BBPS: The Story
Regular surfers at Bells over the years have always regarded the Easter contest as an intrusion rather than an asset. The usual pattern was for surfers to gripe amongst themselves in the weeks leading up to Easter, talk about schemes to circumvent the obstacles that stood between them and the waves during the contest, and ultimately do nothing about it but have a whinge and wait for it to finish.
In the early days, and up until the mid eighties, the Bells circus would cause a couple of weeks of disruption. It wasn’t too bad in those days, the contest surfers would interact with the locals, and the Bells contest was much more of a Torquay community event. Then the contest started growing. A boom gate was installed. Spectators got charged admittance. Temporary amenities were constructed to house media crews. Sponsors tents sprang up. The Bells contest took on a velvet rope mentality. The surfers were fenced off from the public and Bells was no longer a community event. What was worse, the contest was taking longer and longer to set up and strip down. Today we are at the point where the Bells contest disrupts the peaceable enjoyment of recreational surfers for 70 days a year.
A group of Bells regulars saw a political solution to the problem.
The Surf Coast Shire (SCS) events policy states that the Bells Beach Advisory Committee (BBAC) are the managers of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve (BBSRR) for the purpose of contest events. When positions opened up on the BBAC about three years ago some motivated Bells regulars applied to join, hoping to be able to influence planning of contest events in favor of recreational surfers.
The original aim of these ‘non-commercial stakeholders’ was to minimise the impact of surfing contests on recreational users but there were other things going on at Bells that weren’t right. Bells was (and still is) being mismanaged and mistreated. These guys saw the BBAC as an exciting opportunity to do something about the following problems:
- The intrusion of commercial interests into the Bells reserve, namely during the Easter contest period.
- The unchecked and steadily growing numbers of tourist buses using the reserve
- The lack of housekeeping in the reserve, including rubbish, septic soil conditions and failure of infrastructure
- The need to stabilise the cliffs and forestall the effects of erosion
- The Surf Coast Shire’s inability to understand the significance of the Bells reserve to the wider surfing community
Things that seem too good to be true usually are. The community members of the BBAC became aware that they were being used in the process to tick the box marked ‘community consultation’.
Hopes of improving recreational surfer’s access to Bells over Easter evaporated when it became clear that the Shire had no intention of letting anyone upset the commercial interests that benefit from the contest. The access for tourist coaches was to be improved at the expense of other visitors rather than make an attempt to regulate their numbers. Problems with infrastructure such as toilets and drainage have been brought to the attention of the Surf Coast Shire only to be ignored.
Further disillusionment resulted from the development of the draft Coastal Management Plan (CMP). The CMP is a vision of how the Surf Coast Shire wants Bells to develop into the future. It contains much that is either irrelevant or destructive to the true spirit and integrity of the Bells reserve.
After much horse trading, the BBAC conditionally accepted the draft CMP. The conditions attached were that the BBAC would have greater input into the events calender, and that the BBAC would be involved as part of the implementation process when the CMP was rolled out.
They needn’t have bothered. Shortly after signing off, the BBAC was sacked. One year before their term was due to expire. The people represented by the non-commercial section of the BBAC were to be deprived of their voices and would have no further input into the management of the Bells Beach Surfing Recreation Reserve. No explanation. No response to inquiries.
So he we are.
The Bells Beach Preservation Society has been formed by those non commercial members of the BBAC. We know there are problems at Bells that won’t be solved by the council’s current way of thinking, and that the council’s vision for the future is anathema to the regular surfers and casual drive in visitors that come to enjoy what Bells already has to offer.
The Bells Beach Preservation Society knows there is a huge amount of people for whom Bells is a sacred place. We are here to provide a focal point and a voice for all of those people.