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"THE BIG DIG" - History in the making

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On the 16th November 2002, over 1000 people gathered at the entrance to Lake Illawarra , armed with their buckets and spades, to let the ocean in, to SAVE OUR LAKE.

The Lake Illawarra Authority had spent five million dollars ($5,000,000), to construct a southern break wall, to keep the ailing Lake Illawarra entrance permanently open. The new entrance blocked up within 3 months. After some additional “bandage” work the Lake was open, but soon closed again. It was obvious the southern wall alone could not keep the lake open.

Lake Illawarra had been completely closed to the Ocean since August 2002 and was drying-up by evaporation during the drought.

Lake Illawarra entrance, November 2002

Lake Illawarra, 14 December 2002

Sign at the Lake Illawarra Entrance

Lake levels had dropped by one meter, killing eighty percent of the sea grass beds, preventing prawns from running out to the ocean, fish were trapped inside the lake and spawning fish could not enter. The water quality was deteriorating. The state of the lake was costing local businesses and the tourist industry hundreds of thousands of dollars and severely hampered local recreational use for fishing, prawning and swimming.

Regardless of public pleas, to at least dredge the entrance to Lake Illawarra and keep it open, the Lake Illawarra Authority refused to commit to any action, stating that it was their policy to open the entrance only, when the lake was in flood.

Sign erected by LIA in 2001, informing the viewer that the entrance has been completed.

Lake Illawarra entrance, view to Port Kembla.

Lake Illawarra entrance, view to Windang Island.

On the 16th November 2002 residents took matters into their own hands. Over one thousand people gathered at the entrance to Lake Illawarra with their buckets and spades to let the ocean in, to SAVE OUR LAKE. The media, councillors and politicians looked on with amazement as the community and local small business moved hundreds of tons of sand to let ocean water into Lake Illawarra.

This was the first time in the history of Lake Illawarra that the Entrance had been opened by hand, to let the water in to SAVE OUR LAKE. Unfortunately, the efforts of “The Big Dig” eventually failed as sand filled in the entrance and the Lake was closed again. The safe swimming area became polluted again.

Public pressure forced the Lake Illawarra Authority to open the lake once more but their half-hearted effort was no match for the drought and the Lake entrance was blocked again soon. Tourists who came to the Illawarra area at Christmas found the Lake closed and dying so they moved further south for their holidays. Many are lost to the area and will possibly never come back to the Illawarra.

“The Big Dig” inspired “The Lake Rally”, a public protest against the lack of action by The Lake Illawarra Authority to save the Lake Environment for local businesses, tourist industry and recreational use.

A friendly fly-over

The next morning, 17th November 2002

Lake Illawarra entrance on 16th November 2002.