).

But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, and it makes me particularly frustrated for the wildlife who have been able to enjoy free access in the bush until this point, and now have to figure out a way through, over, or around the extremely long fenceline.

In parts of Europe and the UK there are ‘right to roam’ laws that mean landowners have to allow access to walkers on certain land types, primarily in rural, country and nature settings. I wish something similar existed in Australia to protect the freedoms that have been enjoyed for so long, but that are clearly tenuously hinged on the common decency of the individual.

In the absence of such a law, I’m sure many Rosedale residents feel quite bereft at their loss of tranquillity at Tranquil Bay.

Original Article published by Zoya Patel on The RiotACT.

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How uninformed.

The landowner fenced his property.
He fenced INSIDE his property and left space for a path to the beach. He didn’t have to.
The shrubs will grow back. Same as all the tracks that were ruined by fire.

Maybe it was done without your permission?
Canberrans like to think they own everything, they are usually the ones ruining the coast.

Fred Goldsworthy9:37 pm 01 Jan 22

I have been a frequent visitor over a number years that Ms Patel is referring to, it is distressing to see often travelled paths blocked off, fenced off but even more distressing to see the wide bulldozer devastation of the landscape required to erect an eyesore fence that not only inhibits the human visitors but is even more devastating for the natural traffic of wildlife. This seems a needlessly jeakous and greedy act.

Theoretically I support the right to roam, but there are two subjects often not thought of with community trails – toilets and theft. Where do walkers go to the toilet? One landowner I know is planning a fence after their child stepped in faeces at the end of their garden and ply area for the second time in a week during the recent holidays. Others worry, with reason, about thieves using public access to see what is valuable and when a house is empty. It means property and even tings like kids’ bicycles need to be secured at both the back and front of a house, and the worry of not having a secure place where kids can play. It only needs one or two incidents to turn what used to be a friendly wave into a landowner who feels they need to protect their family. Fifty or even twenty years ago there weren’t so many people using the trails, so the odd toilet incident didn’t matter. Now, with much more use, community trails that are longer than a couple of km need public toilets

Allan Lehepuu5:48 am 09 Jul 21

There is the issue of public liability for the property owner. No property owner wants to deal with the drama of some litigious trespasser who injure themselves even with public liability insurance.

You have to understand both points of view here. There may be avernue for compromise though.
As I understand it, there is an eight metre wide exclusion zone for all areas adjacent to the coastal waters in NSW. I think it applies from either the high tide mark, or the cliff top. That would be easy to determine. Can the path be diverted to the exclusion zone?
This issue will become more prevalent as the coastal areas get developed. More people who possibly don’t understand local custom will be using these paths.
Also drawing focus is the proposed clifftop walk in Batemans Bay, running from Observation point to MacKenzies beach. That will “set in concrete” the fact that the clifftop areas are for public use.
If anyone is wondering whether the path they use is on private land the NSW Government website “Six Mapping” ( ) shows aerial views of all land in NSW, and it can show boundaries of all privately owned, public land etc.

As a landholder on the Far South Coast I am constantly frustrated by vandalism on my property; gates broken or left open, fences cut, 4×4 vehicles and motorbikes churning up damp ground, getting bogged in gullies and causing erosion. Often when confronting these unwelcome visitors I am abused and threatened. It is very distressing.

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