One unexpected thing this fire has given us is exposure to thousands of bottles and cans (mostly alcohol) that have been mindlessly thrown on to the heath and into the bush covering what appears to be pristine coastland.
Unfortunately, this stretch of coast is not pristine – it has been vandalised by man, and man now has the responsibility and opportunity to fix it.
For three hours on a recent Sunday morning, 28 remarkable volunteers of all ages set out to collect bottles and cans scattered along the headland that extends south of the jetty to north of Moonee beach.
They included residents of Catherine Hill Bay and Nords Wharf, and groups such as Gwandalan Scouts, Catho Surf Club, Catho Boardriders Club, Waratah Fire Brigade, Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association, Lake Macquarie City Council and local member Garry Edwards’ staff.
These volunteers collected about three tonnes of bottles, cans and broken glass.
But there are still tonnes to be collected, and the task is too big for 28 volunteers.
The community needs help from relevant government and commercial organisations – National Parks and Wildlife, Lake Macquarie City Council, Coal and Allied, and the Rose Group.
We need these organisations to get together and develop and implement a clean-up campaign for what was once a beautiful strip of coastline.
We cannot procrastinate or deliberate for too long as the regrowth is rapidly returning and eventually will hide this environmental disaster.
Seeing is believing, and I ask you to take the time over the coming weeks to walk this area so you can see for yourself the enormity of this man-made problem and the effort required to fix it.
Having helped in the recent collection and witnessing the thousands of cans and bottles that still remain, there is no doubt in my mind we need to establish a cash for bottle/can recycling scheme.
Catherine Hill Bay is only one of many examples along the coast and around Australia of this pollution, and would not exist if people received 10¢ for their cans or bottles.
As a kid I used to pull my billy cart around the local streets, competing with other like-minded scavengers in search of bottles as this, for me, represented real cash. On taking my load of ‘‘treasure’’ back to the Scout Hall, they would exchange money for bottles and at the end of the day I was cashed up and felt rich. It was the best way to make pocket money. It also heightened my mechanical skills as I was continually fixing my overloaded billy cart.
The cash incentive to stop tossing and start collecting should be mandatory – it will stop mindless littering and encourage positive human qualities such as mindfulness, entrepreneurship, health, resilience and a decent respect for money.
Flora and fauna cannot cry out, but we can, and I am asking for your ideas, support and help.
Contact Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association at catherinehillbay.org.au.
Damien Hawcroft is a resident of Catherine Hill Bay.