Defence Department reveals unexploded ordnance to blame for closures at Beecroft Peninsula

The Department of Defence has revealed the discovery of unexploded ordnance has resulted in access being limited to a popular tourist destination on the New South Wales South Coast.

Access to pristine beaches and prime camping sites inside the Beecroft Peninsula — the jagged headland on the northern edge of Jervis Bay, near Currarong — has been blocked for several months.

The area is also used by the department as a weapons range for testing explosives.

Last week the department said the closures were due to wet weather damage to roads in the area.

But during a community meeting yesterday attended by hundreds of people concerned about future access to the peninsula, director of operations and training area management Paul Bruce said the wet weather had exposed decades-old munitions at Long Beach. 

“The location they were found is in an historic air-to-surface bombing range, on the edge of north Long Beach,” Colonel Bruce said.

“They are not recent … they were found by a ranger and have been removed.

“There has been significant erosion on the beach which has exposed these munitions, so hence we need to obviously inspect the area as there might be others that we haven’t identified.”

Colonel Paul Bruce addresses a public meeting at Currarong
Colonel Paul Bruce says the department is working to restore access to Long Beach before Christmas.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

‘Poorly worded message’

Colonel Bruce reiterated Defence had no plans to permanently close the peninsula to the public and admitted it had communicated poorly with residents and visitors about the safety risk.

“We acknowledge that a message posted on Facebook has caused much of this concern,” he said.

“This was a poorly worded message from a relatively junior person and should not have been sent out.

“We are focused on improving our communication with the community and we appreciate how important this area is to all users.”

Hundreds of residents packed inside the Currarong Progress Hall with a panel of speakers in front
Hundreds of people attended a meeting at the Currarong Progress Hall on Saturday. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

Access by Christmas

Colonel Bruce said crews were also working on repairing road damage, including a sinkhole on Honeymoon Bay Road.

He said the department was working to restore access to Long Beach and Honeymoon Bay Road before the busy Christmas period.

“We are striving to get some timeline regarding when Honeymoon Bay Road will be open, and that would provide access to the whole area for campers.

“If the road is not repaired by Christmas, but it is reasonable to provide access, we will do it.”

Additionally, Colonel Bruce said Defence would aim to increase the days and times access to the peninsula would be provided when it was not being used by the military and there was no risk to the public.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic had also created difficulties for staffing to provide manageable access.

“We have been trying to recruit and we have a process at the moment to increase the number of rangers,” Colonel Bruce said.

A cliff face at Beecroft Peninsula.
The peninsula is home to hundreds of climbing routes. (Facebook: Beecroft Weapons Range and Peninsula)

‘A really emotional issue’

Currarong Community Association president Tony Lund said it was a crucial issue for the town, which benefited from tens of thousands of tourists who visited the peninsula during Christmas alone.

“We had the council put a car counter out here on Currarong Road,” he said.

“In 21 days, we had 57,700 vehicles coming out here.

“This is a really emotional and critical issue for us… the entry to Beecroft is really critical.”

During the meeting, Colonel Bruce also confirmed a new induction process to allow entry had been scrapped, and denied that climbers’ access to cliffs inside the peninsula had diminished. 

“Since 2002 … Defence has not changed its approach,” he said.