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The Byron Bay Jettys


The Byron Bay Jetty in 1950

The Byron Bay Jetty’s
Words and Photos by Max Pendergast

There were actually two jetty’s built in Byron Bay, the first in 1888 at the top end of Jonson St, where the small Groin is now. Unfortunately the 1888 jetty only offered a relatively shallow mooring. In 1921 the jetty was seen as a contributing factor in the grounding of the “TSS Wollongbar”.

The “New” Jetty was completed in 1929, situated approximately 100 metres west of Don St. Most of us kid’s “grew up” playing on that jetty, mainly because there was nothing much else to do and as it was 670 metres long, there were heaps of marine life to see, and the fishing was terrific. It had two large cranes on railway tracks at the end and they were used to load ships with railway sleepers and other goods. There were also about ten or so fishing boats, like small trawlers permanently moored to the jetty, and they could be lifted out with the cranes in the event of a big sea. There were always rail tankers loaded with molasses to be loaded onto the ships, we used to dip our fingers it the molasses every now and again for a taste.

Byron Bay in the 1930’s

The Jetty “Blood Pipe”

During the whaling season from 1954 to 1962, the jetty enticed large crowds to watch. One crazy friend of mine Rodney Bienke had a great trick (he thought!) to impress some of the visiting young girls. He would wait until a large shark (And there were many!) cruised along side the jetty, then Rodney would jump off the jetty and “Bomb” dive the shark,landing right on top of it’s head! The shark would take off one way in fright and Rodney would quickly climb back up the piles to the jetty to be lauded as a hero by all the young girls (Dangerous way to impress a chick!).

In the 60’s when we were surfing and the surf was pumping, we could walk out behind the line up, throw our board over the side and jump in and surf back to the beach (didn’t have jet ski tow ins back then).

Another urban legend about the jetty was the “Blood Pipe”. There was no Blood Pipe per se, everybody imagines a 150mm diameter pipe gushing blood from the abattoir out to sea! The blood was too valuable because it was used for blood and bone fertilizer, there was however a pipe which pumped waste water from the plant out to sea and sure it had traces of blood in it which was only to be expected coming from washing down the floors of the abattoir. Did it attract sharks? I don’t know. I do know there were lots of sharks around when the whaling was in operation, which was to be expected when there were sometimes two or three 30 to 40 ton whales moored to the jetty.

The Northern Jetty, Byron Bay 1931

Old Jetty in Foreground, New Jetty in background (1965)

In the 1970’s the Public Works dpt. Deemed the jetty to be unsafe, although everybody was still using it! So it had to be dismantled. I was an engineer at the abattoir at the time and engaged a team of divers to blow to piles off at the level of the sea bed. In my humble opinion the destabilisation of the Main Beach and the Belongil spit increased after it was removed, because the jetty piles although they were not a solid barrier they did interrupt the natural Northerly progression of sand which occurs on the Eastern Seaboard.

So the end of another era in the Bay, I wish the Jetty was still here so my grand kids could enjoy it as much as I did.

Blowing up the  Jetty

The most common question asked of Max is “Have you lived in Byron Bay all your life?” His laconic reply “Not yet!” Born in the Bay in 1943, Max has been in or on the ocean from the age of eight, swimming, surfing. diving, sailing and fishing. You could call him a true waterman. These interests have enabled him to travel extensively throughout the Pacific and particularly to his beloved Hawaii, where 30 years ago his great friends Rell Sunn and Keoki Puaoi introduced him to the true Hawaiian way of life. Max and his wife Yvonne were the foundation members of the Byron Bay Malibu Club of which they are both life members. Although they both no longer surf competitively, for the past 22 years they have organised and conducted a surf contest in conjunction with the Byron Bay Malibu Classic called “The Future Legends” for kids under 12 years old. Each year Max writes and illustrates a colouring-in book for the contest, mainly aimed at water safety, surf etiquette and the ocean environment, to gently try to educate the kids about the ocean. Still surfing “when it pleases me“ Max admits he is a little slower getting to his feet these days but he is trialing a new board which is a radical version of the Hawaiian Paipo so he can “Lay down surf!” and be more relaxed about it. Likes: Hawaiian music (He has an extensive collection), surfing the Cape, or “Little Beach” as it was always known. Early morning walks on the beach, being with family. The description of “Island time”, “Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe not at all!” Dislikes: Crowds, People who take the ocean for granted, inexperienced people that put peoples lives at stake....There is a saying on one of the islands “A fool and the sea is soon drowned!" We are not fools and we are only drowned sometimes...


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