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The NSW beach 'crumbling into the ocean' - and taking a community's identity with it

Just a short trip up the coast from Sydney, a beach is quite literally disappearing and locals have banded together in solidarity to help save it.

Not only has the beach washed away, but the town’s beachside daycare centre has been shut down and the Stockton Surf Club’s future is uncertain.

Simon Jones, 31, was born in Stockton, he’s moved elsewhere on a few occasions, but he always finds himself gravitating back to the coastal town.

“The beach is in our identity, and watching it eroding away before our eyes is akin to losing a part of ourselves,” Simon told Yahoo News Australia.

picture of the erosion at Stockton beach. Due to the breakwalls, sand is unable to make it to the beach.
Stockton Beach in NSW is quite literally eroding away, and the locals are calling for action. Source: Facebook - Save Stockton Beach.

Simon said some of his best childhood memories were going for a surf after school, but he said kids these days don’t check the surf.

“Only they don’t check for a different reason - there is almost assuredly no waves breaking,” he lamented.

“It shames me to see our culture fading away with the beach.”

Simon also serves as the president of the Northside Boardriders and he is watching his community suffer. Not just financially, “but also in a less quantifiable way, socially and culturally,” he said.

“We have lost the suburb’s only childcare centre, the 112 year old surf club is at risk of folding,” he said.

“There is heritage waste and asbestos being washed out of the sand and onto the beach, and we are watching the shoreline disappearing before our eyes.

“People are frustrated, even furious, that it has reached this point.”

What is happening to Stockton Beach

Marine Geologist formerly from the University of Newcastle, Professor Ron Boyd, has been around Stockton “about 60 years”.

“I grew up here, so that makes me a local I guess,” he said. “The identity of Stockton is tied up in the water that surrounds it.”

Professor Boyd explained most of the locals utilised the Stockton Beach as much as they could, but says they can’t anymore.

Both him and Simon Jones are “pretty keen surfers” that try to get out there at least once a week. “We haven’t been able to surf on our beach, down here for the last couple of years. So it takes away your entire lifestyle.”

Professor Boyd said the erosion of Stockton Beach has been an issue for years.

“People have changed the natural system,” he said. “They have put in a large barrier to normal sand transport and as a result the existing sand, that was present, has been transported away. But no new sand has come in to take its place.”

Professor Boyd said it hasn’t been a tale of constant woes due to the climate cycles, but there has been a consistent pattern of erosion at Stockton Beach since the installation of the breakwaters at Newcastle Harbour in 1900s.

It is a well established fact that sand on the NSW coast migrates from south to north, he explained.

“70 per cent or more of the waves in places like Newcastle arrive from the South-east and about 30 per cent or less arrive from the north-east,” Professor Boyd told Yahoo News Australia.

So when a barrier - like breakwaters - are installed the natural sand-flow is interrupted and sand is unable to makes its way onto the shore.

Erosion forces closure of daycare centre

It’s not just the beachfront that has been affected, the beach-side local daycare was forcibly shutdown due to the erosion of the beach on September 3.

“Our priority in closing the centre was to ensure the safety of the children in our care, their families and our educators,” Ben Williams, Mission Australia Early Learning General Manager said.

“The erosion of the sand dunes at Stockton occurred much faster than erosion forecasts expected, due to recent large swell and heavy rain,” Mr Williams said.

“We have been investigating alternative sites for the Stockton centre in the local area since February last year. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to secure an appropriate and viable location for a childcare centre of this size.”

Mission Australia Early Learning assisted families in finding alternative care options, following the closure earlier this month.

Deborah Holland, a spokesperson for the Stockton Caravan park confirmed to Yahoo News Australia the park - which is mere metres away from the beach - was not evacuated, despite media reports claiming it had been.

The caravan park remains open for the start of the NSW school holidays.

Pictured is Stockton local kids, Mitchell and Summer with their pictures for the premier, Gladys Berejiklian
With the daycare closed and the surf lifesaving club unsure whether Nippers will start this weekend, even the local kids are calling out for help. Source: Beth Innes Moxey.

Originally from Perth, Beth Innes Moxey moved to Stockton in 2011. Her husband grew up in the next suburb over and together they have two boys. Their oldest son attends the local public school and their younger son was attending the daycare on Stockton Beach until it was shut down.

Mrs Moxey explained that the local daycare shut down because it was now too close to the water.

“It’s hard to transition kids in and out of schools and daycares,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

Workers at the daycare have lost the relationships they had with the kids and their job security because of the erosion, she lamented.

“We knew the erosion was happening, but all of a sudden it was closed - that’s it, no one is coming back.

“Stockton’s a peninsular, so it’s like living in a small town with all the supports. But that also means if something goes wrong in that town, everybody feels it - which is what’s happening at the moment with the beach.”

‘No one is acting for us’

Losing the local daycare was probably the last straw for the community, Mrs Moxey told Yahoo. “We have to act now, no one is acting for us,” she said. And with the help of her kids, the family started a campaign to lobby politicians in the sweetest of ways. They’re calling it Pictures for the Premier.

“For a lot of issues, you don’t want to politicise kids, and I understand that. But this is happening in front of their eyes.”

"The lost surfboard" a drawing done by beth's son Mitchell.
Local kids are drawing pictures in a bid to save Stockton Beach. Source: Beth Innes Moxey.

Mrs Moxey’s six-year-old once asked her what he could do to help save the beach.

“So he and his friend drew a picture, and we thought, ‘Hey, let’s send them to the Premier’ and it grew from there.” Mrs Moxey said she wanted to show kids they “can have a voice”.

“It gives the kids a voice, because this isn’t about now - this is about the future.”

The campaign has kicked off and local businesses are now onboard, collecting and displaying pictures.

A community with an uncertain future

Callan Nickerson is the president of the Stockton Surf Life Saving Club. He told Yahoo News Australia the club has over 500 members, many of which are junior and the club is now assessing how to proceed as they head into the summer months.

“Due to the nature of the beach and the changing environment it is difficult to say the impact in the long term. In the short term the erosion crisis has presented many hazards that we must assess and make arrangements to mitigate those risks,” Mr Nickerson said.

“This will no doubt have an impact on our lifesaving patrols and potentially on our Nippers program but that will be assessed in due course.”

Newcastle MP and surfer, Tim Crakanthorp, says he surfed at Stockton Beach “many times” when he could.

“Last time I went there to teach my young boys to surf, we couldn’t actually surf on the beach,” Mr Crakanthorp told Yahoo News Australia.

Stockton beach issue raised in Parliament

“Premier, if Bondi or Manly were crumbling into the sea, it would be a top priority for you,” Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said during Question Time on Monday in the Parliament of New South Wales.

When asked what the state government would do in response to the “unfolding catastrophe” at Stockton Beach, Gladys Berejiklian said the state government had provided “in excess of $1.2 million” since 2011 to the Newcastle Council.

“We appreciate how stressful this time has been, especially for those who use, or are connected to the childcare centre there on the coast,” she said.

Last year, the state government did give $147,000 to the Coastal Management Plan, but Mr Crakanthorp says that is just a “drop in the ocean” and the plan isn’t due to come into place until 2021.

“We need the government to put a whole lot of resources into expediting this plan and getting the recommendations out as soon as possible and funding the solution ... We can’t wait that long,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr Crakanthorp had a “productive meeting” with the Minister for Local Government, according to a press release provided by the Member for Newcastle’s office.

“The Minister indicated that, in consultation with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, she will consider the NSW Opposition’s call for a State Recovery Coordinator,” the statement said.

MP's and locals alike are calling for the government to step in and "Save Stockton Beach". Source: Save Stockton Beach - Facebook.
MP's and locals alike are calling for the government to step in and "Save Stockton Beach". Source: Save Stockton Beach - Facebook.

“She also informed me that the option of obtaining replenishment sand for Stockton Beach from a commercial source is currently being considered. I raised the option of sourcing offshore sand and will continue to pursue this with the Deputy Premier as the Minister responsible.

“The NSW Government is focussed on working with the City of Newcastle to develop solutions to manage the region’s coastline,” Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.

“I will be visiting Stockton Beach to meet with Council and local residents in the coming days.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help aid the fight in saving Stockton Beach.

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