Beachgoers angry over removal of Nobby's beach changing rooms

A DAY at the beach is supposed to make people happy, but at Nobbys on Tuesday there was no shortage of punters – locals and visitors alike – shaking their fists at the council over the change sheds that have disappeared from the historic Nobbys pavilion.

Christopher Robertson, an 11-year-old from Thornton, summed up the feelings of every beach-goer the Newcastle Herald spoke to when he said, simply: “It sucks.

“It was heaps good before. They should have thought more about the people. It’s such a good beach, but they can’t afford a change room? It’s crazy.”

As people are quickly becoming aware, the Nobbys pavilion has had an internal “upgrading” as part of Newcastle City Council’s coastal revitalisation program. This has resulted in considerably more space for Nobbys Surf Life Saving Club but as the dimensions of the building remain the same, it has meant correspondingly less space for the public.

Somehow, the council signed off on a spending line item that saw the public lose its change rooms but gain a few more toilets as an offset. Toilets that the council expects to double to change rooms. Given that public toilets can get a bit unsanitary at times, plenty of people are offended at having to change themselves and their children in a toilet cubicle, even if the council claims the cubicles are wider than normal.

Lesa Masi, of East Maitland, was with her mother Cynthia Appleton and grandchildren Beau and Coby Gardiner, looking for the change rooms she was sure were there last time she visited Nobbys, when the Herald caught up with her. She was laughing at the idea, expressed in a December 27 letter to the editor by Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen, that the Newcastle Beach change rooms were “nearby”.

“That’s crazy!” Ms Masi said. As John Ure, of Mount Hutton, pointed out in a letter the following day, a walk of 400 metres each way to get changed might be alright for a 24-year-old councillor, but it’s a “long stretch” for anyone with children, or a few years under the belt.

Sydneysiders John and Carolyn Goldsmith were similarly incensed, with Ms Goldsmith determined to follow the advice of a notice stuck to the wall of each toilet block, telling people who were “angry about [the] lack of amenities at Nobbys” to complain to the council.

The Goldsmiths, who also have an apartment at Honeysuckle, are regular visitors to Newcastle and believe that by-and-large the city gets most things right, displaying “commonsense”.

“But not this time,” Mr Goldsmith said.

Jess McCormack, a former Novocastrian now living in Brisbane, said it was an unsatisfactory way to showcase the city’s most famous beach. As far as she was concerned, Nobbys was on a par with Noosa, beach-wise, but the lack of a change room was pretty primitive for the 21st century.

So why did things end up like this? Nobody from Nobbys Surf Life Saving Club or the council-employed lifeguards wanted to speak on the record but sources told the Herald that both groups warned the council of the looming backlash from removing the change rooms, but both were told it it was “not your concern”.

Now they watch on, targets of an increasingly angry public, as sizeable “scrums” form around the single outdoor shower (with four nozzles) or watch on as people decide to change in the open, not caring about privacy.

 Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes announced the changes in April 2016, saying that $1 million would be spent to refurbish the 1931 pavilion.

“The historic building's public change rooms will be demolished and replaced by more-accessible facilities with better ventilation,” Cr Nelmes said at the time. “The new building will cater to the needs of increasing visitor numbers at Nobbys Beach and an active surf club with more than 600 members.”

Change rooms are such a basic piece of beach infrastructure that the decision has led conspiracy-minded beach-watchers to think that it might be part of a larger scheme, yet to unfold.

“Maybe they’ll let the stink get kicked up, and then they’ll turn around and say we’ll build new change rooms, but they’ll have to be at the expense of car parks,” one well-known Nobbys identity said.

But when the Herald approached the council for comment after our visit to the beach, it turns out that one of the rumours – that the end of the communal change sheds was a response to concerns about paedophilia – was on the money.

Although it doesn’t appear to have been cited back in 2016, council chief executive Jeremy Bath said on Tuesday that the need to stop children being inappropriately touched or photographed using mobile phones meant the days of communal change rooms were over.

Mr Bath said public consultation showed “getting more toilets into the existing space was more important than individual change cubicles”. The council had compromised by installing bigger cubicles.

He said the council would soon build a one-person disabled toilet and change room next to the lifeguards’ building and was adding two more outdoor showers, making 12 shower-heads.

He said Dixon Park would also lose its communal change rooms in a $750,000 upgrade.


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