The Crocodile That Ate the Powerboats

Updates on 21 Jun , 2015


Well, it’s not exactly a crocodile. It’s a fossil which might turn out to be part of the jaw of an extinct species of crocodile.

The powerboats belong to the Beaumaris Motor Yacht Squadron (BMYS), which has plans for a $20 million expansion of its facility on leased Crown land. A rock breakwater, 120 more wet-berths, a three-story drystack, a new club house and a ‘function facility.’

Lined up against the development is a growing consortium of conservation groups. This site is a fossil-bed of extinct whales, seals, penguins, giant toothed seabirds, turtles, sharks, mega-kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats. And just possibly, a Miocene crocodile.

The US-based Paleontological Society describes it as a site of international significance, to which the powerboat expansion will cause ‘irreparable damage.’ In 2008 the Commodore lobbied his own members: “If we do nothing when our lease comes up for renewal in 2018, BMYS may have a difficult time explaining what we have done as custodians of our leased area. It may make the renewal of our lease difficult at that time.”

A curious argument. We have already buried over 1.2 hectares of the fossil site, so to ensure our future tenure let’s cover over another 3740 square metres. It’s an argument which didn’t even gain majority support within the Club.

The heat now turns onto the State Government. Minister Richard Wynne has to consider the planning issues – because unlike much of Victoria’s foreshore, the relevant planning scheme does extend out to sea. Minister Lisa Neville has to consider granting Coastal Management Act consent, because this is Coastal Crown land. And (this is what the Commodore feared) she has to consider whether to renew the BMYS lease, to vary the lease, or indeed whether to issue a new lease to some entity other than the BMYS. The anti-marina lobby is already imagining a new fossil-world discovery centre, perhaps an adjunct of the Museum of Victoria.

Then there’s the Boon Wurrung people, well aware that this is their country, and that these days the Native Title Act and the Traditional Owner Settlement Act will not allow their rights to be trampled on – as happened back in 1958, when the BMYS first occupied the site.

For the Government, it’s a political dilemma. Extinct fossils don’t get a vote. Recreational boaters do – all quarter of a million of them – and they talk in terms of ‘latent demand.’ But the boating industry may not be so eager to support the BMYS, which is on record as intending to keep the expanded facilities entirely for its own 700 members: ‘There will be no increase in membership numbers as part of the project.’

It would be so much simpler if we had a clear and equitable system for buying out Crown tenants at the end of their lease term – for recognising something we call ‘tenant’s residual interest.’
In NSW, a Crown tenant can make capital improvements safe in the knowledge that, at the end of their term, they may be reimbursed for the unamortised value of their investment. No need to demand ever-longer lease terms; no need for outgoing tenants to so vigorously defend their territory in the face of extinct crocodiles.

Originally Published in Terra Publica, Vol 15 No 3.