The ABC has uncovered an interesting story of a family who’re living in a shack on a remote beach in Western Australia. The government has told the Howells that they have to leave their home because coastal erosion is making it dangerous to live in, but the family has refused to leave – opening up an interesting debate over who’s in the right in this tricky situation.
Rob Howell, his wife Kerry and their two children live in a rusty tin shack on a beach 160 kilometres north of Perth, with Howell telling the ABC that he built the dwelling in the 1970s with his father as a holiday home. But the couple moved into it full-time four years ago after an accident left Howell unable to work and they were forced to sell their Perth home.
It’s one of a few hundred shacks built on crown land in the area of Wedge Island, and the community that lives there – some, like the Howell family, are permanent residents, while others visit periodically – is permitted by the government to do so on a yearly leasehold basis. The ABC reports, however, that although the government tolerates what is apparently squatting, it does require shack ‘owners’ shack owners to give up their properties when nature threatens to destroy them.
(The Wedge Island community has been in existence for at least 70 years, according to some claims, and although on crown land, has no government-supplied facilities or utilities such as running water or sewerage, nor has it requested such facilities.)
The Howell’s shack has already partly collapsed into the sea already, as the sand dune it sits on is gradually washed away by the waves, and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions says the family must leave the shack because it’s too dangerous to live in.
The residents’ association that governs the remote community agreed that coastal erosion was one of the reasons community members had to give up their residences, and told the ABC that there were few options open to the Howells but to do so.
But the family has refused to leave, insisting that they should be permitted to move the shack piece by piece further up into the dunes, with their yearly licence being renewed so they can stay in the community.
A Wedge Island Facebook page, which doesn’t purport to be an official page presenting the local residents’ association, notes that the family a few metres to the north of the Howells were forced to relinquish their shack a couple of weeks ago. It also posted a photograph that showed how dramatically the dunes where the Howells’ shack sits had been eaten up by the waves in just the past three years, noting that the home was now “as beachfront as it gets”.
A Facebook commenter that appeared to be Kerry Howell acknowledged that the family had been aware that the shack would end up in the water, but added “been there for 40 years and the shack next to us 60”. “So just figured it would be later rather than sooner,” she added.