Saving Country: Killarney Beach coastal environment under commercial racehorse training stress

Concerned community gathered at Killarney today in Victoria’s southwest to protest commercial racehorse training  along adjoining beaches.. Picture by J. Fawcett 22 Oct. 2016.
Our Responsibility, Now. Killarney Beach protest, 22 Oct 2016. Picture by J. Fawcett

Local community are up in arms about the surge in commercial racehorse training  on Killarney’s coast in southwest Victoria and have launched a Petition to take the fight to State level.

Warrnambool  City Council’s sudden ban on racehorse training on it’s beaches  has seen an immediate surge of training at Killarney, which is also part of the Belfast Coastal Reserve and home to the protected Hooded Plover.

At a community meeting held today at Killarney  it was evident the increase of racehorsetraining was viewed as tacit government approval favouring the commercial racing industry, over environmental protection for Killarney’s coastal beaches and Reserve.

Another major concern raised by community was potential damage to Indigenous Australians cultural sites including the 3 burial sites and 7 middens along the coast between Mills Reef near Port Fairy and ‘The Basin just below tourism icon Tower Hill.

Community members  say they have been petitioning Port Fairy’s Moyne Council since November 2015 with their concerns without success, so a Petition has been launched on Change.Org to take the fight to State level. Sign Petition Here

Community had their say at a meeting hosted by BCRAG today at Killarney. picture by J. Fawcett  22 Oct. 2016

That it is all happening  in my country does makes it personal, as eight generations of my family have lived, and are still  growing up in the primal surrounds of Killarney beach, especially that 5 km stretch of coast between the coastal ports of  Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

It’s the coastal strip, the dunes and the unchartered marine environments for which I am concerned, and more importantly the ancient Aboriginal cultural sites which are entitled to be as sacred as any Australian cemetery.

There seems no political voice or representation in the political hand-balling going on about whether or if indeed to stop racehorse training at Killarney.

And whilst racehorse  trainers have been given other options., Killarney beach and the Belfast Coastal Reserve have been given none.  Sign Petition 


80m of an ancient Aboriginal midden to the west of Killarney Beach  is already under siege from rising seas. Protesters are concerned that commercial horsetraining at Killarney will add to the erosion. picture by J. Fawcett 2016


Section of a midden opened up by erosion. There are at least seven middens along Killarney’s beaches. picture by J. Fawcett 2015

There are three Aboriginal burial grounds and at least seven middens between Mills Point on Killarney’s west,  and The Basin on its east. These are recorded in European documents and reports since the 1850’s and in recent years have all been subject to erosion from increasingly rising seas which  slice away sections of the dunes and  bleed ancient heritage onto sands now trampled by race horses in training. Increasingly high tides force horses higher to the dunes, putting these ancient sites further at risk, for if their bases are undermined the dunes face further collapse.


Bisque Starfish from a colony that has only emerged at Killarney in recent years. There are concerns that commercial race-horse training at Killarney Beach will create damage to vulnerable habitats. picture by J. Fawcett


Inaction by our local Moyne Shire Council is blamed on its caretaker mode through an upcoming election,  but as far back as November of 2015 they were aware of community concerns about an increase of commercial racehorse training between Killarney and ‘The Basin’ (belowed Tower Hill, that tourism jewel of the south-west).

In March 2016 a report tabled before Council during an ordinary meeting stated Moyne Shire Council’s authority in the area was somewhat limited to the Killarney Beach Caravan Park and a few surrounding acres, whilst also acknowledging there was  no controls in place which regulated  horse training along Killarney beach and that community would expect the Council to provide a satisfactory outcome for coast which passes through and was managed by three separate  governmental jurisdictions. Sign Petition


Contested Space: Concerns raised about commercial horse training at Killarney beach include personal safety as well as environmental damage. Picture by J. Fawcett 30 Dec 2015.


According to Council’s report,  responsibility for that five or so kms of Killarney coast between Mills’ Reef and The Basin which is subject to increased horse training is roughly divided midway by Mahoney’s road, (which runs from the Princes Highway down to Killarney beach): to the west of Killarney Beach the coast is managed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning whilst to the east, management is under the jurisdiction of Parks Victoria.

However Moyne Council did have some decision-making power,according to its own report:

“Excluding the area of beach managed by Parks Victoria, Council has the capacity to apply the General Local Law to control horses on the beach including the area of unreserved coastal Crown Land managed by the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning. However, as the Department manages this land, it is appropriate for the State to regulate the use of this beach rather than Council.”

Pigface growing in the shelter of dunes at Killarney Beach. picture by J. Fawcett

It is the recent ban by Warrnambool Council on racehorses training on its local beaches  that has resulted in increased numbers of  owners and trainers instead plying their floats and trucks directly to Killarney , and its the political hand-balling and inaction by government which has community members petitioning for immediate action.


A grassroots campaign by the Belfast Coastal Reserve Group (BCRAG) is calling for petition signatures  to halt the explosion of commercial horse-training  along Killarney’s pristine beaches, whilst a Change.Org Petition calls for the Minister for Environment and Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly Lily D’Ambrosio to impose  a moratorium on all Killarney commercial horse-training activities, as well as the creation of a management plan that protects the entire Belfast Coastal Reserve.Sign Petition

Mr Michael Lane (left) is a long-time and respected resident of Killarney who joined community today to protest commercial horse-training at Killarney Beach. picture by J. Fawcett 22 Oct. 2016

Killarney’s beaches are part of the Belfast Coastal Reserve that was established in the 1980’s to protect dunes and beaches between the coastal towns of Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

It serves both as breeding grounds for Hooded Plovers which are protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and also the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. and is home to significant cultural sites of Indigenous Australians.

According to BCRAG Land Conservation Council Final Recommendations for the Corangamite Area  of  September 1978 were accepted by Government by Orders in Council dated 4 December 1979 and 22 January 1980. In those recommendations, the coastal frontage from Lady Bay, City of Warrnambool to Griffiths Island, Borough of Port Fairy (Moyne Shire Council)- now known as Belfast Coastal Reserve – was recommended as a Coastal Reserve specifically reserved for:

  • (i). Conservation of Flora and Fauna
    (ii). Maintenance of the stability of the coastal dune formation
    (iii). Provision for low intensity recreational activities such as walking and picnicking
    (iv). Provision for access through the dunes to the Zone ll beach frontage at points defined by the management authority…and
    (v). Protection of areas of archaeological significance especially the Aboriginal Shell midden and camp deposit sites from Belfast Lough to Killarney beach.


BCRAG along with the Victorian National Parks Association and Birdlife Australia are petitioning government for an immediate halt to the commercial activity, which sixth-generation local resident Teresa O’Brien says is devastating the natural environment and disrupting important cultural sites:

“We’ve had enough and that’s why we need to direct our concerns to the State Environment Minister and get commercial horse training off the beaches.

“This is full scale training on the main beach, not slow work or walking them in the water.

“They are riding around the nesting sites for the hooded plover and chasing people and all.

“We can’t even walk the main beach now, for risk of injury and now of a morning we open our curtains to a beach carpark full of horse trucks and the stink of horse waste.”

Killarney resident Teresa O’Brien is helping take the fight to protect Killarney’s beaches to State Government level. picture by J. Fawcett  22 Oct. 2016

Teresa O’Brien is among a number of community who have been increasingly voicing  their concerns over the last ten months about the commercial training:

“It started last summer .. after the Melbourne cup… all of a sudden 20 and more horses each morning training on the beach.

It’s breaking federal law to menace other wildlife and it’s against council regulations to use the beach in this way but nobody is doing anything, they just turn the other way “. (Teresa O’Brien, 22 Oct 2016).

BGRAG on Facebook

According to  the March 2016  Moyne Shire Council report, Council were aware of  community concerns from as early as November 2015:

“Council officers were first made aware of public concerns about the presence and impact of racehorse training on Killarney Beach in a letter received from an Allansford resident dated 3 November 2015.”

“Between 20 December 2015 and 25 February 2016 an additional eleven complaints were received, all expressing concern about dangers associated with having horses in close proximity to recreational beach users.”

Council’s report shows that the main area of contention was the main beach (including the sand above the high water mark) between local landmarks the ‘Boat Ramp’ at Killarney (on the eastern point of the main Killarney Beach) and the Killarney Caravan Park (a distance of 2.38kms).

However Ms O’Brien says horses are currently training as far west as Mills’ Point, which means that some 5.12km of coastal dunes, sand and tidal strips are open to commercial horse-training.  Sign Petition Here

Killarney’s main bathing beach.The ‘Boat Ramp’ is situated far left beneath  one of ‘The Sisters’ dunes which dominate this stretch of coast. Killarney Caravan Park is to the far right but concealed by dunes.  Picture by J. Fawcett

In March of 2016 Moyne Council officers noted some twenty horses training on the beach at any one time on a daily basis, with activities including riding horses in the soft loose sand above the high water mark, horses being ridden at the water’s edge and in the sea, and observed horse trucks, horse floats and vehicles blocking access to the boat ramp and making access to the car parking areas difficult with up to 12 horse trucks and floats using all of the available car parking.

“Horses then access the beach from the boat ramp causing the sand to become loose and difficult to drive on when launching and retrieving a boat. Horses are also using pedestrian access tracks to enter and leave the beach, increasing the risk of a serious injury arising from a horse versus pedestrian incident.” (Moyne Shire Council report 22 March 2016).


Moyne Shire Council also acknowledged that restricting or prohibiting access to the beach would leave trainers without ready access to the beach and would be of considerable concern for those trainers who have invested in establishing training facilities in the area.

“Restricting or prohibiting access to the beach would leave trainers without ready access to the beach and would be of considerable concern for those trainers who have invested in establishing training facilities in the area.

“It also has the potential to increase pressure on other sections of beach between Killarney and Warrnambool where Hooded Plovers nest.

“It will also make access for trainers difficult as car parking and access tracks at other potential locations such as The Cutting are inadequate.

“This may pressure Parks Victoria into introducing regulations to control horses within Belfast Coastal Reserve to protect Hooded Plovers and ultimately leave the local trainers with nowhere to operate.”

Section of Killarney Beach: looking west to Port Fairy. Picture by J. Fawcett

Concerns raised by BCRAG in June 2016 included:

  • Public safety is compromised.
  • There is a real risk of serious injury or death
  • Worksafe guidelines and legislation are being disregarded •
  • There is uncertainty around responsibility for legal liability
  • • The environment is being damaged •
  • Protected wildlife are being threatened


Birdlife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan says Hooded Plovers cannot co-exist with commercial horse training – horses churn up the sand, disturb the chicks and nesting birds, crush eggs and damage protective nest fencing:

“‘Hoodie central’, located within Belfast Coastal Reserve between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, is one of the most important sites for Hooded Plovers in Victoria, providing habitat for up to 52 birds. It has one of the highest densities of breeding Hooded Plovers in eastern Australia, providing habitat for at least 21 breeding pairs. If horse training continues, these beach-nesting birds will not be able to breed in the reserve and could become locally extinct. Hooded Plovers cannot co-exist with commercial horse training.”

A public meeting was held at Killarney today to voice community concerns about commercial racehorse training at adjoining beaches. Picture by J. Fawcett 2016

Alternative sites for horse training sites have been proffered including a  strip of coast alongside Warrnambool’s Lady Bay while others argue there is a perfectly good race training track at Warrnambool’s Thunder Point.

Racing trainers are threatening to pull business from Warrnambool and Racing Victoria is batting for trainers.

I am not against racehorses, the 1920’s western-district champion Nauri was stabled at Killarney, my grandmother given a few shillings a week by Kirkstall trainer Tom Carmody for the champ to dwell in her bottom field,  and my grandfather a few shillings to help train him. 

But those were the days before we understood the importance of sustainable use of environments with protection to the forefront, before we appreciated the significance of country for Indigenous Australians  and before the awareness of fragile, emerging environments unknowingly damaged.


I just think it time that Killarney’s coastal strip, dunes and marine environments receive the protection  long overdue.  BCRAG are urging community to Sign The Petition  to protect Killarney beaches, coastal and tidal strips and dunes from environmental damage caused by horses in commercial training.


This article is an opinion piece by author Jenny Williams Fawcett   22 october 2016

Hooded Plover Facts (Swiftt)

Government inaction hurting Killarney Beach community (28 Oct 2016).

Solid rocker stays on message  1 Nov 2016

Melbourne Cup: Port Fairy locals protest against Darren Weir style beach training tactics. (29 Oct. 2016)

Killarney Triathlon to go ahead this weekend despite racehorses on beach concerns (28 Oct 2016)

Shane Howard launches scathing attack on trainer Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir. (25 Oct. 2016)

Racing Minister defends racehorse trainer in Killarney stoush

Protection sought for Killarney Beach

Birding Killarney Beach

MP James Purcell and potential conflict of interest


MLC James Purcell claims support for racehorse training on Killarney Beach

Darren Weir’s spring plans take a hit as Warrnambool beach ruled off limits for horses

Horses for Courses not Beaches: Victorian National Parks (Sep. 2016)

Music Legend SHANE HOWARD speaks up for Killarney

MP James Purcell doesn’t want Killarney racehorses to train at Port Fairy


Barney at Killarney (June 2016)

Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group calls for horse training moratorium at Killarney (June 2016)

BCRAG calls for horse training moratorium at Killarney JUNE 2016

Moyne Shire (Port Fairy) Council Report: Killarney and Racehorse Training. March 2016

Moyne Shire to meet Parks Victoria and DELWP over Killarney beach horse issue

Horse training future fears (Feb. 2016)

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