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Burnouts and boggings: the idyllic Queensland island ‘hammered’ by four-wheel-drives
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Burnouts and boggings: the idyllic Queensland island ‘hammered’ by four-wheel-drives

Jacqui Fitzgerald bought her home in the seaside village of Woorim two years ago, seeking a peaceful lifestyle.

She soon discovered it would be anything but. Fitzgerald is on the frontline of Bribie Island’s rapid growth in tourism. Her home borders the entrance to the national park and four-wheel drive beach on the southern tip of the island just north of Brisbane.

Cameras outside her home have captured some of the dangerous behaviour over the years.

In one video, two cars appear to drag race down the road, leaving a black plume of smoke behind. The noise of squealing tyres reverberates through the streets.

Another video shows a man purposefully accelerating on a sandy section of road to spin his tyres and make them screech.

An image of a car hooning captured on Woorim local Jacqui Fitzgerald’s CCTV. View image in fullscreen

Other footage shows cars driving on the wrong side of the road and endangering pedestrians and cyclists. A neighbour tells Guardian Australia he had a four-wheel drive plough into his steel fence. Others on the street have also set up cameras to monitor the area.

The once-sleepy island now hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Its popularity is largely due to its natural beauty and easy access, with a bridge connecting the island to the mainland. It also possesses the closest four-wheel drive and surfing beach to north Brisbane.

But Fitzgerald says residents are growing frustrated by a lack of action to control the “thousands” of four-wheel drives “hammering” the island during peak periods.

“I make reports of dangerous driving, and Queensland is supposed to have the strongest hooning laws in the country, but nothing happens here,” Fitzgerald said.

“There’s lots of elderly people here … and they’re bringing so many vehicles through a quiet residential village.”

An aerial shot shows 4WDs on a beach on Bribie Island’s coastView image in fullscreen

The Queensland government this month released long-awaited studies commissioned into sustainable tourism in Bribie Island, K’gari (Fraser Island) and Cooloola Recreation Area.

The Bribie report suggests a cap on vehicles accessing the beach during peak periods, minimising unnecessary night-time traffic and increased penalties for “inappropriate behaviour”.

It also proposes allowing rangers to give the same fines as police and enhancing “direction to leave” provisions so offenders cannot return for seven days or longer after being directed to leave.

The government is weighing up these options, with the environment minister, Leanne Linard saying the Miles government will continue to “listen to the community and key stakeholders to protect the Bribie Island national park and recreation area.”

Tarin Field has lived on the island since the 80s and has fond memories of “bumming lifts” to the national park as a “gromit” (young surfer).

An aerial shot shows 4WDs on a beach on Bribie IslandView image in fullscreen

“You’d rarely see four-wheel drives up there. Now I have a beer at the pub and see all these four-wheel drives coming back,” he said.

Field wants the beach to be protected but says banning four-wheel drives isn’t the solution.

“There’s a lot of people still going up at high tide which is frustrating for us locals,” he said. “Most people do the right thing, it’s just some bad eggs amongst them.”

Ana McCrespo says something needs to change. The Spanish resident goes four-wheel driving on Bribie at least twice a month and is concerned about people damaging the national park and causing a nuisance.

McCrespo often finds herself picking up after visitors who’ve left rubbish strewn on the beach. She says more control and restrictions on four-wheel driving are needed to protect the island.

An aerial shot of Bribie IslandView image in fullscreen

“There’s been quite a few issues lately with people damaging the dunes, bringing dogs into the beach … driving like crazy … doing doughnuts,” she said.

“On the entrance track there’s always at least one car bogged. Sometimes it creates a chain effect and there’s one car bogged after the other.

“[Restrictions are] not ideal but we don’t want to damage the park or get it closed to the public.”

Jason Brown has run G’day Adventure Tours for the past eight years educating people about the wildlife and history of the island.

He’s also the admin of the Facebook group I got bogged at Bribie Island and has heard about all kinds of vehicles attempting to traverse the sandy national park, including two-wheel-drives.

Brown said on nice sunny days, the beach can become a “bit of a car park” with more than 1,000 vehicles at one time.

Brown said along with a reduction in cars during peak periods, a video questionnaire could be introduced to test people about four-wheel driving before they are granted a vehicle permit.

“During Covid they reduced the numbers to 300 a day, I don’t see why that couldn’t be permanent in peak times,” he said.

Environment groups are also concerned for the wildlife on the island. Locals often tell the poignant story of “Eric”, the last emu on Bribie, which was killed by a dog that was illegally taken into the national park. Others lament how the local koala population disappeared after the clearing of native forests.

A turtle hatchling makes its way to waterView image in fullscreen

More recently, turtle deaths in the Moreton Bay marine park have increased by 87% in a single year and there are concerns that uncontrolled boating, four-wheel driving and discarded crab pots could result in more losses.

At the northern end of the beach, some of the last turtle hatchlings of the season are making the mammoth trek into the ocean. They’ve barely opened their eyes before the sea spits them out and drags them down the coastline.

A few metres away, day trippers in a Toyota Land Cruiser race down the beach. Their tyre tracks make it all the more difficult for the turtles to crawl to the sea.

Some of the last hatchlings of the season on Bribie Island.View image in fullscreen

A local environment group, Bribie Island Environmental Protection Association, of nearly 400 members has developed a “tread lightly” tool to advise travellers of the most turtle-friendly times to drive on the beach.

BIEPA is calling for a lottery system for vehicle access permits for the 20 peak days, no night driving during turtle season and hard sand driving only – meaning the beach is closed to traffic for two hours on either side of high tide, with boom gates at entrances.

The president of BIEPA, Richard Ogden, believes it is “imperative” to implement these recommendations to protect the island environment.

“Bribie Island and Pumicestone Passage are extremely high-value environmental assets to Queensland and to Australia,” he said.

“Recreation must be managed to minimise impacts on our special but endangered wildlife, including shorebirds, turtles, dolphins and dugong.”

  • This article was amended on 19 May 2024 to correct the name of Jason Brown.

Source: theguardian.com