Thursday, July 16, 2020

Echonetdaily 17 July 2020

Are Byron visitors following COVID-19 safe practices?

Chief executive of Northern NSW Local Health District Wayne Jones.

Jim Beatson

The identification of a new case of COVID-19 arriving at Ballina airport earlier in the week has reminded everyone in the Northern Rivers that there is still a need to practice social distancing, hand washing and begs the question should we all be wearing masks?
‘There is no need for greater effort from medical institutions like Byron Hospital or the Northern NSW Local Health District to issue a statement regarding the need for social distancing and the wearing of masks given Byron Bay’s many visitors,’ says Wayne Jones, the Chief Executive Officer for Northern NSW Local Health District.
Mr Jones explained that ‘There have been COVID cases previously in Byron Shire but, all bar one, has recovered and the latest one is in the postcode 2480 which excludes Byron Shire (It mainly consists of East Lismore, but does include Federal, Rosebank, Booyong, Dunoon, Corndale and Clunes)’.
When asked why so few people in public places in Byron Bay are not wearing masks Wayne Jones initially deflected the question saying, ‘I think it’s up to individuals to decide whether to wear a mask. There is no real evidence that compulsory mandated wearing of masks has a huge benefit.’
However, mask wearing is part of a comprehensive strategy to avoid COVID-19 transmission when social distancing is not possible or you are in an area where there is high community transmission. Currently mask wearing is being recommended in Victoria for people who are leaving the house who are living in an area with stage three restrictions.
When pressed Mr Jones added, ‘In saying that, I’m certainly not against it and if people feel more comfortable wearing a mask and we certainly are seeing an uplift in people wearing masks in our communities. So I strongly recommend any strategy that reduces the risk of COVID coming into our community, including the wearing of masks.
‘We are pushing very hard, reminding people of all of those strategies, physical distancing, and where appropriate, hand and respiratory hygiene. And we will continue to do so. With the latest case that’s been identified in our patch we will reinvigorate our campaign.
‘Now is not the time to be complacent. COVID is going to be here for an extended period of time. So just accept that physical distancing and hand and respiratory hygiene are here to stay.
‘But I want to emphasise the vast majority of people on the North Coast are doing the right thing.’

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Echonetdaily 14 December 2017

Island Quarry death inquest winds up amid complaints

The Island Quarry near Byron Bay.
By Jim Beatson
The inquest into the death of 20-year- old Melbourne man, Brendan Vickery, ended yesterday with a number of unresolved disputes, and complaints of delays raised by the deceased’s family and their legal counsel.
Seven are ofcritical importance.
First, the family legal counsel queried the tardiness of Island Quarry Reserve Trust to take precautionary measures such as fencing and signage.
In November 2011 by Dr Robert Davies, network director for emergency departments at four hospital sites across the Northern Rivers reported nine serious injuries including six spinal fractures, at least four were multiple
Some two and half years passed before the 1.8 m safety fence was constructed along the Ewingsdale Road side of the dangerous quarry site. This was completed just three weeks after Brendan Vickery’s death.
The Island Quarry Reserve Trust’s Barrister, Mr Raeburn, insisted that the delay was outside the control of the IQ Quarry Trust President, Shane Rennie.
A discussion about the lack of more safety signage was left incomplete.
Medical staff mentioned an important deterrent: signs explicitly listing known injuries that occurred at the site.
A counter argument was put by several interviewees that such signs would instead be seen as an exciting challenge by young people visiting the site.
Supervision of the site was revealed to be irregular. Baz Laow, a self-described “WOOFA”, was given the role by Shane Rennie. Laow did not live at the site and was there only on average two days a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays).
He was not there on weekends, when the numbers of visitors in Byron Bay are often high.
The cause of death remains unverified. The pathologist, Dr Brian Beer performed the external examination on the body and said he based his decision, of “death by drowning on the balance of probability”.
Barrister David Evenden, representing Brendan Vickery’s parents, challenged this pathology report, saying without a full autopsy, medical experience alone would suggest possible additional causes.
Despite a request by Brendan’s mother, Tracie McDew, for a full autopsy, her request was never passed on beyond the police officer in charge of the investigation. Such requests are normally respected.
The Coroner, Teresa O’Sullivan, Acting State Coroner will deliver her report at the Glebe Coroner’s Court in Sydney on 11 April 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Update on where I am working now

I have resigned as the Executive Producer of a weekly one-hour current affairs program, the Community Newsroom, at Bay FM, Byron Bay, which broadcasts on Fridays on 99.9 MHz frequency between 11 AM and 12 noon where I was one of its founders and reporters on commencement of the program in 2016.
It is with pleasure to note that Mia Armatage is the new EP, one of several talented women and men working for the Community Newsroom.
I still typically do one story a week plus a weekly critical weekly round up of things happening across Australia, but mainly in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, called the Byron Buzz.You will find all of our podcasts, each with the name of that journalist's stories, at: or or at Facebook: community newsroom byron bay
I still mentor new trainee journalist and still write the odd story for our excellent local newspaper, the Byron Echo and Fairfax' newspapers.

Echnetdaily 12 December 2017 on Coronial Inquest in a death at Byron Bay's IQ Quarry

Coronial inquest hears of multiple injuries at quarry death site

The Island Quarry at Byron Bay where Brendan Vickery died in February 2014 after jumping from a cliff into the water. Photo rodc/
Jim Beatson
Dark details and important lessons emerged on day one of the coronial inquest at Byron Bay Court into the death of 20-year-old Brendan Vickery.
He died on February 23, 2014, at the astonishingly beautiful, but dangerous Island Quarry, opposite the Cavanbah Centre on Ewingsdale Road.
The main feature at the quarry is a large waterhole. Brendan’s body was found under that water by police.
On Monday (December 11) the first witness was Luke Johnston.
He said that he was friends with Brendan, Rex, Drew and Elliott, some of whom had driven up from Sydney the day before.
‘We went to bed around 9.30 or 10pm on the Saturday,’ Mr Johnston said.
After a cruisy Sunday morning, starting at 8.30am, the friends arrived at the quarry in the early afternoon.
At its centre is a waterhole, a quarter of which is covered in lotus blossoms and lily pads. One side has a high cliff and the other a grassy flatland just above water-level.
Mr Johnston said there were no signs against trespassing at the entrance of the quarry. Just a sign saying, ‘You Are Here At Your Own Risk.’
Mr Johnston told the hearing ‘I’d heard that people had broken their back there previously, but it didn’t worry me. Drew may have told me. The only thing that might have worried me was the height [of the cliff].’
Mr Johnston also explained there were no notices providing people with a list of the many serious injuries that had taken place there.
In 2012, Swedish backpacker Emma Weisglas, then aged 20, smashed her vertebrae when she hit the water at speed.
In the previous year, 15-year-old Jack Pollock and a 21-year-old American backpacker were so severely injured they were almost paralysed while ‘tombstoning’ at the same location.
Dr Robert Davies, network director for emergency departments at four hospital sites across the Northern Rivers told the inquest there had been ‘many cases over several years with spinal fractures and near drownings.’
He explained there had been ‘ten notified hospital injuries with six being fractures of the spine. A majority having multiple fractures.’
Confronted with this information, Mr Johnston explained ‘It’s an adrenaline thing to do it [jump]. It was a surprise to hear a history of injuries…Had I known this it may have deterred me.’
Mr Johnston was an experienced cliff jumper since jumping in a rock quarry waterhole in Melbourne. ‘Where’s there’s no oxygen in the water, no buoyancy (sic). You have to tread water to keep afloat’.
At the top of the overhanging cliff, a dozen meters or more above the level of the water,Mr Johnston saw a sign saying ‘something about unstable rock’. WhileMr Johnston did jump from there, he told the inquest he dropped a stone into the water first, to break the water’s surface tension.
Mr Johnston said Brendan didn’t jump but looked at another much lower ledge only 3 to 5 metres above the water level.Mr Johnston explained, ‘we were both good swimmers, but [Brendan] was uncertain about jumping’ ‘He was not a fitness junkie’ ‘There was no pressure on him to jump other than “you can do it mate”.’

How it happened

From yesterday’s evidence, the friends were often at separate locations at the waterhole.Mr Johnston said ‘I didn’t hear him jump [from the high cliff]. I think [he must have] banged his head because his foot slipped [from jumping from the lower ledge].’ Asked if he would have called out if he had been in trouble, Mr Johnston agreed ‘[Brendan] would have sung out if he felt he was in trouble’.
Later one of the group noted Brendan called out he was ‘pretty puffed’ (sic)’. But no one noticed Brendan’s disappearance for what then appears to be around 20 minutes. When group noticed his absence, Luke went to top of the cliff to look down from above and checked to see if he was in the car. After ‘30 to 40 minutes we rang the police.’
Later the police found Brendan’s body. At yesterday’s hearing no explanation was provided as to why an autopsy was not conducted. Dr Davies noted there was ‘always danger with still water.’
‘There may have been a pre-existing condition, also he could have had an adrenaline rush from the situation. In medicine anything is possible.’
Dr Davies added ‘We suspect many injuries are not reported especially by overseas visitors’.
He described a case of an overseas visitor who didn’t report a burst lung which happened at the site until the following day.
More importantly he said it was ‘quite frustrating that we were trying to get a message out about the pattern of injuries there, but there was no good system in place.’
The quarry is sited on Crown Land, leased to Byron Shire Council, who in turn lease it to the Island Quarry Reserve Trust. ‘Neither Crown Lands nor Byron Shire Council saw it as their problem. Their actions did not match the severity of the situation.’ The doctor also noted social media actively promoted the little-known dangerous waterhole.
Dr Davies said in November 2011, his predecessor ‘Dr Winston McKean, had approached [the president of] the Island Quarry Reserve Trust, Shane Rennie, regarding the ongoing pattern serious accidents and proposed filling in the waterhole.’
The inquest was adjourned at just after 4 PM.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Rennie and others are expected to take the stand. The inquest may conclude by Wednesday afternoon. The lessons may take longer to learn.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where I am working now.

Currently I am the Executive Producer of a weekly one-hour current affairs program, the Community Newsroom, at Bay FM, Byron Bay, which broadcasts on Fridays between 11 AM and 12 noon of which I was one of its founders and reporters on commencement in 2016. You will find all of our podcasts, each with the name of that journalist's stories, at: 
It's a lot of fun working with this group. I write, produce and broadcast my pieces live to air  and broadcast a critical weekly round up of things happening across Australia, but mainly in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, called the Byron Buzz.
I also mentor new trainee journalists. It's interesting because some of these 'amateur' journalists are better than majority of students I have taught at three Australian universities. And with new developments in software and technology I can do all of my stories from home and then just go into the station on a Friday to put them to air.
I also still write the odd story for our excellent local newspaper, the Byron Echo and Fairfax' newspapers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Recent investigative story I wrote for the Byron Shire Echo 12 April 2017 on how Byron Shire Council's action over failure to turn on a pump led to flood damage in South Golden Beach.  I also covered this story on Bay FM's Community Newsroom current affairs program on Friday 7 April 2017. The story under this one also came out in the same issue on Page 7 of the Echo. I did the questioning of other Councils' responses to their flooding.