Massive crowds risk lives at Venus Bay
LIVES are at risk at Venus Bay.
Surf life savers are struggling to deal with thousands of people on beaches and overcrowded car parks are hindering emergency services.
The influx of visitors over summer also poses a fire risk with just one road in and out of town, with “certain death and carnage waiting to happen”, Venus Bay Community Centre manager Alyson Skinner said.
Venus Bay is among the five most dangerous beaches in Victoria and hosts masses of pipi harvesters, as well as beach-goers.
South Gippsland Shire Council has been urged to help increase the number of paid lifeguards on the beach and lobby for adequate infrastructure.
Venus Bay Surf Life Saving Club president Ken Schell urged council to help when he spoke at last Wednesday’s public presentation session.
“I just feel it is only a matter of time before we have a major rescue,” he said.
Mayor Cr Jim Fawcett said managing overcrowding at Venus Bay was on council’s list of “tough decisions” for this year.
“I can’t give you much comfort tonight but I suspect we will be revisiting this,” he said.
“We are constrained for funds as much as we have ever been.”
Mr Schell urged council to provide three paid lifeguards at beach one during the peak period to manage emergencies. Usually two lifeguards are there but only one can enter the water while the other remains on the beach.
In that case, they must call on volunteer life savers. Sometimes emergencies can be at beach five – up to five kilometres away.
Mr Schell requested lifeguards at beach five during peak periods as that beach’s popularity is growing, as well as multi-lingual signs warning of beach dangers.
“The challenge for us is to patrol the hundred metres we do on the beach but also service the rest of the beach,” Mr Schell said.
On Christmas Day 2013, Mr Schell had trouble accessing beaches one and four due to cars parking on either side of the road.
Crowds combined with high tide reduce the beach space available to life savers in a hurry to travel from beach one to an emergency further down the coast.
The calls for action were backed by Ms Skinner. She also addressed council about the “enormous number of people” visiting Venus Bay, many of them day trippers coming to collect pipis.
She called for more toilets to meet demand and said soiled nappies were being tossed into the dunes.
“People are bringing their own toilet paper and going in the dunes, so that is becoming a health issue,” Ms Skinner said.
The burgeoning crowd also posed a fire risk.
“If there was a fire in Venus Bay on one of the high use days, more than likely the road access point would be blocked in some way because of confusion,” Ms Skinner said.
“Certain death and carnage is waiting to happen and none of us want to see that.
“It’s moved on from being a pipis issue to being safety and infrastructure problems in Venus Bay. I think all the key stakeholders should work together.”
Ms Skinner suggested closing beaches once a certain number of visitors arrive, as happens at Wilsons Promontory, and maybe removing bins.
Ms Skinner spoke about the free summer beach bus service the community centre ran around town from December 27, 2013 to January 12, 2014, in a bid to reduce congestion at car parks.
She said the result was an improvement on the trial bus service that ran the previous summer, with 1597 passengers in 2013-14 compared to 220 in 2012-13.
The centre hired a 12 seat bus from the Koonwarra Village School and appointed a roster of volunteer drivers.
The service cost $6065 including in-kind labour from volunteer drivers.
The surf club now provides 2000 patrol hours a year from December to Easter Monday and boasts 400 members.
Members’ ages range from 14 to 50, and 130 children take part in the Nippers program, learning surf skills.
Since the club was established in 1961, Mr Schell said life savers had performed more than 1000 rescues and conducted 100,000 patrol hours.
Without large businesses willing to provide sponsorship, the club must undertake fundraising to help meet the $90,000 minimum cost of running the club each year.
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