Alby devastation rallied community

Chloe FraserBusselton Dunsborough Times
Cyclone Alby caused four sections of the Jetty to break away.
Camera IconCyclone Alby caused four sections of the Jetty to break away. Credit: Les Saxey

When Busselton Save the Jetty committee member Trevor Fitzgerald awoke on the morning of April 4, 1978, he and many other members of the Busselton community were unaware of the devastation and damage they would later face.

This week marks 40 years since tropical cyclone Alby hit the South West, leaving a trail of destruction across the State, damaging the Busselton jetty almost beyond repair.

Sweeping down the coast, Alby came ashore on April 4, with the eye passing over Busselton by mid- afternoon.

But it was the other side of the eye which would do the most damage.

Winds of up to 175 km/h buffeted Busselton and the jetty, paired with large waves and a 1.1m storm surge, which caused the tide to peak and roads to flood.

“It really started to hit its peak about 6pm,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“The next morning we woke up and we were horrified.

“Nearly all the houses on Marine Terrace were surrounded by water or partially underwater and four sections of the promenade jetty had broken away — all wedged under the skeleton jetty.”

Despite the high tides, the skeleton jetty survived, saved by the weight of the railway line.

But the fate of the remaining jetty was left in the hands of a group of passionate community members.

About 700 volunteers rallied on the morning of April 5, working with about 60 pieces of machinery in a two-day clean-up effort which included the removal of sections of the promenade jetty that had wedged under the skeleton jetty.

After the clean-up, the Government of the day planned to demolish the remaining jetty but the community rallied for its preservation, establishing a nucleus for a group that would be dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the jetty.

Large wind speeds and high tides caused extensive damage to the promenade jetty.
Camera IconLarge wind speeds and high tides caused extensive damage to the promenade jetty. Credit: Les Saxey
Community members organised a two-day clean-up on the foreshore after Cyclone Alby hit on April 4, 1978.
Camera IconCommunity members organised a two-day clean-up on the foreshore after Cyclone Alby hit on April 4, 1978. Credit: Dave Powell
Pieces of the promenade jetty washed up on the beach.
Camera IconPieces of the promenade jetty washed up on the beach. Credit: Dave Powell

Mr Fitzgerald, along with Arne Jespherson, Peter Townsend, Rob Griffiths, Peter Loughton and the late Roy Melvin organised a Save the Jetty Committee — now Busselton Jetty Inc — to fight for the jetty’s survival.

“With the support of local community members we formalised a committee and from there we fundraised, we had balls, we made and sold cookery books and collected pieces of the destroyed jetty which we polished and sold,” he said.

But the funds raised were not sufficient to repair the promenade jetty, which was fully removed in 1984.

It then took nine years of lobbying, meetings, fundraising and planning to raise sufficient funds to replace the remaining jetty structure.

Between 1987 and 2003, the community organisation gathered the finances needed to reconstruct about 50 per cent of the much-loved jetty, also establishing a jetty train and constructing the interpretive centre and underwater observatory.

“In the last 40 years the committee have raised and spent in excess of about $40 million, including government grants and community fundraising, on the management of the jetty,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“Thank you to approximately 3000 members of our community who have assisted us in the formalisation and reconstruction of our iconic jetty.”

Today, the jetty receives more than 470,000 visitors a year, injecting about $10 million a year into the local economy and employing in excess of 130 people.

Mr Fitzgerald said Busselton Jetty Inc continued to inject more than $800,000 a year into the jetty maintenance fund to ensure its sustainability.

Trevor Fitzgerald was part of the team that helped save the Busselton Jetty.
Camera IconTrevor Fitzgerald was part of the team that helped save the Busselton Jetty. Credit: Picture: Chloe Fraser, Chloe Fraser Busselton-Dunsborough Times

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