Belongil Estuary

Posted on 3 Mar 2016

Thanks AirSwing Media for this stunning early morning footage.

The Belongil estuary is a fluid interchange between land and sea. No two days there are ever the same. The ocean tides surge forward, then recede. Sand hills build, then dissolve. Storms and king tides eat away the coastline before it is re-sculpted and replenished by wind, surf and the delicate ecosystem that evolves at this juncture.

In 1864 the sea penetrated the lowlands from Tallow beach to Belongil creek.

In 1898 severe erosion from a ‘big blow’ exposed much of the coffee rock at Belongil Beach. Yet in the 1920s Byron Bay was awash with sand, mountains of it blowing down Jonson street. It had to be shovelled out by hand.

Then in 1954, cyclonic weather broke up the ‘new’ jetty at Belongil beach, the creek backed up to flood the swamplands, and whitewater surged down main street where sand had once been excavated. A decade later there was further flooding after heavy rains and the only way to pass through town was by train, the track being the highest point.

Quite recently king tides and stormy weather exposed the remains of an old timber sailing ship on Belongil Beach just beyond Elements resort. It had lain buried and forgotten for over a century (see photo). Yet we hardly had time to photograph it before it sank back beneath mounting sands.

The first wooden surfboat, the ‘Miss Byron’, was built on the banks of the Belongil creek around 1925. Fishing boats and trawlers were also built there and launched at high tide. When tides would carry salt water as far as the road bridge, young local boys like my father, would learn to fish from its banks – whiting, flathead, mullet and prawns. If they lay still in the water, they could see prawn antennae waving gently in the sandy banks. They would grab them by hand, boil them in a billy on the beach and devour them before the day was done. More often prawns were used as bait, along with the pipis they would dig up with their toes along the tideline. Kids swam in the creek all year round, diving from the fallen logs and sleeping in the dunes after a long day fishing, returning home barefoot at early light the following morning. In winter Belongil creek was the best place for swimming, the tea tree stained water being far warmer than the cold ocean currents of a blustery July.

Colonial settlement itself has had little impact on the estuary’s rhythmic seasonal movements. Today it still boasts an abundance of flora and fauna and many acres of littoral rainforest which hosts echina, wallaby and koala. The little tern still breeds on the beach and plunges into the shallow creek waters for small fish.

This fragile ecosystem has worn the impact of the old frontier ethic rather well. Today, after almost 200 years of agricultural and industrial turnover in the Shire, Belongil creek and its estuary remains a tranquil place, abundant with wildlife, birdlife and marine biodiversity.

Writer and Photo Credit: Jan Hackett


Elements of Byron Belongil Estuary


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