Preston Beach Volunteer Rangers – Their story

To begin we need to step back in time, some 15 years in fact, prior to 1998.  This beach had a reputation for being a quiet beach for a spot of fishing, swimming or just a lazy day out to bask in the sun, to enjoy a picnic or barbie and for some an occasional overnighter.  Then around this time we began to notice a change, subtle at first but one that soon became more obvious.  We were seeing an increase in traffic on the beach, more 4WDs, more motor bikes and more quads.  With this increase in vehicles came the insidious downsides.  Where previously people had tended to respect this beach, and it could be said, we tended to self govern what we had because we genuinely cared and looking back on those days I suspect we had already implemented a form of voluntary ranging without realising it. Many of the new breed of beach users sadly lacked this respect and felt they had the right to do whatever they liked.  4wds, motor bikes and quads believed they had the right to not only use the beach but our fragile sand dunes were their domain as well. Camping in the dunes became more prevalent and along with this came more litter, you know the logic …….out of sight….who cares.  Light a fire in the middle of summer…….no worries ……make it a big bonfire. What we were witnessing was truly disturbing. What we didn’t know at this early stage was that the City of Mandurah had in fact cracked down on what they considered was ‘unacceptable’ behaviour on their beaches. Restricted areas were introduced, bans put on the use of motor bikes and quad bikes, no camping etc, and around this time they introduced volunteer rangers in certain areas.  Fair to say it soon became obvious to those impacted the area further south i.e. the beach in the Shire of Waroona had no such stringent rules so “let’s head south” became the catch cry……and they did in droves.

Initially the local residents banded together, produced a do’s and dont’s leaflet which we used to hand out to everyone taking a vehicle onto the beach.  It was a start but we realised we had to do more and as a result the idea of forming a volunteer ranger group was proposed. Subsequently at the December 1999 Waroona council meeting it was decided that we would trial a Volunteer Ranger Group at Preston Beach for a period of 12 months. In regards to this council decision I would have to be honest and say some of the councillors of the day had grave concerns about this proposal but to their credit they showed courage in supporting the concept albeit for a 12 month trial period. The Council further agreed to purchase a small 4wd vehicle for the Rangers use, shirts and cap with logo and in addition provide a basic training under the guidance of our Shire Ranger.  The main aim of the group would be to educate beach users to understand the need to protect and respect the beautiful but fragile coast we have. Today it is with much pride that I can stand here and tell you this has been a wonderful success due in no small part to the dedication and commitment of our hard working volunteers over the past ten years. At the same time I must acknowledge the strong support given to the rangers by the Shire and the Waroona Police.

It would be fair to say that when the Volunteer Rangers first commenced their duties there were many who viewed their presence with suspicion, today that attitude has been replaced with one of admiration and respect by the majority of those using the beach with many telling us they feel a lot more comfortable seeing a strong visual ranger presence. As a matter of interest, all of our volunteers are offered an opportunity to undertake Senior First Aid.  I would like to share a little story…..a few years ago the Rangers were doing a late afternoon patrol on a quiet Saturday when they came across some quad bike tracks leading into the dunes and they decided to follow these in the hope of catching the rider. What they found was an upturned bike ….. no rider but footprints leading to the beach……..they soon found him wallowing in the surf, unable to get out due possibly to the fact he was wearing a full set of leathers and was quite inebriated. There is no doubt this lad would have drowned if not for the efforts of the rangers who managed to get him out of the surf.

Today the role of our rangers is virtually the same as it was on inception, with one slight change. The main role is still one of Education, however, now our Volunteers can assist in ensuring those doing the wrong thing will receive an infringement notice.

We consider our rules pertaining to the beach to be simple but effective, these include:

  • Staying out of the sand dunes,
  • No Camping, No fires, no littering.
  • All vehicles on the beach must be registered, on-road licensed drivers only.
  • No two wheeled motor bikes, quad bikes or ATV’s allowed.
  • No speeding, currently we have a 20 km speed limit in place ……..we may look at this limit at a later stage, the problem being with speed limits is of course the ability, or more appropriately the inability, to enforce them.
  • We also request drivers of 4WDs to lower their tyre pressure.

One thing we do not allow is for our Rangers to become tow truck drivers …….for obvious reasons with the main one being liability.

So how do we get the message across to beach users what rules apply to our beach?

Effective signage to our access tracks……in our case we have only 2 access tracks for vehicles.

Information leaflets.

Ranger engagement with beach users.

In addition to this we hold an annual meeting with participants, being the Volunteer Rangers, Shire ranger, D.E.C. rangers, Waroona Police, Water Police, Fisheries, Customs, local Fire Brigade and Shire representatives. This meeting is generally held just prior to the busy Xmas period and will look at what has occurred during the year and will look at what strategies we might want to put in place for the coming holiday season. The meeting is one of co-operation across the various agencies, for example the Fire Brigade can assist the D.E.C. by undertaking regular training runs through the camping ground in the Yalgorup National Park.  The Police might arrange to do some beach patrols or assist the Volunteers by being available to work with them in checking vehicles speeding on the beach. The list goes on and you would be surprised what can be achieved with this spirit of co-operation ……….. bottom line is everyone wins.

Basically that is where we are at this time and we would acknowledge that although our Volunteer Ranger group has now been in existence for some ten years it is still very much a work in progress and we must continue to look at how we can improve what we are doing.  The Volunteer Rangers are now equipped with an ‘as new’ 4WD vehicle, camera, mobile phone and radio.  In addition we now have a top of the range All Terrain Vehicle to provide a fast response, especially if we need to get into the dunes. Funding for these vehicles is provided by the Footprints Resort at Preston Beach who contribute the sum of $10,000 per year towards the Volunteer Ranger Service.

The main challenge facing us at the present time is one that I touched on earlier, that being able to control speeding on the beach. For some reason there is a mentality amongst some 4WD enthusiasts that dictates ‘thou shall speed on a beach’……..not easy to stop but we take the line nothing is impossible.

Before I conclude I would take this opportunity to challenge you all to please consider the need for uniformity of rules pertaining to beach use on our coastline.  This does not have to be a task of mammoth proportions ………commonsense and simplicity being the key factors ………backed up by one important ingredient, that being DEDICATION. If we are not prepared to make the hard yards and make the tough decisions for the future someone will make them for us and your input may then be minimal and the outcome unsavoury.

Further I am sure all here today would agree that we must do more to protect the fragile dunes that we have on our coastline. Not all dune intrusions are from the beach as you would be aware and controlling these intrusions can be difficult. My contention is there needs to be a major disincentive for those that show complete disregard for  fragile environments such as our sand dunes and that should be a serious fine ……..current fines are a joke and are no deterrent whatsoever. The State Govt. should take a hard line in this regard.

In conclusion, I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to give this presentation.  For me personally, I have a passion for protecting our beaches and if I appear to lack tolerance towards those who choose to show disrespect for our environment then I make no apologies.

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