Pressure grows for lifeguards

PRESSURE is mounting on Shoalhaven City Council to expand its summer lifeguard services in the wake of the second drowning at Burrill Beach in just over a month.

And Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash has responded by moving to start discussions with caravan and tourist park operators about options for lifeguards at previously unpatrolled beaches.

Cr Gash said she planned to submit a mayoral minute to the next Shoalhaven City Council meeting calling for discussions with park operators about lifeguard services, admitting “It is a real issue.”

But with so many beaches in the area she asked, “Where do you start and where do you stop?”

Council has been under pressure for years to provide lifeguards at dangerous beaches, particularly the ones where it has its Holiday Haven tourist parks and makes money from tourists visiting the area.

Tourist park operators have previously offered to subsidise lifeguard services on beaches near their parks, while others have spoken of a bed tax of $1 per visitor per week to fund lifeguards.

However the moves have previously been rejected by council, arguing it would encourage people to swim at dangerous beaches.

However in the wake of the death of British man Andrew Priestley on January 10, Dolphin Point Tourist Park manager Fiona Cotterell renewed calls for lifeguards at the beach.

“Eventually we’ll have to get beach patrols down here,” she said.

“There’s such a bad rip out front where the ocean enters the lake, we seem to lose someone each summer.”

She said the beach was particularly dangerous for people from overseas who did not understand Australian conditions.

Burrill Lake Holiday Haven Tourist Park manager Kirrily Storey said the real issue was people needed to heed the warning signs around the beach advising of the dangerous conditions and presence of rips.

“There’s no way you can patrol every beach,” she said.

Ms Storey ran to the beach during the rescue and said it was “horrific”. 

“It was just one of those freak accidents,” she said. “He really did the right thing by swimming where there were other people. It was not a particularly rough day.

“They were just having fun in the surf. The tide was going out and there was a sandbank with waves crashing in. It is quite easy to slip off the sandbank.”

Surf Life Saving Australia gives Burrill Beach a danger rating of seven out of 10, and states it is “highly hazardous”.

The organisation says the beach has rips every 300 metres and they are linked by “an often deep trough”, which is an additional danger.

It says the beaches are nonetheless popular in summer.

Police are preparing a report for the coroner, with investigations continuing into the possibility Mr Priestley suffered a heart attack rather than drowning.

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