A push is on to ensure Australia’s beaches don’t go the way of so many overseas – into private hands.
From Bondi in the east to Margaret River in the west, Australia’s beaches remain an intrinsic part of Australia’s lifestyle.
Uniquely, and despite their value and attraction, none of the country’s 10,685 beaches is privatised.
Unlike parts of the Caribbean, Asia and United States, Australians anywhere can enjoy any beach, at any time.
It’s that freedom to head to the coast that sparked a protest on the Gold Coast last month when 2500 people – including champion surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson – took to the sand of Kirra amid rumours a developer was eyeing off the iconic beach for a possible cruise ship terminal and casino.
That proposal was quickly quashed by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman but the idea that one of Australia’s beaches could be privatised clearly angered many.
Now it’s been suggested that 40 kilometres of Gold Coast coastline – from South Stradbroke Island down to Coolangatta – be nominated as a world surfing reserve (WSR).
The WSR movement doesn’t carry legislative protection but proponents feel the acknowledgement would give recreational surfers and other beachgoers more power to keep developers off beaches.
The WSR push is being promoted by the newly-formed Recreational Surfers Association, with Parkinson and Fanning acting as ambassadors for the establishment of a reserve on the Gold Coast.
WSR co-founder Brad Farmer says it’s vital no beaches in Australia be given over to private hands.
“It sets a legal precedent then,” Mr Farmer tells AAP.
“If we allow it to happen in one area, you can bet others will be watching with interest.
“Most Australians live on, or near, the beach. We want them to remain somewhere everyone can enjoy, not somewhere to put roulette tables.”
Starting in 2009, the WSR movement has dedicated five sites around the world as reserves, including Sydney’s Manly-Freshwater beach.
The site of Duke Kahanamoku’s famous surfing exhibition in 1914, stands alongside Malibu and Santa Cruz in the United States, Portugal’s Ericeira and Peru’s Huanchaco as dedicated reserve sites.
It’s all part of a movement that Mr Farmer hopes, along with the support of champion surfer Kelly Slater, will one day mean surf breaks are able to be given UNESCO World Heritage listing.
“These are unique and loved parts of our natural environment,” he said.
“If volcanoes, caves and the like can be protected by UNESCO, there’s no reason a surf break or beach couldn’t be either.”
Mr Farmer believes the Gold Coast, with its key breaks at Kirra, Snapper Rocks and Currumbin, is a logical option to become the next WSR.
Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate says he’s not opposed to the idea of declaring the coast a WSR but he’s sceptical whether the proposal has any tangible benefits.
Mr Tate feels council has already done more than anyone to protect the Gold Coast’s beaches, including an extension of the Kirra Groyne and a costly restoration of eroded beachfronts after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald last year.
He believes uncertainty over just what a WSR means and a lengthy application process could delay or undermine council beach works.
“We’ve done the ocean beach strategy, taking in ideas from 4000 respondents, and that’s a 30-year plan,” Mr Tate told AAP.
“We’ve also got our management plans … what aggravated this was this Kirra terminal thing. There’s never been a project on the table … there’s nothing on the table with council and it’d have no support from council.
“When people say we want to have this so we can have our beach protected … I’m not against it as long as they can present to me that our community can benefit more than what we already have.”
Regardless of the WSR proposal, as far as 2012 world surfing champion Parkinson is concerned, the only satisfactory outcome is one which ensures Australia’s beaches and coastline remain off limits to private developers.
“We need to protect our coastline from these type of developments and not find in 10-15 years that we are fighting all over again.”