Around this time every year, the sandy beaches of Australia’s South Coast deviate from their natural water-washed, wind-swept contours.
There are sandcastles, complete with moats and keeps, mountains, walls and, without fail, a very deep but pointless hole dug by a group of men fulfilling their primal instincts.
The Broulee community has turned this act of making stuff with sand into an actual competition for about 15 years now. Think teams, time limits and prizes.
Normally held on New Year’s Eve on North Broulee Beach, the Broulee Sandcastle Competition is a crowd favourite and draws hundreds of spectators and competitors but this year it has been postponed due to the threat of a very high tide.
Jill and Shane Wehner, from the Broulee Surf School, took over the event from the Broulee and Mossy Point Community Association after it started as “a small event that gave kids something to do”.
“There’s always stuff for the adults on New Year’s Eve, with clubs and pubs, but it’s really for the younger kids to work towards and finish off the year with a big bang,” Jill says.
More than 500 visitors and locals take part most years.
“For that many people, we need to ensure safety. The reason we’re postponing this year is because of the high tide in the afternoon … there’s just not the visible sand for it.”
It’s the first time the event has been put on hold since the Black Summer bushfires in 2019/2020 – not even COVID proved enough. Tide and weather permitting, the new date is Australia Day, Thursday, 26 January 2023.
A permit from the Eurobodalla Shire Council gives the competition exclusive access to the beach from about 4 pm to 6 pm. Teams of four people are given an hour to create either a sandcastle or sand sculpture.
But don’t think you can bring along Michelangelo’s bag of tools. It’s strictly hands or plastic beach shovels, forks or buckets.
“You couldn’t take down a shovel, or rake or bobcat or anything like that,” Jill says.
As for inspiration, there’s the whole sea, let alone the year that’s been.
“A lot of people like to do a theme, anything that’s been popular throughout the year,” Jill says.
“We’ve had gravestones from those who have lost family members or friends through the year or, when COVID was around, we had syringes for vaccinations, followed by plenty of dragons, whales, turtles. People can be really creative, and it’s really great to see what they come up with and how they do it.”
Prizes or vouchers are then presented across four categories (two for those 10 years and under): Junior Sandcastle, Junior Sand Sculpture, Senior Sandcastle and Senior Sand Sculpture.
In the past, these have come from local Broulee and Mossy Point businesses and that’s the way it will stay.
“We try to support the local businesses as much as we can.”
After the prizes and the keepsake photos comes the really fun bit, for the kids at least. According to council rules, all the castles and sculptures have to be destroyed and any holes filled in for safety reasons.
“We can’t have people walking along the beach at night and tripping over and falling in holes,” Jill says.
“We leave the destruction as late as we can, and the kids have fun doing it anyway.”
Jill says the tidal patterns are looking much better for the new year.
“Because our business revolves around the ocean and tides, we’re onto that. The tides at the moment are super high and super low, but this is likely to drop down in the coming month.”
They do have a long-range weather forecast of fine and sunny days ahead, but they won’t really know what will happen until a few days out.
“We have done it in rain before though, and our best year was actually when we had a slight drizzle,” she says.
“The modellers loved it because it compacted the sand for them and they didn’t have to keep getting buckets of water.”
Stay up to date with the Broulee Sandcastle Competition on the Broulee Surf School Facebook page.