Kirra Point in all her splendid glory – worth protecting // Photo Luke Sorensen
The Gold Coast’s recent nomination and successful achievement to become the 8th-ever World Surfing Reserve had its unveiling recently, and despite the politicians lining up to be seen at this history-making occasion, some of them were clearly fighting against the surfing community all along as LiQUiFY reveals.
Photos // Luke Sorensen
Words // Trent Stapleton
It was meant to be an easy call, a no-brainer and something that our famous surf city could embrace as a whole, but the push to see our world-class surf breaks recognised and honoured with the status of a World Surfing Reserve (WSR) would become a political nightmare doused in personal views and political fear-mongering, culminating in bizarre attempts to derail what should have, for all intents and purposes, been nothing but one logical celebration and feather in our cap.
The nomination campaign was spearheaded by an impassioned Andrew McKinnon, himself flanked by an enormous groundswell of public support, local surfing luminaries and some of the most iconic Gold Coast personalities. It was a simple and straight forward deal – meet the criteria, promote the nomination and get the local and state government to give it endorsement … but as it had proven time and time again, the last part would crash into a few solid speedbumps along the way, speedbumps who would be trying their absolute best to be an immovable thorn in the arse towards the bid and prevent the WSR from coming into fruition.
Gold Coast WSR Chairman and surfing luminary Andrew McKinnon
Despite some at-times-hysterical criticism and opposition, the overwhelming public consensus and community support steam-rolled any negativity to eventually secure the vital local council endorsement required to be eligible for the title.
Prior to being elected to government, the Labor Party of Queensland, under now Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, had long been supporting the push as well as the broader Gold Coast surfing community. This commitment would only strengthen upon taking government – their support was consistent and unwavering.
One of those initially opposing the WSR push was the city’s own mayor, Tom Tate. His historically-documented disdain towards the surfing community failed to stray from expectation and from the onset of the conversation he emerged as one of the WSR’s biggest critics. Tate questioned everything from the legitimacy of the organsiation to the fanciful idea that the title of a WSR would lock up the beaches away from everyone but the surfers – this was despite there being absolutely no supportive evidence to suggest such hysteria had any validity.
Tate went so far as to produce a crude and entirely irrelevant Google Maps image of a post office building in Davenport California, home to the WSR governing body’s PO Box, in what could only be described as a bizarre attempt to discredit the Save The Waves organisation and the WSR bid – it had little effect.
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has long demonstrated a certain level of duplicity on major issues, often saying one thing one week and then ‘rejecting’ his own comments the next. It was reported that Tate supported a cruise terminal and hotel development on the beaches of North Kirra, provided it did not detract from his own cruise terminal proposal for the northern end. His comment that he “did not want to force a cruise terminal down ratepayers throats” is as farcical today as ever as he tries yet again to turn a Gold Coast beach into an international shipping dock and terminal, this time on The Spit, on top of the last remaining undeveloped coastal reserve we have left on the Gold Coast.
In the end our council had no more options to defer with all councillors voting yes to endorse the bid, the exception being the ‘against’ of Division 3 councillor Cameron Caldwell – the rest, as they say, is history.
Andy McKinnon and his huge team of community volunteers had the nomination in hand and upon lodgement it was understood that the Gold Coast was the early front-runner for WSR recognition, with only one surf destination around the world receiving the prestigious title per year.
A nervous wait ensued but in the end the Gold Coast was crowned as the 8th-ever World Surfing Reserve, a symbolic title that, whilst not rooted in any legislation, provides a significant anecdotal and symbolic protective sheath for the surf breaks included, giving the Gold Coast community as well as our visiting surfing friends a real sense of ownership, conservation status and recognition for our incredible world-class surfing assets.
The dedication took place atop the Queensland side of the Point Danger lookout on March 8th this year in front of the public gallery as well as multiple delegations from state and local governments, the WSR governing body Save The Waves, the Peruvian WSR delegates, surfing identities and media.
Indigenous welcome to country, performed ahead of the dedication ceremony, atop the Point Danger headland
It was a monumental occasion for all with none other than our own Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholemew presiding, and the Premier Of Queensland, Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk delivering a heart-warming speech of recognition and support towards the Gold Coast’s vast surfing identity and community, our history and our future.
The Premier took the stage to rousing applause, her popularity amongst the surfing community was evident. Palaszczuk wasted no time in aknowledging the hard work behind the nomination and WSR title as well as her government’s commitment to ensuring that surfing industry and community are well looked after on the Gold Coast under her leadership.
“I really do want to pay tribute to Andrew, and to Rabbit,” she told the packed assembly. “You came to me in opposition, we talked about it, I loved the idea. We were on board from day one and this is a real credit to you and your committee,” she said. The Premier called on the crowd to give thanks adding, “Without your drive and enthusiasm, none of us would be here today, so can we give them a big round of applause.”
The awaiting dignitaries and media were treated to a traditional indigenous dance display and a series of special guests from around the world and close to home. World Surf Reserve representative, Save The Waves’ Nik Strong-Cvetich, was proud of the Gold Coast’s commitment to securing the title.
He opened by saying, “It is truly an honour to be here with you guys today at the world’s newest World Surfing Reserve.” Perhaps the most subtle yet revealing joy seen throughout the ceremony was in the child-like grin and cheeky inner-grommet radiance gleaming out of 1978 world champion Wayne Bartholomew. Here was Wayne, hosting the event that would deliver the ultimate title to his childhood surf breaks – the world-wide recognition for his backyard and the place which holds his fondest memories. He was unable to hide his absolute elation.
Celebration and accomplishment were themes for the day despite the dreary weather and the ceremony wrapped up with the Peruvian delegation, led by 1965 ISA Big Wave World Surfing Champion Felipe Pomar, bestowing traditional miniature reed surfboards to the Premier and Mayor to honour the surf reserve dedication ceremony. The ancient reed surf craft arebelieved by many to be the oldest form of surfing in the history of mankind, with the local Huanchaco people in Peru believed to have been surfing through shorebreaks as early as 5,000 years ago. Huanchaco in Peru is also on the list of World Surfing Reserves.
The WSR title has come amid a sea of conflicting views, wedge politics and posturing from a select few. Perhaps the strongest opposition for once didn’t come from city hall but rather from the state member for Burleigh, Michal Hart.
Mr Hart embarked on a campaign of his own, warning that the WSR was only going to lock up the beaches and deliver exclusion rather than inclusion. His strong views came on the back of the support he had earlier tendered for the proposed megadevelopment and cruise terminal for the beaches of Northern Kirra.
Hart has arguably been a constant threat to the values of the general surfing community, demonstrating strong support for multiple cruise terminal proposals and developments that would potentially threaten surf breaks such as Kirra and South Stradbroke Island.
At the time of Bob Ell’s highly contentious proposal for an international shipping port and hotel development on the Bilinga and North Kirra foreshore, Michael Hart endorsed the idea telling News Limited, “This is the only serious plan I have seen; it has a business case … The cruise ship terminal fits in well at the southern end of the Gold Coast; (because it) has been ignored, any major piece of infrastructure at the southern end of the Gold Coast would be advantageous to the residents and business.”
The proposal was shouted down ealry in 2014 with a significant public rally of nearly 3500 people, organised by the Save Our Southern Beaches Alliance and the Save Kirra community. Subsequently, both the state LNP government of the day and the Labor party ruled out the concept – something, it could be argued, they could have been more vocal about before the mass community anger and uproar. It goes without saying, Gold Coasters are well-known to love their surf breaks and love their beaches undeveloped and unobstructed as they are, and are happy to let the politicians know this from time to time.
It wasn’t just a handshake between two people, it was a rare bridge between surfers and their government, and it symbolised the deal struck to recognise and protect our world-class surfing lifestyle from future threats. It’s also a timeless image that documents what a passionate community working together with their own elected representatives can achieve // Photo Luke Sorensen
Michael Hart’s apparent ire and disdain for Andy McKinnon’s World Surfing Resereve push came to a head one morning on public radio when the two clashed over the nomination. A fired up McKinnon took Hart to task on his remarks and the exchange exposed both men’s steadfast passion for their individual views. If anything, from a surfer’s perspective, it exposed the LNP state member’s propensity for favouring a long-term view of development before surf breaks.
Asked by Gold FM’s Richard Fowler if he was sold on the World Surfing Reserve initiative by McKinnon, Hart responded almost instantaneously with, “No, I‘m not.”
Hart added, “My point of view is, this will be an excuse for a lot of people to say ‘look, you can’t do that because this is a World Surf Reserve’ and it won’t matter what it is that is attempted to be done, this is another level of bureaucracy that will stop progress.”
McKinnon was quick to hold the Member for Burleigh to account, delivering a stinging retort.
“Well that’s just absolute rubbish, because unfortunately the member for Burleigh, Michael Hart, has not done his homework. He’s not read the list of conditions that were approved by the City Of Gold Coast (and) the councillors, what it’s all about.
“It won’t exclude anyone, it won’t be another layer of bureaucracy, so all that stuff that you keep going on about Michael, you’re out of date mate, you’re really behind the times.
“You actually bucketed me and sent letters out to everyone, rubbishing the hell out of this campaign so you’ve managed to engineer a negative campaign from the word go on this, so I’m not letting you off the hook on this Michael. Everyone is entitled to say what they believe in, but what you are saying is so inaccurate, it’s so false, it’s (the WSR) not going to exclude anyone, it’s not going to be another layer of bureaucracy, it’s recognition of what we’ve got here – the world’s best point breaks from Burleigh through to Snapper – why would you deny us on that?”
The Queensland Premier’s call for acknowledgement and thanks to those behind the WSR nomination campaign, particularly Andrew McKinnon, drew unanimous loud cheering and applause from the entire gathering, with the exception of the member for Burleigh, Michael Hart, who despite being a front-row VIP, appeared to defiantly cross his hands // Photo Luke Sorensen
Michael’s campaign to criticise the WSR campaign did, however, fall on deaf ears it seems. In the end the community backed it, the vast majority of councillors backed it and most importantly, the Labor government and relevent ministers had backed it and supported it from the beginning to end citing the critical importance of surf culture, surf lifestyle and surf industry to not only the Gold Coast, but to the whole of Queensland as well.
THE NORTH END
The historic day marked the end of one journey and perhaps the beginning of another, as the ceremony was also not without a certain sense of emptiness given the glaring absence of South Stradbroke from the WSR inclusions. In a nutshell, the mayor and select councillors were reportedly ready to oppose the bid vigourously if the famous beach break and surrounding areas were not removed from the nomination.
It is widely known that the Gold Coast mayor, Tom Tate, has demonstrated a significant amount of disdain publicly towards the Gold Coast surfing community and has been aggressively eying off a series of private commercial development proposals on Crown public land in the area of the Gold Coast Seaway and The Spit for some time. Including these surf breaks in the WSR title could have perceivably strengthened some of the protections in that area, at least in the realm of public opinion, if it went ahead. The threat of losing council endorsement (required for a successful WSR bid) was too much to risk against the opportunity for the remaining surf breaks from Burleigh south to be declared, so the north was reluctantly dropped from the bid – although McKinnon has always maintained that it was always meant to be included.
From Narrowneck north to The Other Side hosts a series of world-class beachbreaks that are a vital component of the Gold Coast surf amenity as a whole. TOS is regarded as one of the best beach breaks in the entire world and has been, until recently, under a long-term cloud of serious threat from consecutive cruise ship and mega-resort development proposals initiated by the mayor. Thankfully, at each turn, the community – led by the Save Our Spit and Save Our Broadwater research and community groups – has fought back the tenacious development and greed fuelled pushes.
For now though, the city is basking in the warm glow that is World Surfing Reserve status and the prestigious, albeit symbolic, protection and unity that it delivers. This incredible achievement is thanks largely to our city’s great surfing icon Andrew McKinnon and a massive team of incredible surf community champions and passionate volunteers //