The swimming enclosure in the late 1930s on Scarness Beach.
The swimming enclosure in the late 1930s on Scarness Beach.

Sharks bite into Bay history

By John Andersen

WITH all of the current interest in the newly completed Shark Display at the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum, it is interesting to look back and the influence that sharks have played in our local history.

Although history records just one fatal shark attack in Hervey Bay in the early 1900s, the fear of the marine predator has always been present.

Long before Vic Hislop established his world-famous Shark Show at Urangan, locals were entertained in the early 1960s to a weekend ritual of seeing newly caught sharks strung up on the Esplanade at Torquay.

The locals were entertained in the early 1960s to a weekend ritual of seeing newly caught sharks strung up on the Esplanade at Torquay.
The locals were entertained in the early 1960s to a weekend ritual of seeing newly caught sharks strung up on the Esplanade at Torquay.

Unnamed locals would nightly set shark lines attached to four gallon drums and large hooks baited with bullock hearts, off the rocks at Pt Vernon.

The photographs prove that there certainly are large sharks in this area.

Looking back to even earlier days from 1900 onwards as our population increased and tourist numbers increased, there was a fear of shark attacks.

This is clearly demonstrated by the large number of swimming enclosures that were built from Point Vernon to Urangan.

A swimming enclosure was an area off the beach enclosed usually with wooden saplings making a fence to prevent the dreaded sharks from entering, which supposedly protected swimmers.

A man made pool in the rocks at Pt Vernon, complete with fence enclosure, is clearly visible in the photo and indeed the remains are still there to see to this very day.

Long gone enclosures were situated directly in front of the Water Park at Pialba (remains can often still be seen), a large enclosure in front of Zephyr St, the iconic Scarness and Torquay enclosures and another at Dayman Point, Urangan.

The enclosure and jetty at Scarness was the grandest of all and changed over the years from a sapling enclosed area complete with diving boards, slippery slides, climbing frames and even for a short time, electric lights for night swimming!

When two locals were fatally electrocuted in the 1930s, when they came into contact with the live wires, the lights were quickly removed and all ratepayers were charged three pence (three cents) on their council rates for some years to pay for the legal liability arising from the accident.

The early 1950s saw the Scarness enclosure completely enclosed with wire mesh, which had been used across Sydney Harbour to prevent the entry of Japanese miniature submarines.

There was no sharks getting through this super strong enclosure on Scarness Beach in 1955.
There was no sharks getting through this super strong enclosure on Scarness Beach in 1955.

Sadly today, all of the swimming enclosures are gone.

With maybe 100 times more people swimming today than yesteryear, we still have luckily had no fatal shark attacks but the story of our swimming enclosures is another chapter in Hervey Bay’s history.

– John Andersen is a volunteer at the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum and a Hervey Bay historian.



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