G’day from the Illawarra in New South Wales, Australia,
The Illawarra has some of the best beaches in Australia. There’s a story with enduring currency hereabouts that sand from some of these beaches was sold to the Americans and shipped to Hawaii. So, is it true?
All Australians know the legendary stories of Les Darcy and Phar Lap; both from the first half of the 20th century.
Les Darcy was a champion boxer from the Hunter Valley who tried his hand in America. When he died there of Septicaemia at the age of 21, a lot of his compatriots looked for someone to blame. Phar Lap was a champion race horse during the terrible days of the Great Depression; a symbol of success in a dire landscape of failure. When the great stayer was taken hopefully to America, he died of a mysterious illness. It was a death that jolted the nation, even if many weren’t avid racegoers, and many Australians wanted someone to blame.
Fairy Meadow is a suburb of Wollongong in Australia, boasting one of the Illawarra’s wonderful ocean beaches. Neither Les Darcy nor Phar Lap came from here but there’s a common story at play here.
Australian sand to Hawaii?
There are no sand hills of any magnitude behind Fairy Meadow beach. Local lore has it that from beaches here in the 1950s and 1960s, sand was shipped to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, bought and sold for the benefit of American holidaymakers. The claim fitted the anti-US narrative and gained an indelible currency in the local community.
Adjacent Corrimal Beach has the tallest sand hill in this stretch of coast (30 m) but was purportedly once a lot larger; the missing sand supposedly shipped across the Pacific. Port Kembla locals say the same. Today, when local Bushcare volunteers make concerted efforts to remove Bitou Bush and lantana, some have a hunch that these introduced weeds came with the removal of the sand dunes – presumably planted there for dune stabilisation.
It all seems fairly plausible. Firstly, it taps into the legend and reinforces the anti-American story. For a nation nursing deep resentment – real or imagined – stories like this bolster the narrative. The trouble is, it wasn’t true.
Yes, some Australian sand was shipped to some places in Hawaii, but most was apparently used for construction and golf courses. There are no traces of silicate sand on Waikiki Beach and there are no council records of the transactions from the Illawarra. What’s more, there are no media reports of such removal. The beaches hereabouts are still beautiful places but the facts are not always louder than the fiction. There might be many reasons to distrust America, but the sand hill isn’t one of them.
The immediate hinterland from Fairy Meadow beach is all public land, with vast sporting fields, a surf club and a seaside caravan park. This includes an area known as Puckey’s Estate. Courtenay Puckey was a slightly eccentric pharmacist who owned a portion of this land from 1905. Every working day, Mr. Puckey would leave “Seafields”, row his dinghy across Fairy Lagoon, dress for the working day, and walk to Crown Street, where his business was called Puckey’s Chemist Shop. On non-working days, Puckey would experiment with salt extraction from the sand. Local lore says that Puckey bequeathed the land to the state, never to be developed. But that wasn’t true either. Much of what is now known as Puckey’s Estate was in fact owned by a Mr. Collaery and we have another body to thank.
This area of 40 odd hectares was in fact resumed by the City of Greater Wollongong Council in the early 1950s, some years after Puckey’s death and before Mrs Puckey – to whom the land had been left – had died. The decision represents a wonderful piece of strategic planning by the council, protecting a wetland from greedy developers.
Today, the foreshore is a protected wetland with some she-oak forest, enjoyed by joggers, walkers, cyclists, bird watchers (120 species of birds), animals (and drummers!).
Developers have long set their sights on Puckey’s Estate but the council deserve praise for their foresight in 1953.
So, the parochial distrust of Americans doesn’t extend to the sand hills and just because a park has a man’s name attached in perpetuity doesn’t necessarily mean we should thank him. In both cases, it’s a good idea to verify the story before believing it.
Cheerio from the Illawarra
Other photos from hereabouts