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Community actions taken to Save Lake Illawarra:

"The Big Dig",


"Save Our Lake Rally",


"Lake Debate".



THE BIG DIG" - History in the making


On the 16th November 2002, over 1000 people gathered at the entrance to Lake Illawarra, armed  with their buckets and spades, to let the ocean in, to SAVE OUR LAKE.


The Lake Illawarra Authority had spent five million dollars ($5,000,000), to construct a southern break wall, to keep the ailing Lake Illawarra entrance permanently open. The new entrance blocked up within 3 months. After some additional “bandage” work the Lake was open, but soon closed again. It was obvious the southern wall alone could not keep the lake open.

Lake Illawarra had been completely closed to the Ocean since August 2002 and was drying-up by evaporation during the drought.

  Sign erected by LIA in 2001, informing the viewer

   that the entrance work has been finished.                                       Lake Illawarra, November 2002.                                                Sign at the Lake Illawarra.

Lake levels had dropped by one meter, killing eighty percent of the sea grass beds, preventing prawns from running out to the ocean, fish were trapped inside the lake and spawning fish could not enter. The water quality was deteriorating. The state of the lake was costing local businesses and the tourist industry hundreds of thousands of dollars and severely hampered local recreational use for fishing, prawning and swimming.

Regardless of public pleas, to at least dredge the entrance to Lake Illawarra and keep it open, the Lake Illawarra Authority refused to commit to any action, stating that it was their policy to open the entrance only, when the lake was in flood.

                  Public starting to dig a channel.                                   Adults and children digging.                                     The channel starting to take shape.

On the 16th November 2002 residents took matters into their own hands. Over one thousand people gathered at the entrance to Lake Illawarra with their buckets and spades to let the ocean in, to SAVE OUR LAKE. The media, councillors and politicians looked on with amazement as the community and local small business moved hundreds of tons of sand to let ocean water into Lake Illawarra.

This was the first time in the history of Lake Illawarra that the Entrance had been opened by hand, to let the water in to SAVE OUR LAKE. Unfortunately, the efforts of “The Big Dig” eventually failed as sand filled in the entrance and the Lake was closed again. The safe swimming area became polluted again.


Public pressure forced the Lake Illawarra Authority to open the lake once more but their half-hearted effort was no match for the drought and the Lake entrance was blocked again soon. Tourists who came to the Illawarra area at Christmas found the Lake closed and dying so they moved further south for their holidays. Many are lost to the area and will possibly never come back to the Illawarra.

“The Big Dig” inspired “The Lake Rally”, a public protest against the lack of action by The Lake Illawarra Authority to save the Lake Environment for local businesses, tourist industry and recreational use.


                                         Lake Illawarra entrance on 16th November 2002.                                                         The next morning, 17th November 2002.

SAVE OUR LAKE RALLY - A cry for help

On the 16th February 2003 the Save Lake Illawarra Action Group, local small businesses and the community of Lake Illawarra held a march across Windang Bridge to the "Save Our Lake Rally” at Reddall Reserve, Lake Illawarra.

Lake Illawarra was in an appalling condition after the Lake Illawarra Authority had allowed the entrance to stay closed so long that lake levels dropped by one meter through evaporation, killing eighty percent of the only pristine sea grass beds in NSW.


Crossing Windang Bridge, 16th February 2003          Viewing platform, 14th December 2002                     Windang Boatshed during Christmas Season,

                                                                                                                                                                                                   19th December 2002.

The lake became polluted, the tourist industry was losing thousands of dollars a day and tourists, disappointed with the conditions, were saying they would not be back.

The consensus at a public meeting of the “Save Lake Illawarra Action Group” was that the only way to stop the entrance closing year after year was to construct a northern break wall. This proposal of a two wall entrance to stop sand entering the mouth of Lake Illawarra and help with flushing the lake has been around for over twenty years.

Since The Lake Illawarra Authority said that there was not enough money for such a project and that the drought was to blame for the failure of the newly constructed southern wall by itself, Save Lake Illawarra Action Group decided to call for another public appearance after the great success of the Big Dig.



NSW state election was to be held this year. No better time to ask the State Labor Government to support a permanent opening to Lake Illawarra. A Rally was organised to march over Windang Bridge to Reddall Parade, where speakers addressed the public. The “ Lake Rally ” was attended by well over two thousand people expressing their support for the permanent entrance to Lake Illawarra and subsequently a northern wall.










                                                      The Rally at the Reddall Reserve Picnic Area, 16th February 2003.



Guest speakers at the rally were:

Matt Brown MP (Kiama), Marianne Saliba MP (Illawarra), Noreen Hay MP ( Wollongong ) , Charlie Mifsud (Independent candidate), Margaret Johanson (Greens candidate) and Danielle Jones (Liberal candidate).

Each of the guest speakers supported a permanent entrance to Lake Illawarra the only exception being the greens candidate who was booed from the stage.

The Labor government showed its support by granting two million dollars over the next two years providing Shellharbour and Wollongong councils provided one million dollars each inside a set time perimeter. The Labor government also formed “The Independent Review Panel Lake Illawarra Entrance” chaired by Professor Bruce Thom.

The resulting “Thom’s report” was completed by 30 April 2003 and presented to the Minister Hon. Craig Knowles MP Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources.

Please read the “Professor Bruce Thom report” for their recommendations to the Government.  Thom's report <part 1><2><3><4>


THE LAKE DEBATE -   Stand and Deliver

On the 16th February 2003 the Save Lake Illawarra Action Group, local small businesses and the community of Lake Illawarra held a march across Windang Bridge to “The Save Our Lake Rally” at Reddall Reserve Lake Illawarra.

At this rally the State Labor Government representative promised two million dollars for the northern wall project with the provision that Wollongong and Shellharbour council matched the offer inside a set time perimeter.

The two councils of the day, Wollongong and Shellharbour, showed reluctance to commit to their share of the nortern breakwall project. The Save Lake Illawarra Action Group saw the opportunity (with the council election being contested by so many Mayoral candidates) to ask them to put their case for a permanent entrance to Lake Illawarra at the Lake Debate.


The Lake Debate was held at Windang Bowling Club on 8th April 2003.

The Mayoral candidates for Shellharbour were:
Standing Mayor Joan Vinton, David Hamilton (ALP), John Cowen, Jeff Bailey and Stirling Scard.


The Mayoral candidates for Wollongong were:
Standing Mayor Alex Darling, Bob Proudfoot (ALP), David Moles and Nick Manias.


All the Mayoral candidates speaking at The Lake Debate, supported the northern Break Wall project and promised that if elected, would commit their council to their one million dollar share. The only candidate that did not support the entrance works was the Greens candidate Medith.

Update on Lake Debate more than two years on


















                                   Lake Illawarra Entrance with almost closed channel, April 2005.

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