When Kelly thinks about what is being done in his name and looks in the mirror, does he still see an environmentalist looking back at him?
(Editor’s note: Last month, the WSL announced a billion-dollar development on 510-hectares, or 1200 acres, of “highly constrained land” near the Queensland beach town of Coolum. The proposal includes a Surf Ranch wrapped in a 20,000-person stadium, a six-star eco-resort, restaurants, bars, a retail village and “an environmental education centre based on the site’s wetlands and nearby waterways.” The WSL’s Andrew Stark said the local surfing community was “ecstatic and excited.” Over the course of the next week, the writer Steve “Longtom” Shearer will investigate these claims as well as the mood on the ground.)
I got into Coolum, proposed site of a massive Surf Ranch development last night. It’s not foreign territory.
I lived up the road for a few years, hustling up grub stakes in between overseas trips. I drove around looking for the old bottle-shop I worked at. Gone. Under the bulldozer’s plough. The town of Coolum, compared to how I remember it from twenty years ago, has been gussied up, impeccably landscaped, with a Stepford Wives feel about it.
For those unfamiliar with the area it’s a sub-tropical surf town, nestled against a series of headlands that are mostly crap but have golden moments and miles and miles of serviceable beachbreak in either direction.
To the south, the coastline breaks at the Maroochy River. To the north, the beachbreaks end at the vast headland complex with world-class pointbreaks of Noosa Heads. It has flat spells but no-one is angsting about being a surfer. A couple of hundred days per year of easy, warm water go-outs are on offer.
Like most of coastal Australia it’s upgraded to Surf Cafe living, which is an actual book you can buy. The carpark outside my budget accomodation, chosen for it’s proximity to the best beachbreak in town is full of new four-wheel-drives.
Tradies and contractors are killing it. You’ll get change from nine hundred grand for a house and land just off the beach, but not much. One-point-nine million will get you a ten-bed ranch on acreage with deep-water access to the river abutting the wavepool land.
I surf that beachie at dawn, trying to get a read on the temperature of the local surfing populace on the KSWC proposal. Then head for a second surf down the road to a beachie filled with punchy wedges. Enthusiasts were thin on the ground.
So, what do you think of the Kelly pool proposed for Coolum?
Salt and pepper beard, late-forties on Lost Rocket: Shrugs shoulders. “Not much, it’s already so crowded. That’ll just bring more people here. They won’t get their fill there.”
Early-thirties shredder on stubby four-fin: “It’s fucken BS, we won’t get to surf it. Taxpayers subsidising the privileged.”
Early twenties on a twinny: “Sick if we got to surf it. But how much is it going to cost and where do they get the water from? Already too much development around here.”
Mid-forties on a thruster: “I’m suss on it eh. Taxpayer funded and locals will have to pay big time to play.”
By mid-morning I’d racked up a small cricket score of super fun waves; probably the best I’d had for a month. It was crowded, few grumbles in the carpark but the vibe in the water was sound. Free people enjoying nature’s gifts and all that. I showered off next to a sign: Please help us conserve water. Every drop is precious.
I had to drive to Noosa, twenty kilometres away, to find a true believer. On the way I drove around looking for the beach shacks I used to live in. Gone. Like the bottle-shop, they’d been bulldozed.
My existence here had been erased from history. In their place were architect-designed homes, tacky mansions; the spoils of wealth. A secret little beach track down to a reliable rip bowl left was the only piece of archaeological evidence of previous habitation I could find.
The two kids in the Rip Curl shop were non-plussed on the pool. Bring crowds, too expensive etc.
The manager, former pro longboarder Dane Wilson, thought: awesome. His take was it was as an amazing opportunity for the local kids to step up to the elite level and an interesting posit that the price of Mentawai travel might come down because people might come to the pool instead and the decreased demand for Indo might put downward pressure on prices.
Also, of course, a golden opportunity for surf retail inside the complex.
Coolum surf shop owner Genevieve Kendall was more ambivalent.
Her first response to the pool was “where will the water come from?” She described the mood at the initial community “consultation” meeting* with Andrew Stark as “frothing” but that as time had passed the vibe had become more subdued.
How much will it cost and how often will I be able to access it were unanswered questions.
A little strange, when they propose turning soil next year.
“I want my kids to have jobs in the area and the Sunshine coast does need jobs,” she said. “I’m broadly for it, I think a wavepool is a good fit for the area but there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.”
Husband Chris was concerned about the development outpacing infrastructure and the effect that would have on the lifestyle of the area.
Glancing left at the site which is bordered by the road the presence of water on the ground, despite the drought, is startling. Fifteen hundred residential lots, commercial, retail, hotels plus the wavepool on some of the lowest lying floodplain in south-east Queensland. What, as they say, could go wrong?
She mentioned the traffic and how gnarly it was around the site. I road-tested the gnarl and can confirm. Trying to enter the roundabout where Sunshine Motorway and Coolum-Yandina road converge was as fucking frightening as a three-am tweaker.
Drive-time from the airport is fourteen-minutes at a hundred k’s heading due north up the Sunshine Motorway. Glancing left at the site which is bordered by the road the presence of water on the ground, despite the drought, is startling. Fifteen hundred residential lots, commercial, retail, hotels plus the wavepool on some of the lowest lying floodplain in south-east Queensland.
What, as they say, could go wrong?
The developer’s eye eludes me. I see trees and bush. Birds, insects, frogs. I feel sad that surfers will be the ones behind the bull-dozers, erasing this wildlife, this bush from history. From what I can see though, although there is ambivalence, distrust and even hostility to the Coolum wave pool development, that is unlikely to stop the bulldozers.
I put boots on the ground at the site. I know this country very well. It’s in my blood. My people come from the Queensland cane swamps. They are Danes, Swedes, Sicilians.
They would understand the necessity of bulldozing the bush to make way for jobs. But I do not. The developer’s eye eludes me. I see trees and bush. Birds, insects, frogs. I feel sad that surfers will be the ones behind the bull-dozers, erasing this wildlife, this bush from history.
From what I can see though, although there is ambivalence, distrust and even hostility to the Coolum wave pool development, that is unlikely to stop the bulldozers.
The greenwashing on the project will be immense. Next level.
But I wonder, when Kelly thinks about what is being done in his name and looks in the mirror, does he still see an environmentalist looking back at him?
Next: Australia’s Chinatown?
*Described by upcoming state government election candidate Maria Suarez as “more of a sales pitch than true consultation”.