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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Seeking any old Surfside photos


The NSW Coastal Alliance (NCA) wants your help to piece together the real story about the Wharf Road subdivision 1067, a large part of which has been seriously eroded by the sea.

The NSW COASTAL PANEL, a statutory authority appointed by the NSW Government, has arbitrarily decided that the owners of submerged Torrens Title land in the old Wharf Road subdivision have lost title to their land. According to the Coastal Panel, the judgement in a 1994 court case (EPA vs Eric Saunders) supports the view that ownership of submerged lands automatically revert to the State Government (the Crown). The Coastal Panel requested that the Wharf Road Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) be changed to correctly reflect this loss of title and Council has obliged.

It is our understanding that under old laws of accretion, ownership of submerged land that has been eroded “naturally and imperceptibly” over a long period of time MAY revert to the Crown. Because of the legal ramifications and compensation implications if the erosion is not natural, it is in the interests of Council and the State Government (through the Coastal Panel ) to establish that the erosion of the Wharf Road subdivision occurred “ naturally and imperceptibly “over the period from 1883, when the subdivision was approved, to the present time.

The arguments in support of this conclusion include:

  • The court decision in the EPA vs. Eric Saunders case which states “ In the course of time, the shoreline has changed. this appears to be not because of any sudden inrush of waters of the estuary, but due to steady erosion.

  • A report entitled “Using historical information to assist future planning and development in sensitive coastal areas” prepared by Ms. Julia Mayo-Ramsay which states that “Since the late 1800’s the area around Wharf Road precinct has slowly eroded through a combination of wave action and many flood events”.

The evidence presented to the court in support of the gradual erosion proposition as part of the EPA vs Saunders case, did not go very far. It was limited to “various” surveys carried out by an EPA surveyor Mr Gilson. The three surveys demonstrating gradual erosion were dated 5 September 1988, 30 October 1991 and 2 December 1993. This is a five year period during which no-one is denying erosion was occurring as a result of previous engineering activities in the estuary, and ongoing dredging.

Ms. Mayo-Ramsay appears on the Net as a Bodalla lawyer, but the contact phone number does not answer. There is no evidence in references in her paper that the sweeping statement regarding the historical erosion is supported by any hard evidence or reliable anecdotal information.

Research conducted so far by the NCA’s Eurobodalla co-ordinator does not support the proposition of “slow and imperceptible” erosion as the cause of the Wharf Road erosion.

A survey map has been obtained, indicating that the original survey plan of the subdivision was still in use in November 1951.

The Beagle Weekly has produced a photograph “Wharf Road in the fifties” that shows the western end of the subdivision protruding out into the estuary.

The photograph was taken from one of the counterweight towers on the Batemans Bay bridge which dates the photograph circa 1956 when the bridge was completed. The rest of the subdivision is out of view.

The author of this letter fished the area in the late nineteen sixties. Although he cannot recall the exact extent to which the sand flats extended out into the estuary, there was a large expanse of open dune, many times the size of the current foreshore. This observation is supported by anecdotal evidence that a light plane was landed on these sand flats in the early seventies.

A member of the Eurobodalla Coast Alliance (previously the EBCF) and current resident of Surfside, has spoken with a number of long time Surfside residents, including some very old timers whose knowledge of the area extends from the nineteen fifties and sixties. All interviewees are in agreement that the erosion of the Surfside foreshore did not start until after the Batemans Bay bridge was constructed in the nineteen fifties and works were carried out to enlarge and modify the southern revetment wall. The minor erosion in the sixties is reported to have turned into a major erosion problem in the nineteen seventies. Minor erosion then persisted until another major storm event caused further serious erosion in the early nineteen nineties. Minor erosion has persisted ever since in concert with engineering works, including the extension of the southern revetment wall for the marina and channel dredging.

Two interviewees pointed to the biggest east coast storm on record in May 1974 as the real culprit in the decimation of the subdivision. Both individuals report Council taking action to excavate a storm water channel across the subdivision prior to the May 1974 storm event. They explain that the huge storm water outflow from the torrential rains in 1974 carved a wide channel across the flats that combined with the tidal surges to cause a two prong attack from both the ocean and the local storm water catchment. They also claim that dredging of the bar, that previously protected Surfside from storm surges, increased the intensity of the tidal surges along the Wharf Road shoreline.

One interviewee considered the relocation of the main channel to the southern side of the estuary as a major erosion factor. He pointed out that the danger marker on the sand flats is to protect boaters from hitting submerged rocks that were the ballast from the early steamers. This he claims was the original channel that pushed sand towards the Surfside shoreline on the incoming tides.

At this point in time, the evidence supports the conclusion that the Wharf Road subdivision was eroded in the second half of the twentieth century as a result of major storm events, coupled with the adverse effect of engineered structures and dredging.

Is this information correct, or has time faded the memories of those providing their recollections of the Wharf Road erosion?

The NCA report on this issue is being delayed for three weeks to allow full community input into the conclusions. Do you or the old timers in your family have photographs of the Wharf Road foreshore? Are any of these photos from the critical fifties, sixties and seventies or earlier? Do you have any photographs of the area after the east coast low in May 1974? Do you have any additional information regarding the effect of dredging and engineering works on the sediment movement in the inner bay? Can you send us a few paragraphs by email detailing what you or the older members of your family remember about the Wharf Road erosion? Can you confirm or refute any of the information we have compiled?

Please send any photographs and email responses to by 26th May and include your name and contact details.

The full NCA report on the Wharf Road CZMP, including the erosion issue, will be released to the Beagle Weekly in June 2017.

Ian Hitchcock

Eurobodalla Regional Co-ordinator

NSW Coastal Alliance

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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