Nick Carroll: How the South Newy Crew Saved Their Beach (and How You Could Save Yours)

7 Aug 2019 2 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer


Lessons Learned

There’s a few sighs of relief being shared among the crew at South Newcastle Beach right now.

It seems as if their year of trial around the Newcastle City Council’s plan to pile 700 square metres of extra concrete on to the beach has finally come to an end.

The plan, involving a skate park re-jig, would have exposed the beach to major threats of erosion, and possibly resulted in the destruction of the skate park itself, according to expert coastal observers.

See our original story: Why Is Newcastle City Council Planning to Build a Skate Bowl over an Existing Beach?

Newcastle’s mayor, Nuatali Nelmes, has now held a PR during which new drawings of the skate park re-fit were revealed. And according to South Newy surfer Bernie Wilson, who helped lead the protest (and who also semi-gatecrashed the PR), it’s very possibly a win-win.

If the drawings are a guide, he says, the whole thing will be built inside the current sea-wall line, thus preventing the destruction feared by local surfers and others. “They’ve pretty much kept their word and kept it off the beach.”

Seems like the South Newy experience could be a textbook study of how planned coastal incursions can be turned around by concerned citizens in favour of the near shore environment.

One thing’s for sure, though – in a time of rising sea levels and likely increasing storm surf activity, this is far from the last such battle along Australia’s coasts.

With that in mind: what did Bernie and co learn about such battles? What worked for them, and what didn’t?

Here’s a quick four point primer, if you’re thinking of going into bat for a cause like this:

ENLIST THE EXPERTS. “We only started gaining traction once we got Professor Andrew Short on board. People had to listen to what he had to say. Plus we got a lot of help from the Surfrider Foundation, Craig McIntyre and co, they have resources that can really help you, especially if you’re not sure how to go about things at first.”

TRUST THE COMMUNITY. “More than anything, you’ll find that when an issue like this comes up, there’s members of the community who’ll rise up and bring important things to the table – skills they’ve learned during their lives that can suddenly be really useful, whether it be organising or helping to understand the issues better. They might be people you never knew or heard of before. It’s amazing how much people want to help if you let them.”

DON’T GIVE UP. “The Mayor told us several times (at the recent PR) that the whole thing was inside the seawall. That’s what the drawing appears to show. But she also told us the current drawings are a concept only, and are designed for feedback. They’re not engineer’s drawings or actual blueprints. Some of the experts we’ve talked to seem to think it’ll cost a lot more than the (original figure of) $11 million. So we’re going to have to keep checking as it all goes through the process. It’s not done till it’s done.”

KEEP A CLEAR HEAD. “At the end of the day, these politicians are spending our money. They’ll get belligerent and ugly and they’ll try to make you feel small, or that you’re somehow not doing the right thing. They have experience in it and they employ people just for PR purposes. Don’t react to that. Just stick to knowing you are right.”

The drawings are on the council’s website for viewing. Here’s hoping they don’t have to go again.

Benefit Night for “Doc Yagen”

One of the local surfers involved in the protest is Paul “Doc Yagen” Vincer. Paul has a brain tumour for which he is receiving treatment. Bernie and co are putting together a benefit night in support of Paul’s family, including a surf auction. Some good gear is up for grabs, including a board from legend Peter McCabe (an old friend of Paul’s) and other stuff. The night is at Mayfield Bowling Club on September 14. If you want to contribute in some way, contact Bernie Wilson at or us here at Coastalwatch — we’ll pass it on.

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