Endangered Waves: The Point of No Return, Bastion Point, Victoria

8 Nov 2013 0

The Point of No Return

Story by Jock Serong

Video produced by our partners Surfrider

Bastion Point is a sharp rocky corner in the long, long sandy coast south of the New South Wales border. It sits just southwest of the mouth of the Mallacoota inlet, a couple of minutes out of town. For most of the year it breaks as a small righthand point wave, a good learning environment for kids. But under a heavy groundswell the point lights up: racing through a celebrated section called Broken Boards. It’s one of very few point waves for miles in either direction. Though it’s received little in the way of surf media attention, Tim Baker surfed it on his round Australia trip and talked affectionately of the place and its people in his book Surfari.

But as things currently stand, it is the most endangered wave in Australia.

Unless there’s a dramatic change of fortunes, construction will begin at the end of October this year on a large scale carpark, boat ramp and breakwater complex at Bastion Point. Despite widespread condemnation, local opposition, political promises and expert advice, the East Gippsland Shire Council has pressed doggedly ahead with its plans to build the facilities. Their determination to proceed is so bizarrely at odds with common sense that it has local wondering if something more sinister is behind it all.

The proposal currently slated for construction is known as Option3b, the latest in a sequence of plans that stretch back about twenty years. Construction will cost between $5 and 6.5 million, and when it’s done, a 2.8m high breakwall made from 8000 tonnes of rock will extend 130m into the sea, halfway down the 500m point wave. It will cleanly sever the point wave, right through the middle of Broken Boards.

Organised opposition to the plan has come from a local collective which formed in 2005 called the Save Bastion Point Group, and from the Surfrider Foundation. To compare the for and against arguments, it’s useful to look at www.savebastionpoint.org and www.eastgippsland.vic.gov.au – from there, you can assess the council’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page against the opponents’ “Frequently Ignored Answers”.

Save Bastion Point Group is a community collective of surfers, fishermen, naturalists and residents who’ve been fighting the project for a generation. Most recently, they ran a front page ad in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper. Paul Maddock, who’s on the board of the Surfrider Foundation and its Campaign Committee, says that despite the looming start date, Surfrider and Save Bastion Point are still trying to carry out actions including lobbying the state government and the construction company itself.

Feeling in Mallacoota is strong and divided. There are established communities of fishermen and surfers in the town, and they don’t necessarily see eye to eye about it. The campaigners against the proposal are more diverse than just surfers. According to Phil McEntee, who runs the Surf Shack in Mallacoota and is President of the Lakes Entrance Boardriders, the council has told the caravan parks, supermarkets and petrol stations that the new development will bring tourists in their thousands to the town. Undoubtedly, holidayers will benefit the most from the upgraded facilities, over a couple of busy weeks each year. The rest of the time, it’s quiet.

According to Paul Maddock, the state government recommended that the development should not proceed in the way currently contemplated (which includes the removal of 3500 cubic metres of reef) but the Shire has ignored them. “I believe they must be legally entitled to do that,” he says. Meanwhile, residents are engaging in a “rates strike” in an attempt to starve the Shire of revenue as the project is set to get underway. Previous efforts by Save Bastion Point and others have included judicial review in the Supreme Court, VCAT hearings, economic analysis, boating data collection, political lobbying and the promotion of an alternative concept plan. Planning Panels Victoria prepared a report about the project in 2007: it received 482 submissions, of which 87% were opposed to the planned breakwall. In its report, the Panel concluded: “the breakwaters in the new proposals will have considerable impact on the wilderness and landscape values of Bastion Point and an overall net detriment to tourism…the case for the development options is not strong. Weighing up all the different issues and considerations for ocean access at Mallacoota, the Panel has concluded that on balance the development proposals should not proceed.”

Tim Baker fondly recalls his experience of the wave: “It’s a great little town, and the point was a great little social hub. Beachcombers, locals use it, not just surfers. It’s beautiful, surrounded by national park. The time I surfed it, it wasn’t exactly firing. I was surfing the outside section, Broken Boards, with a couple of local guys. It was a punchy point with a ledge halfway along. Then, after the spot where they’ll build the wall, it became a sandbank wave like Queensland.

“The local blokes were friendly and welcoming in the water. In town, there were signs in every front yard – a lot of the surfers are boaties, ab deckies and divers as well. They understand the need for an upgrade but they believe there’s alternatives to what’s proposed.”

In Surfari, the book he wrote about travelling Australia in 2008 with his family, Baker wrote: “It is one thing to read about the plight of the latest endangered wave in some remote corner of the country, in the token environmental column in your favourite surf magazine. It is quite another thing to actually clap eyes on the place, meet the surfers whose main source of recreation is to be destroyed, see the impassioned hand-written protest signs tied to front fences throughout the town.”

“I think someone’s decided recreational fishing will be their boom,” Baker says. “It’s such overkill. They’re oblivious to the amenity of the place – on the Goldy they understand the economic value of surfing much better.”

A film crew from ABCTV’s 7:30 Report came to Mallacoota a few weeks ago (Ed's noteYou can watch the ABC report here). It’s rumoured their report will take a sledgehammer to the Shire’s handling of the Bastion Point project. But then, rumours are rife in Mallacoota: when people aren’t being given facts they have a natural tendency to fill the vacuum.

“What’s disappointing,” a shopkeeper told CW, “is that there are people who have put years of hard work into this issue and got nothing. There are so many reasons to say no to it.”

Bulldozers are reportedly set to start rolling into Bastion Point this coming Monday November 11, 2013.
If you oppose the developments at Bastion Point you can sign a petition to the Victorian Premier here.
And you can find out more about this issue at Surfrider.

Tags: endangered waves , vic , victoria , surfrider , jock serong , bastion point (create Alert from these tags)

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