Sifting Through Sand
Yamba’s Pippi Beach is a big open beach ideal for long walks, surfing and fishing. At low tide the odd Pippi shellfish can be seen, but not as many as there were before sand mining and overharvesting in the mid 1900s.
In almost every decade of the twentieth century sand mining has occurred along the north coast of NSW. The sand, rich in zircon, rutile, ilmenite and monazite was considered valuable for steel alloys, enamels, glazes and glass.
The Depression delayed early attempts but in 1934/5 leases at Iluka, Yamba and Back Beach, Angourie were exploited. The Yamba lease consisted of a 40 metre wide strip of beach above low water mark and from a point on Pippi Beach opposite the present Ngaru Village and including most of Barri Beach (locally known as Mines or Dump Beach). The sand was loaded by hand into a horse-drawn dray, which took the mineral to the treatment plant, about 1.2 km south of Barri Point (Flat Rock). Later a tramline was erected on the beach, and hopper trucks, still loaded by hand, took the sand to the treatment plant pulled by a small diesel locomotive.
The Yamba lease was worked out by 1937 and production shifted to Angourie. Another tramway was built from the treatment plant to Back Beach, Angourie but little evidence remains of this tramway today.
In 1942/3 four new leases covered Turners, Yamba and Convent Beaches in Yamba and Green Point, Spookies and Back Beaches at Angourie. A small amount of mineral sand was taken from Main Beach, Yamba in 1943 before an appeal by a delegation from the surf club to the Minister for Mines had the mining stopped. A further lease was obtained in 1943 covering Barri Beach and Pippi Beach up to Lovers Point. On seeing the notices of the proposed mining activity, William Ager appealed for Council to resist the lease applications, feeling that the mining would undermine his conservation work. Despite the lease being granted, however, no mining took place in favour of richer mineral deposits further north in the Cudgen area.
Another period of mining occurred from 1968-1970, when sand dunes behind the beaches from Brooms Head to Yamba and Iluka were mined then rebuilt using front-end loaders.
The Bitou bush planted by the mining company to rehabilitate the dunes has since become a noxious weed. They did however discover the Yamba Cemetery, located towards the south end of Pippi Beach, covered in 20 feet of sand.
The declaration of Yuraygir National Park in 1980 and the importance of our beaches for tourism have largely ended any prospect of further mining. The North Coast Environmental Council and Maclean Shire Council blocked an attempt in 1995, especially after exploratory work caused severe dune damage.