Sand threatens to bury Yamba!

Nowadays many people visit Yamba because of the beautiful sandy beaches on offer. Yet about a hundred years ago residents were contemplating leaving the town as sand encroachment threatened to bury their houses.

In 1926, concerned residents approached Harwood Shire Council to rectify the sand menace threatening to engulf the township. Council had no answer and by 1932 a bare surface of sand, about 2.5km long, stretched right from the southern end of Pippi Beach to the settled area.

Over centuries, the windblown sand had piled up on the edge of the forest jungle which grew out to the sea coast and the sand hills thus formed became overgrown with natural shrubs and vines. Because of fire, vandalism or injudicious clearing, the wind had excavated gullies through which volumes of sand had been blown.

One man saved the day, and the town - William Ager.

William Ager was born in Sydney in 1882, but later moved to the Clarence Valley with his brother and bought a farm near Copmanhurst, where he pioneered the honey and fruit-growing industry in that district. However, ill health forced his early retirement at the age of 45 and he finally moved to Yamba in 1931. He occupied Room 14 at the rear of The Ritz private hotel from which he had a bird’s eye view of the sand hills. His offer to try and control the sand drift was accepted by the Yamba Urban Area Committee.

Ager and Tom Collins began laying down numerous sand traps and wind breaks of it-tree bushes, while lantana, mangrove and other natural vines were planted.  They were watered daily from the spring well below Craigmore Guest House using 300m of galvanised iron piping and a long hose. He also used to build chaff bag sails out of two sticks shoved about two and a half metres into the sand with the bags stretched across leaving a space underneath. In certain winds, the sand would build up and blow under the bags. He was constantly moving the sails according to the direction of the wind. Marram grass, secured by the co-operation of the Van Dieman’s Land Co., Port Stanley, Tasmania, was the first grass to be sown over the hill.

He admitted that,

 "The first four years was an endurance test. My friends thought I would end under the sand, rather than conquer it. The more the gales howled the more necessary it was to be there, noting what was happening, how the various sand traps were doing their work, how the dunes were leveling and planning future work to accomplish the design." (Daily Examiner, Tuesday 10 April 1945)

It took nine years to successfully re-vegetate the sand dunes, stop the sand drift into Yamba and transform the landscape. The dune that was forming behind the Ritz on Queen Street (currently The Cove units) was driven back and reduced by 12 metres. The dune to the west of Clarence Street was reduced by 18 metres. The gully where Ager Street is now was raised about 12 metres.

William Ager was keen to not only to eliminate the sand threat but to develop Yamba as "the premier seaside resort of the north" by providing elevated building sites and filling in the swamps that were breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Through his influence, the roads to and along Pippi Beach were constructed from 1937, as well as a street network on the southern section of Yamba hill.

In July 1939, William Ager set aside a 2000m² Lot overlooking the sea above Lovers Point and  offered it to the Country Women's Association (CWA) for use as a Rest Home and Baby Clinic on the condition that the building go ahead. No buildings eventuated and the land was eventually handed over to council and the “William Ager - CWA Memorial Ager Park” was officially opened on 20 October 1965. In 1942, to demonstrate Yamba as the most desirable place to reside by the sea, Ager shifted three cottages and built another on his 54 lot subdivision of part of the land he had reclaimed

In 1944, following on from his work at Yamba, Ager was invited to try and address the sand menace at North Beach, Bellinger River, by the Reserve trustees. He is remembered as a man of visionary ideas and vehement opinions and was well known for his frequent writing to 'Letters to the Editor'.

In mid 1945, Mrs Wharton, who lived in Clarence Street and provided William with morning tea each day when he did his rounds, observed that his continual severe cramps and general disability were such that, at his request, she called the doctor. William was admitted to Grafton Base Hospital where he died on 18 June 1945, aged sixty three years. The coffin was taken by rail from HH Sanders Funeral Chapel to Rookwood Crematorium. The executor of his will, Frederick Jack Best, accountant from Neutral Bay, then administered his estate and began selling off the remaining lots.

 

William Ager was a remarkable man who turned 'a wilderness of high sand dunes into the most beautiful of seaside allotments' (Daily Examiner, 18 December 1946) and was undoubtedly responsible for saving the town of Yamba.

John McNamara, Port of Yamba Historical Society