G’day from the northern suburbs of Wollongong,
Sometimes it takes a near-death experience to crystallise our priorities: between what we value and what we don’t; between life and death even; in short, between what’s important and what’s not. When a group of business owners in the northern Illawarra put profits over community safety, they were taught a hard lesson.
Lawrence Hargrave Drive
Lawrence Hargrave Drive (named after a great aviation pioneer) is one of the most arresting scenic drives anywhere in the world. Some say it’s Australia’s Amalfi Coast but the comparison is an odious one. As the Illawarra coast tapers to almost nothing, the road clings tenaciously to the cliff face like a limpet.
rock falls and embankment slips
For many decades, the road was a potentially dangerous place. There were many rock falls and embankment slips, especially after heavy rain. In 2003, the road was closed when a big rock fall occurred. After many such temporary closures, the state government resolved to solve the problem by engineering a big bridge over the sea. (This was after considering a plethora of proposals, some of which were ridiculous.)
Now, the government’s decision meant an indefinite closure of the road between Clifton and the small village of Coalcliff. There were some small business holders in Stanwell Park who worried about the viability of their enterprises. (They had good reason to worry, as the road closure would mean all motorists would have to travel around via Helensburgh – up the escarpment and down again on the other end.)
Some of these small business holders began to agitate to halt the planned bridge. They formed a little committee called the Coast Road Action Coalition, and held a rally – placards and all – on the road itself, in a bid to raise some publicity for their cause.
It was during one of these rallies that a small, but potentially deadly, rock fall occurred on the road itself. That near-death experience quickly galvanised the protestors. The rock fall poignantly demonstrated the risks posed to motorists on Lawrence Hargrave Drive every day. Consequently, the group immediately called off their protest and withdrew their demands. The bridge went ahead.
the Sea Cliff Bridge
Today, the Sea Cliff Bridge (named by a school girl called Makenzie Russell following a local competition) is a shining symbol of engineering achievement. Built over the rock ledges on the jagged coastline, the 456 metre bridge has been open to traffic for nearly 15 years. These days, Lawrence Hargrave Drive is usually free of dangerous rock falls. In fact, the bridge itself is a tourist attraction, part of the Grand Pacific Drive.
Today, the drive north or south is spectacular and safe. The near-death experience of the protestors stands as a salient lesson in the preference of safety over commerce.
Cheerio from the scintillating Illawarra coast