Bells Beach: An Alternative Vision

Stu Nettle

In the last few months community action groups in Torquay, spearheaded by the likes of Maurice Cole, have been battling Victoria's Surf Coast Shire Council. The reason for the confrontation is development in and around the carpark at Bells Beach. Recently the Council has removed car parking spaces to make way for tourist buses in the first step of a planned tourist hub at Bells Beach.

Surfing stakeholders such as Cole believe they've been ignored in the planning process with Council favouring tourist operators. The dispute is well documented in this article by Cameron Houston in The Age.

Amongst these differing visions, and taking into account the inevitability of population growth, is Aaron Neighbour's alternative vision of Bells Beach. Neighbour is a graduate architect from RMIT who investigated future sustainability at Bells Beach for his Masters of Architecture thesis.

I've attached images from Neighbour's thesis (click 'enlarge' to view at full size), while following is a short summary of his thesis.


The difficulty behind the future changes to Bells Beach stem from the diversity of its current user groups. Each of the stakeholders have different values and aspirations for the site. When these conflicting objectives are overlaid they fail to align. This proposal encourages a more balanced and sustainable use of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve, while accommodating inevitable increases to the surfer and visitor population.

The masterplan adapts the overflow car park used during the Rip Curl Pro to an all-year (gravel) visitor car park. This would relieve the strain on current parking facilities, providing the opportunity to decrease the asphalt footprint of the existing car park and re-vegetate, as it no longer needs to cater for tourist traffic.

A pedestrian tunnel under the existing road has been introduced, so tourists could safely walk from the bus parking to a visitors centre located to the north of the Winkipop hill, without interrupting traffic flow. The connecting 400m walk from the new visitor's car park to Bells Beach could provide necessary historical and educational content so that visitors can start to appreciate the sites significance.

The form of the visitor centre and Bells facilities relates to how the local winds shift direction. When the surf is good, the tourists use the 'Offshore' spaces which are separated from the surfer's car park, relieving congestion between user groups. The 'Onshore' space mimics the behaviours of how people react to this wind direction. The building provides moments of refuge where visitors can take shelter during strong southerly winds.

The proposal has been considered in both event and non-event mode. In event mode, the design eliminates the need for transportable containers and heavy machinery. Instead, it provides an onsite solution where a system of fibreglass panels, manufactured by local surfboard shapers from resin waste, can be used to infill permanent framing elements around the site. During non-event times, these spaces frame the natural amphitheatre that is Bells.



barley's picture
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barley commented Thursday, 5 Apr 2012 at 4:59pm

Typical architect, looks like a big heap of shit..Taken an idea that should be simple and turns it into a giant dog poo. Protecting the environment should be no.1..Does Margaret R have the same issue as Bells? Ask the people who love and use it the most.

greyhound's picture
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greyhound commented Thursday, 5 Apr 2012 at 5:42pm

I can buy petrol,and i can buy matches. who wants these buildings,coulds anyone honestly say 'yes me i do'. who doesn't want these eyesore buildings? honestly, hundreds/ the people really have any say anymore? i once thought australia (the great southern land) was a little different to many other countries, and did things for the people and the land. we love these places because of thier natural beauty and ruggedness. please do not do this.

earthsmoltencore's picture
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earthsmoltencore commented Thursday, 5 Apr 2012 at 7:35pm

As Greyhound says, please don't do this. Also, am I right in understanding that the article is by Aaron Neighbourhood, also behind the design? Why hide behind the second person? There is no need for any permanent infrastructure there - considering the task, SANE and the contest have done a good job of keeping it natural as well as functional as a world class venue. Sustainability would be better measured by the tree cover that has been increased by 20 years of reveg done by volunteers, not by the number of buses that stop for a 10 min photo opp. Keep that fed square nonsense for the Torquay foreshore - maybe then some $ will flow from the tour buses to local businesses..

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Thursday, 5 Apr 2012 at 8:09pm

Before anyone starts burning anything down understand this is an architectural thesis NOT an actual planned development for Bells Beach.

That said, it contains some qualities to admire when considering coastal development. Low-slung buildings sympathetic to the surrounds etc..

earthsmoltencore's picture
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earthsmoltencore commented Thursday, 5 Apr 2012 at 8:31pm

Yes, its a thesis, but Surf Coast has been flashing similar images around for some time. I just don't see the need for buildings there. Field of Dreams, etc.

brutus's picture
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brutus commented Friday, 6 Apr 2012 at 12:27pm

In Aarons proposed plans for Bells,he fails to understand the signifigance that Bells has in Australias surfing culture,and that the reason it was originally declared a "surfing reserve" in 1973,was to protect Bells for surfing......leaving it in its pristine state,as the birth place of Australias contemporary surf culture.

The attraction of Bells is that its a world renowned surf spot,and has built its reputaion as one of the most beautiful pristine surf breaks on the planet,and was declared the worlds ist surfing reserve.

so when Aaron talks about " the diversity of the current user groups".......the are local surfers, tourist surfers walkers,hangliders,self drive tourists,bused in tourists,commercial competitions,local TBC comps......

but can we cater for everyone,at the expense of the surfers,as SCs are now doing...lets reduce the carpaks for surfers and self drive tourists and spend millions of dollars on infrastructure,so we can get $1.10 per person....or promote Bells as a pristine surf icon destination and attract the self drive tourists who spend on average $88 perday......

the plans that Aaron has presented would destroy the ambience of Bells and increase the capacity ,and the human impact on a very fragile eco system....and a third car park is not the way to manage increased numbers...we need self regulating car parks,and must not increase capacity.....

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
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top-to-bottom-bells commented Friday, 6 Apr 2012 at 2:31pm

What are self regulating carparks?? I personally think Aarons design has some merit when you look past the 'Jetsons' style digital images. The buildings are low and camouflaged. It's not like the area is untouched with a dirty great brick dunny there and houses that overlook Winkipop.

The area is growing in population and thanks to the Rip Curl Pro (51 years running) it will only grow in significance, meaning more tourists. You can't stop them. I don't think you need to build an iconic building like the Opera House but at some stage infrastructure beyond those dunnys will be needed.

brutus's picture
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brutus commented Friday, 6 Apr 2012 at 3:46pm

self regulating car park is ....when its full,ya can't find a park...ya have to go somewhere else.....

if ya build a 3rd bus park,surfers will use this when winki and bells car parks are full,which will then mean lots more guys in the water.

we think that the current crowds and car parks have enough capacity,which is about 200 people for Winki......was 200 for Bells,but is now 700.....

southey's picture
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southey commented Friday, 6 Apr 2012 at 8:16pm

Brutus , I completely agree .

All that needs to be done , is replace the asphalt with a Light coloured concrete or whatever ( cooler on feet in the Summer ) , and Revamp the Dunnies . Perhaps with a second block up near the Top ( winki ) carpark ...

" SA's Reserve Capacity "

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ballbagmanifesto commented Sunday, 8 Apr 2012 at 5:36am

Totally unnecessary. Good points made by Greyhound. The only reason to entertain the thought of permanent buildings at Bells is money. Bells is a designated 'surfing reserve' because it is the way it is. Viewing old surfboards bolted to the wall and reading naff snippets of surf history 'the giant waves at the bells contest of 1981 saw gladiatorial performances in this natural colosseum'....and the inevitable cafe selling toasted sandwiches named after pro surfers, like the intolerable Rockfood in Hossegor... This is to not good stuff. It is shit stuff. 50 year storm will make short work of it though. (RIP Bodhi)

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mikeyk commented Sunday, 8 Apr 2012 at 6:08am

Honestly Aaron my friend, with all dew respect what a load of crap! The best plans for Bells is leave it alone!! Mother nature has and always will shape and nurture it. Those pictures are a sight for sore eyes. Sheltered areas with BBQ's are you kidding me!!
Just leave Bells alone I live in Torquay there's enough crap going up around us there, can we just leave some parts of the coast pristine? Took my son to the Ripcurl Pro for the first time this year, seeing the look on his face, sitting on the sand taking it all in with my pregnant wife and son. I can only hope and pray that my son and unborn twins can enjoy Bells the way it is, the way it should be! Hard to believe anyone but a money hungry Council and architects that want to get their name all over it, would want to change a thing about Bells!

anton-chigurh's picture
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anton-chigurh commented Sunday, 8 Apr 2012 at 2:57pm

Lived in torquay since i was a teenager, 30 + years. Thought i'd seen it all till this latest shit piece of a drawing crossed my eyes. Typical futuristic vision for our beach from a person that clearly has a vision of having his name stamped next to this ????? fuck , i dont know what to call it. Grand design ? Would probably compliment the racv pidgeon boxes at the golf course , new bunnings store at the entrance to our town not to mention the fucking new council offices across the road. which brings me to my point- our surfcoast shire is run by a pack of idiots which will do anything which is considered progressive (in their opinion ) to make the town look nice. None of them , in my opinion , have the slightest idea about surfing except the easter contest which earns them$$. Nothing is off limits to these clowns. But in all honesty , the area is so crowded with kooks and mal riders when its under 4 ft , this grand piece of shit doesn't come as much of a surprise to me . Maybe a carpeted area so those bmw 4 wheel drive mal riding muppets can brush the sand off their board and wetty before putting it in their beautiful car to drive for their latte at the latest hip cafe in town. What about a heated indoor area for girlfriends to sit while their gumby partner makes a nuisance of himself in the line up. I come across as very cynical but my opinion is a view shared by more than just a minority.

non-local's picture
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non-local commented Monday, 9 Apr 2012 at 7:27am

Brutus and Anton are right on the money.
Who wants to see this sort of yuppie crap on our rugged coast? I am appalled at the way the whole coast has changed from an area that was pristine and rural to total mini-Melbourne.
Lets set up a Westfield at the twelve apostles, make a new walkway out to london bridge, let's dam Erskin Falls, lets make it clean ond comfortable so we don't have to deal with the elements of our coast.
How about this for a tip, move back to Melbourne and stay there, after all you work there, your extended family are there, your old school mates are all there and you come down here to make a new way of life yet you commute back and forth increasing your carbon footprint. Tell me that you wouldn't be better off back in the big smoke? No thanks to Sigrid Thornton and the whole Sea Change idea we are now basically in a situation of being over-run by self important city-slickers.
I am all for self regulating carparks and would like to see a self regulating lineup.

one good turn deserves another

crustt's picture
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crustt commented Monday, 9 Apr 2012 at 8:41am

My dad took me to Bells in I think 73 as a 13 year old to watch M.P., Nat, Midget and the rest, in from what I remember huge glassy waves, we just sat up on the cliff where the V.I.P. grandstand is today. Last year my mate took his kids, high tide, no room on the beach, refused entry to the empty grandstand, so for the entry fee that he paid to get his family in they watch it on the big screen with everyone else.
Bells has been mismanaged for so many years, I always thought making it into a surfing reserve was a bit of a joke, that carpark should have been across the road from day one, with no parking on the ocean side of the road at bells or winki, would have been a nice walk along a bush track to check the waves. But 20 years ago the same surfers that are kicking up a fuss now about saving the place would not have liked not being able to check the waves from the comfort of there car. There was a time when the shire of barabool tried to stop the area being developed into what it is today and try to keep Torquay a quiet low key coastal town, way before McDonald and now Bunnings got there foot in the door a big company wanted to set up a (for those times) big mega store at what was then the entrance of town, the shire did not want a 3 story shop with offices and factory at the entrance to the small town, so Rip Curl said fine we'll go to Byron, and you can see who won that battle. Those plans look horrible, how can it be called natural with all that crap around.
Everyone makes such a big deal about the bells contest, an icon of surfing, that contest has fucked the place up big time, the whole place has been designed for the contest structure, not to preserve the reserve. Rip up that bloody carpark, replant the place, shelve the contest and the waves will still be there and meybe some of the magic will come back to the place.

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ritchie-rich commented Monday, 9 Apr 2012 at 1:06pm

All it's missing is an elevator so tourists don't have to walk up and down the steps.

z-man's picture
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z-man commented Tuesday, 10 Apr 2012 at 12:59am

Let the hand of man become involved with anything, and the inevitable march to failure begins.

With the exception of the moon landing, I would suggest that everyone keep their hands off anything that has the label of 'progress' on it!

Speaking about Bells in particular? Never been there, doubt I ever will. I like the suggestion that they tear up the existing car park and allow it to return to it's natural state.

That anyone want's to assist this state to 're-appear' scares me, because there will always be that 'someone' that says -" I think we need a tree right here" - pointing a stubby finger at a bare location now ready to be returned to it's 'natural state'!

My bet? You will soon have a multi-storied condominium/hotel project like one Aussie pro did in Coolangatta/Surfers Paradise/the 'Commune' - what's his face? Luke Egan?

Get him involved - everything will turn out wonderful?!?!

my signature

anton-chigurh's picture
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anton-chigurh commented Tuesday, 10 Apr 2012 at 7:24am

Crustt is on to it. Rip the whole lot up, Chuck a few thousand metres of topsoil and mulch on it and re plant the the fucken thing with some walking tracks and bring back the natural feel of the place.
Would keep crowds down a bit cos the poor cunts might have to get out of their heated cars to check it.
The Surfcoast shire and GORCC seem to be pretty fucken clueless when it comes to carparking in our area eg. shrinking every carpark in the area with their attempt at landscaping . this would be a chance for them to redeem themselves with such a bold move. Bring on the haters with this comment

darryl's picture
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darryl commented Tuesday, 10 Apr 2012 at 3:23pm

If you care about Bells, don't want to see it developed as a commercial bus hub and are opposed to the above architect plans, please read this petition If you agree with the 2300 petitioners, sign it and share it.
More info at and Thanks!

ben-day's picture
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ben-day commented Tuesday, 10 Apr 2012 at 9:14pm

Aaron... So called development doesn't have to be inevitable. A pristine natural Bells is the answer, take your drawings somewhere else.

floyd's picture
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floyd commented Thursday, 12 Apr 2012 at 4:53pm

What fucking shit.

I understand and accept tourists want to see beautiful coastline but what makes Bells the slightest bit better than any number of locations along the Great Ocean Road? Mmmmm, cheap money to be made selling the Bells dream to tourists who don't know any better .... "Lets reap them off".

If there must be development at Bells to cater for tourists sold the Bells dream (noting that 99% of them may never surf there) why not locate any new buildings north of the existing access road into Bells. In that way it should be more sensitive to the coastal landscape.

Remember when Kennett tried to put inappropriate development at The Prom all those years ago. It failed because so many people opposed it. Another Liberal premier with a family background in real estate and this is the discussion you get.

The question to be asked here is why must so many tourist buses visit Bells? The tourists don't overnight in Torquay so no money is spent locally, its just a piss and smoke break along the Great Ocean Road. A week after the tourists visit Bells they are likely to be in WA or the Great Barrier Reef and have forgotten how nice the viewing platforms were at Bells = No local benefit for a massive coast.

Abit like the fucking contest that happens there every Easter.

mikehunt207's picture
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mikehunt207 commented Friday, 13 Apr 2012 at 9:45am

The same thing is sighted for Margs. The carpark 'upgrade' looks like the guys who come down from Perth to run the surf contest for 2 weeks of the year had a big part in the design. The plans show a big open area right where the scaffold and no public entry area normally is , a set of stairs built over what little is left after the fires of the green belt on the cliff so the comp fags can walk down to the beach without having to pass the huddled masses and lots more parking and loops for the tour bus areas. No though towards the fact when the carpark is full so is the surf, no thoughts for the locals who use the place the other 50 weeks of the year.What about an upgrade to the tiny 25yr old toilet block, what about some shade , what about asking us what we need? The surf contest and tourist dollar wins over the rate payer local beach user everytime. The local shire is famous for having its palm greased by out of town promoters and developers and the carpark upgrade shows this. For a full map of "upgrade" check the Augusta Margaret River shire website.

alakaboo's picture
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alakaboo commented Monday, 16 Apr 2012 at 11:12am

About 2 weeks ago the Augusta-Margaret River council held a community meeting to discuss coastal infrastructure assessment and investment over the next 20 years.
Maybe you should have attended.
Then you'd have a legit reason to whinge.

By the people, for the people.

pat-gallagher's picture
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pat-gallagher commented Monday, 16 Apr 2012 at 11:43am

Aaron, Your a dickhead


finnwhitla's picture
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finnwhitla commented Thursday, 19 Apr 2012 at 8:55am

This is Horrible!! Not Bells Beach.

Make sure you sign this and pass it on through your friends.

thermalben's picture
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thermalben commented Wednesday, 30 May 2012 at 3:10pm

There's been an update from the Shire Coast Mayor, on the Surf Coast Times website:

"Licensing conditions confirmed for Bells

At last week’s meeting council confirmed the conditions under which licences will be issued for commercial tour operators using the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve. The conditions are onerous and any applicants will have to compete for a limited number of licences through a rigorous tender process.

Pending Department of Sustainability and Environment’s (DSE) approval, council will offer 30 licences to operators at the reserve. This includes five for large coach operators or 22-seat vehicles with a trailer, ten for 22-seat vehicles without a trailer and 15 for 12-seat vehicles and smaller vehicles. This corresponds with available parking.

As part of the conditions, any licensees will be required to park only in allocated spaces and, if these spaces are full, move on from the reserve.

Licence applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

* demonstrated professional conduct of tours
* recognised eco-accreditation
* frequency, timing and length of stay in the reserve
* schedule of activities to be conducted
* demonstrated economic benefit to local community from tour company’s operations.

Proceeds from the licensing scheme will be put back into management and maintenance at the reserve.

Apart from meeting a state government requirement that all commercial users of crown land (like Bells Reserve) be licensed, the licensing scheme will ensure commercial use is regulated, rather than the free-for-all that now occurs at the reserve.

Council will be rolling out the licensing initiative in the next financial year, pending DSE approval."

sidthefish's picture
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sidthefish commented Thursday, 31 May 2012 at 6:25am


Make everyone walk from Sunset Strip or Addiscott Rd.

Problem solved, crowds solved, carparks solved, buses solved.

Sid is a town planning genii.

sidthefish's picture
sidthefish's picture
sidthefish commented Thursday, 31 May 2012 at 6:34am

like fuck, ya gotta walk into Tea-Tree & Granite.

Do the same for Bells & Winki.

brutus's picture
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brutus commented Thursday, 31 May 2012 at 8:07am

latest update is our Councillors backed te state Govt with a plan that Bells become a dual purpose reserve.

1) is recreation,such as surfing ,hangliding,walking etc

2) is for commercial activities to be developed in conjunction with the recreational users.

when is s Surfing reserve not a Surfing reserve?

When somone needs to make a dollar.

just for the record our glorius Mayor ( our top cop)Mc Kiterick,recently described surfing as a fringe element,vocal minority,vandals,make misleading statements the fight will continue to make Bells a surf sanctuary,and as we have council elections this year...hopefdully we can get rid of some these anti-surfing right wing nutters.

Bells now might have lotsa buses but no-one knows as the Shire haven't really asked the buses,but the shire have already built a bus hub at Bells for $60K.....they have no idea......won't listen to the surfers and generally disrepects surfing,and our 50 year culture at Bells...... be cont'd!