IT IS widely acknowledged that Venus Bay is equal to, if not outright, the most dangerous beach in Victoria at which to go swimming.
Already there have been several life-threatening situations there this summer and sadly, on New Year’s Eve, a fatality.
A Melbourne woman, aged in her 50s, died after being pulled from the surf at the unpatrolled Number 5 Beach, at about 12 noon last Thursday.
There are absolutely no warning signs at the beach advising people that swimming is dangerous.
The one small sign, erected by Parks Victoria, on the walkway down to Number 5 Beach makes note of “Strong Currents”, “Unexpected Large Waves” and “Dangerous Tides” but there are no warnings about how dangerous it can be to swim there.
And considering its popularity with multi-cultural groups, there are no universal symbols or safety messages in other languages either.
Ambulance Victoria paramedics were called to the scene, arriving by air and by road, but the victim died at the beach.
The exact cause of the fatality will be the subject of a police report to the Coroner.
But the incident has raised the hackles of locals, who called vociferously for warning signs to be erected at a public meeting in the town last Saturday, January 2.
They echoed a campaign that the local surf lifesaving club has been waging for years, for the erection of warning signs at all Venus Bay beaches, so far without an acceptable response from Parks Victoria.
There have been several other near misses this summer. There are every year.
On Friday, December 4, 2015, it was only by pure luck that highly experienced surf lifesaver Dave Cumming happened to be having his lunch at Number 1 Beach when four visitors got into difficulty, two possibly three of whom would certainly have drowned except for his efforts.
Last Saturday, again at Number 1 Beach, which is patrolled during the week by professional lifesavers and on the weekends by qualified surf club volunteers, there were two more serious rescues.
As well, there were 140 “preventative actions” by lifesavers between Christmas and the Boxing Day holiday Monday alone with upwards of 15 serious rescues in total over the Christmas-New Year break.
“Unfortunately we have one of the biggest rips in years operating there (at Number 1 Beach) at the moment,” said Venus Bay Surf Lifesaving Club President Craig Watson.
“It’s actually out front, where you come on to the beach, and is about 400 metres wide. It’s a big trough and can move you out in seconds.
“That’s why we’ve had to move the flags further up the beach which is a bit problematic because it’s not in the obvious position for beachgoers.”
The point is, though, that it’s in the safest place possible for visitors to swim.
“This year we’ve had a big push on swimming between the flags and I always say, there has never been a drowning in Victoria when people are swimming between the flags.”
“But the reality is,” says Craig, “they’re all public beaches and we can only advise people what to do. If they choose to swim outside the flags or at one of the other beaches, we can’t stop them.”
Which is why Craig and the members of his club want to see clear warning signs at all Venus Bay beaches.
“Cape Liptrap Coastal Park is controlled by Parks Victoria and any signs that are erected on the foreshore have to be approved by them. There are 67 surf lifesaving clubs in Victoria but only four of them are on Parks Victoria land; us, Gunnamatta, Sorrento and one other.
“We’d like to see some pictorial signs that show what a rip is. That the flat part of the water isn’t necessarily the best place to swim.”
He has also backed calls for multicultural messages as well.
At a community meeting in the town two days after the latest fatality, several people raised their concerns with South Gippsland Shire Councillor Kieran Kennedy who has promised to take the matter up with Parks Victoria.
“The main message is ‘swim between the flags’ during patrolled times at Number 1 Beach but there needs to be signs, bi-lingual signs, at the other beaches,” said a long-term local holiday home owner.
“My daughter volunteers at the surf club and she was involved in saving a couple of people a few years ago but there have been drownings at these beaches, and still no warning signs.
“Something has got to be done.”
Cr Kennedy agrees and will be making representations to council urging its advocacy, on the community’s behalf, with Parks Victoria.
No warning – Plea for swim danger signs at Venus Bay