Daly Head and the National Surfing Reserves cause
Two days before Swellnet left for a work trip to South Australia's Yorke Peninsula a 4.5 metre white shark was spotted in local waters. It was a reminder that while Western Australia may be making a run for the title South Australia is still the heavyweight champion of the shark world. It also served as a sharp reminder to keep your wits when in South Australian waters.
The reason we were heading south was mixed; the primary purpose was to help celebrate the new Daly Head National Surfing Reserve, the secondary, though no less important, reason was to get some waves. And get some waves we did, three days out of four we surfed excellent waves at a variety of spots on the peninsula, and fortunately we didn't see any sharks.
The Daly Head National Surfing Reserve's dedication was to be unique as it's the first National Surfing Reserve (NSR) on Australia's southern coastline. Despite there currently being sixteen NSRs, Daly Head is the first between Killalea (The Farm) on NSW's south coast, and Margaret River in WA's south-west. It is the first NSR that faces plumb into the southern storm track that provides most of Australia with waves.
Daly Head is also unique in that it offers an opportunity to better understand how NSRs work.
The trip sounded promising from the beginning; the dedication, planned for the Saturday afternoon, was to be followed by a party in a nearby woolshed. No-one knew how many people would turn up at the party – numbers varied from 200 to 500 – but they all expected a long and raucous night.
Expectations were raised when at least 200 people fronted up for the dedication and unveiling of the plaque. The carpark at Daly's has rarely been so busy. Not even on the big and perfect days when the Daly's left roars towards BD's do all the spots fill up, and yet dusty four-wheel drives overflowed out of the carpark and onto the unpaved road that links Daly's with the Salmon Hole and Dusthole carparks.
The Swellnet team were clearly outsiders among a heavily local and interested crowd, but even under these circumstances it was the kind of ceremony you don't mind attending - short on formality and big on heart. Each speech was sincere and succinct, from Ed Satanek, the proud local who made it all happen, to Professor Andrew Short, the quietly spoken NSR co-founder, even the token politician whose name curiously escapes me understood the gravity of the occasion and stayed on point.
As the plaque was unveiled the crowd roared as one. Open displays of pride and brotherhood were seen among locals, hugs and handshakes offered, as well as visible signs of relief from those who organised it. A beaming Ed Satanek took the microphone and addressed the assembly, "We like to party!" said Ed over the PA. That call received the hearty response you'd expect from a country crowd and everyone made for the cars.
Before the party, however, myself and the other guys from Swellnet wanted to mix a bit more business with pleasure and headed to a nearby righthand reef.
Much of the southern Yorke Peninsula lies within the Innes National Park which houses such classic waves as Chinamans, Ethels Ledge, West Cape and Pondalowie Bay. During our stay at Yorkes I met a few older crew who were unhappy with the National Park and the loss of freedoms they'd caused by restricting fireplaces, designating camping areas and signposting trails. These must surely have felt like impositions to the early Yorkes surfer, yet the improvements they'd wrought were obvious. The Innes National Park is relatively wooded and the noted breaks have elevated boardwalks protecting the fragile dunes and limestone cliffs.
Not all of the southern Yorkes coastline is in the park however. Just past Pondalowie the park ends yet the coast continues north-west toward the outcrop of Daly Head passing many other great waves. It is along this stretch of coast that the work of local environmental groups is visible. Their work, at least in relation to that done by the National Parks, was partial and rudimentary. I mean no disrespect by saying that, it was clear that the intention was there but the resources weren't.
Turning off the main road we pulled into a quiet carpark overlooking the reefbreak we came to surf. A faded information sign sat off to the side. The carpark was unpaved and someone had lined the trail with small white rocks to stop people straying toward the exposed cliff that crumbled away to an exposed rock ledge. Apparently this was how all the peninsula looked before the National Parks began their remedial work and that thought gives insight to the value of an NSR.
As a designated NSR the Daly Head crew can now apply for special funding to continue the work they'd started. It was easy to see how extra funds could help the crew maintain the coast from the weight of human numbers. They can also extend their scope to include dune restoration and other protective works. That is one of the advantages of being a National Surfing Reserve.
Another advantage of NSRs is they provide a focal point for local communities to rally behind. When we got out of the surf the sun was almost setting over the water so we raced to Timperon's Woolshed for the party. As the shed came into view it was obvious the local community had turned up en masse. Like a mini music festival cars parked in fields, tents were erected and crew with fresh pants and parted hair were walking around with beers in hand and smiling faces.
Inside the shed the mood was positively festive. Local art hung above the shearing quarters, well lit under fluorescent lights while an extensive board collection was displayed along one whole wall. A huge projector screen was erected in a corner and South Australian ex-pat filmmaker, Tim Bonython, played archival footage stretching back to 1978.
"This is where it all began," yelled Tim over the microphone as a set hit the back of the Pondalowie reef peeling both left and right. Over the next hour we saw most of Yorkes waves pumping on old school scratchy film with surfers wearing Gath helmets, coloured panel wetties, and the odd spot of full deck Gorilla Grip. Tim narrated while groms laughed at the styles and antics, older crew exchanged silent nods at great rides and everyone pissed themselves at the wipeouts. As a party primer it was good gear. We grabbed more beer and headed into the bands.
The back half of the woolshed had a stage set up with local acts Headphone Piracy and Urrtekk. For the next few hours they pumped out loud psyche tunes to an eager crowd dancing and jumping on the sandy dancefloor. I hadn't noticed how many people had dreads till the bands came on.
Around midnight I realised that it had been at least an hour since I'd engaged in any surf talk so I went looking for the owner of the board collection. Wayne Gurney is a Marion Bay local and in possession of one of the best personal collections I've seen. People told me Wayne doesn't talk much but that wasn't my impression. I was either talking to the wrong fellow – which considering the state I was in was entirely possible – or Wayne saves his energy for the things he's passionate about. And collecting boards was clearly a passion. From the 1950s onwards he had a wide range of boards, most in exceptional condition. Pride of the fleet was a light blue Ben Aipa-inspired stinger that was shaped by none other than Simon Anderson.
After midnight the party kept pumping but I was all partied out. Too much surf, too much beer and a herbal interlude (with one of the organisers no less) saw me zig-zagging toward the tents, the music swirling and echoing in my head. Sleep came to me easily.
There were lots of bleary-eyed folk wandering about the next morning. I exchanged nods with crew I'd had rowdy conversations with just hours earlier. I'd forgotten their names, no doubt they'd forgotten mine. The smell of bacon and eggs wafted from the woolshed and we stuck our hands in our pockets and mosied over. Hangover relief came in two rashers and a runny egg.
I asked around for Professor Andrew Short. I'd meant to talk to him following the unveiling the previous afternoon but we'd raced off to go surfing. I'd then meant to chat to him at the party but I couldn't keep up a pretense of work while I had a beer in my hand. The effort was too much so I succumbed to the party. But now I was faced with the prospect of completely missing one of the people I'd come to Yorkes to talk to. We had another sausage sandwich and decided to wash the rest of the hangover off in the surf.
It's not exclusive to South Australia but it is true that dusty desert carparks make excellent meeting places. Not just for arranged meetings either, I've had many unexpected encounters while assessing the conditions of a remote wave. This was just the scenario when we reached the wave we planned to surf. Pulling up next to us was Tim Bonython and we exchanged stories from the night before. Then Roger, a long-time South Australian surfer and someone who pioneered many waves here and on the Eyre Peninsula, pulled up and entered the verbal fray. Finally, Andrew Short pulled up in a white Toyota Landcruiser. I had my quarry and there was no surf or beer to distract me.
Professor Short was checking the surf before leaving the Yorke Peninsula and heading west to the Eyre Peninsula. He had some work to attend to near Penong and we'll read about that in the coming days. Before he left, however, we sat down and had a chat about the NSR project:
Stu Nettle: To those who accuse NSRs of being merely symbolic what would you say in reply? Prof. Andrew Short: You should have been at Daly Head and seen 200 surfers turn up to a remote headland to dedicate the reserve, then 500 show up at the dedication party which went to dawn.
On a more serious note, Daly Head NSR, like all others, has drawn the local surfing community together like never before, given them a sense of pride on what their coast provides, pride in their rich and long surfing history, which is beautifully documented in the Daly Head NSR booklet, and a strong sense of stewardship to ensure its protection for future generations of surfers.
Some think NSRs are only concerned with the environment, how do NSRs incorporate the social and cultural aspects of a location? The coastal environment has provided the surf, however to become an NSR there must be an equally strong and long local surfing history and culture. This is what drives the dedication. At Daly, as elsewhere, this was also on exhibition at the Woolshed dedication party with a display of old surf footage, photos, boards and art work.
Are there plans to provide all NSRs with the legislative protection they have in NSW? We have had discussions with the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage and will be putting forward a joint submission from the NSR Board and Daly Head NSR committee. The aim is to obtain similar legislative recognition as in NSW
Are you noticing any differences between NSR dedications in city locations and those in rural locations? Each NSR is amazingly different, not just the surf but the local surfing community. Even within Sydney North Narrabeen was totally different to Manly-Freshwater. Each reflected the different surf, surfers and surrounding community. We do find their is more general community support in rural areas compared to city.
Postscript: The Daly Head NSR committee made $1000 after profit for the woolshed celebration. The first thing they plan to do is improve the wooden steps that lead down to Dusthole Beach. Also, there are plenty of shirts and books left over, contact Geoff Rogers at [email protected] if you're keen to get the book or [email protected] for the shirts.
Swellnet would like to thank Ed Satanek, Reid Smith, Formby Bay Environmental Action Group and everyone involved with the Daly Head NSR.