Fears boat ban at The Spit’s Marine Stadium on the Gold Coast could lead to more people sleeping rough – ABC News

Fears boat ban at The Spit's Marine Stadium on the Gold Coast could lead to more people sleeping rough - ABC News

Bronny Baker and her 18-year-old dog, Teddy, have lived on a sailboat in the Gold Coast broadwater for the last seven years, in a sheltered bay where it’s free to drop anchor.  

She and her husband are part of a growing number of people who call the spot at The Spit home.

The harbour is officially called the Marine Stadium, but to locals it’s colloquially known as “Bum’s Bay”, because of its popularity as an anchorage for live-aboard vessels in various states of seaworthiness.

The occupants are an eclectic mix of workers, pensioners and retirees seeking a more affordable way to live.

Damionne Felsch and his dog also live on a boat at The Spit.()

Ms Baker said many land-dwellers she spoke to were jealous of their off-grid lifestyle.

“There is a homeless crisis — a lot of people are living on the water,” she said.

“People are actually quite envious that we don’t have a mortgage. We’re not getting a letter from the bank every month with our mortgage going up.

“We move around. We are here for the summer because it’s protected from cyclones and it’s nice and cool.

“It’s not easy. You do have to be physically fit and able to handle adverse conditions.”

There was once up to 80 boats anchored in the bay at The Spit.()

Safe haven no more

The number of registered boats on the Gold Coast has risen from 33,251 in 2020 to 36,571 in February of this year, according to Maritime Safety Queensland.

The Gold Coast Waterways Authority estimates there are 250 vessels anchored on the 12-kilometre stretch of broadwater between the Sundale Bridge and the Coomera River at any given time.

Until recently, Marine Stadium was home to a quarter of them.

Boats and powered water craft are now prohibited from entering the northern tip of the Marine Stadium.()

Authorities have reclaimed the top of the Marine Stadium, banning boats and establishing a recreation-only zone in the northernmost 300 metres of the inlet.

The 12-month trial creates a safe space for swimming, fishing and paddleboarding, after community concerns were raised about water quality, “fair and equitable” access to the public, and the government’s failure to police a seven-day limit on anchoring.

Chris Derksema says the water quality has improved since the exclusion zone was introduced.()

Gold Coast Waterways Authority chief executive Chris Derksema said the change would stop the illegal release of sewerage and grey water.

“We think it strikes the balance between boat users and the other users of the waterways,” he said.

“As the population of the Gold Coast grows and the demand on the waterways grows, we are going to have to revisit this issue.”

Overcrowding putting people off

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey, whose department was responsible for regulating the boats, said overcrowding of the bay was putting people off from visiting the area.

“The community feedback we’ve received for Marine Stadium has been overwhelmingly in support of improving access to the water by limiting the number of vessels anchored in this part of The Spit,” he said.

Long-term residents of Marine Stadium fear the exclusion zone will be extended.

Ms Baker said the writing was on the wall and it was only a matter of time before they were squeezed out for good.

“I think it’s a land grab — this area was always for the people, in perpetuity,” she said.

“They’re doing it in increments, slowly but surely. A bit here, a bit there. That’s the plan.

“It’s the most sheltered bay and anchorage in the whole east coast of Australia.

“It has got all the facilities and we can work from here easily.”

Out of sight, out of mind

Many of the people living on boats do so by choice.

For others it’s a last resort, and because of the stigma associated with homelessness, there are concerns some of them arn’t getting the support they need.

UnitingCare, which provides homeless shelters and outreach services, believes over the last two years the number of people living in alternate dwellings has risen significantly.

Queensland general manager Luke Lindsay said if people were forced out of waterways, some would have no option but to pitch a tent in public parks or sleep on the street.

Damionne Felsch’s damaged houseboat is beached inside the recreation zone and he’s refusing to move.()

“They will be forced to move their boats elsewhere, which for some people won’t be a possibility,” he said.

“Previously a lot of referrals we received were for very visible homelessness.

“We have seen an increase in people choosing to sleep on boats, in cars and in friends and families garages or sheds.

“There are people who 12 months or two years ago could not have imagined themselves in this situation — but because of the cost of living they have not been able to keep up.”

Ms Baker loves living among nature and said she would fight to protect her way of life.

“A lot of people come and go and don’t really care,” she said.

“We see dolphins giving birth, there are fish breeding, soldier crabs, rays, dugongs — the whole marine ecosystem.”

Source: abc.net.au

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