When holidaymakers head to some NSW South Coast beaches this summer, they can thank the hardworking locals who put in the effort to clean them up ahead of all the visitors arriving.
During the past two weekends, South Coast residents were hard at work helping to clear some of the beaches that had bushfire debris piling up, which was brought down the Moruya River and Tuross River in recent flooding.
The normally pristine white beaches have suffered after being coated with ash and fine debris all year. With the holiday season here, local residents sought to clean up the popular beaches which are usually busy with families during the holidays.
Volunteers at Shelly Beach, which is part of Eurobodalla National Park, encouraged locals to “come along with gloves, rakes and tarps”.
“Great effort from the Moruya community this morning to clean up Shelly Beach,” said Deb Battaglene after the community working bee was done. “Shelly now looks fantastic and ready for the Christmas break.”
Deb said she had been wanting to do it for the past nine months. On the first weekend of the cleanup, 25 people, including small children, turned up, although it was a smaller turnout the following weekend.
The residents piled the wood up off the beach, but because it is part of a national park, items cannot be taken away.
“If it’s full of timber, you can’t even sit on the beach,” said Deb. “It’s a safety issue.”
Neither Eurobodalla Shire Council or NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) wanted to take any action.
“All the authority excuses are just that – weak excuses,” said resident Bert Hunt. “Shelly isn’t a wilderness beach. It is a high-use family friendly beach. It’s not good enough from those in authority.
“It’s one week out from a pretty important Christmas holiday period for Moruya, after the year of challenge, and one of our key beach locations for locals, visitors and the surf club rescue team is Shelly and it was still loaded with debris from bushfires and flood.”
Bert told Region Media he has got “nothing from Parks [NPWS]. Keeping well used beaches in good, clean condition is just simply common sense. As a coastal community that, to a large extent, relies on visitors to keep the local economy ticking along, our beaches are one of the great attractions.”
Shelly Beach sits inside the Moruya River mouth and, according to Bert, “the danger of king tides floating a lot of this debris back into the highly used river and river bar was reason enough for authorities to undertake the cleanup”.
At Tuross Head, locals undertook a similar cleanup.
“What a great turnout again today for our civic action to clean up the main beach at Tuross,” said local resident Sue Hutcheson. “The difference is incredible.
“We managed to get nearly to the end of main beach. At that end, closest to the river mouth, the fire debris is even thicker, and a lot of sweat, plus enthusiasm, made a big mark in it all.
“In the meantime, I am putting together a letter to Eurobodalla Shire Council advising them of our civic action and the perceived and probable danger the piles of driftwood now present. Holiday season is due to start very soon.
“We have worked very hard for our community. Now it is council’s turn to pitch in with a bobcat and a tip truck to remove all the unsightly and dangerous mess littering our beach, which is now in easily pickup-able piles.
“I like going to the beach and it was totally unusable as it was. Fire debris littered the entire beach. There was literally nowhere you could put down your towel on sand, and walking barefoot was also impossible. Sticks sticking up all over made it very painful.
“I was also motivated by pride in our community and was acutely aware the annual invasion of visitors was nigh.
“I did not want them to see our main beach as it was. This beach is the only patrolled beach in Tuross, and visitors use it more than any other beach because of this. Even while we were working at the beginning of our efforts, people arrived to go to the beach, took one look at it and left. I witnessed them saying it did not look very nice.
“There is still a huge amount of small fire debris – small pieces of charcoal, basically – but at least now you can walk barefoot on the sand, and put your towel somewhere without sticks sticking into you.”