Regardless of where you are in Australia, it’s pretty common to find rusted out old cars, tyres, appliances, couches and other random refuse dumped in greenspaces and trail networks across the country. A group of mountain bikers from Wollongong are taking on this problem, and have removed more than seven-tonnes of litter from the Illawarra Escarpment.
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Mountain bikers clean up the escarpment
Craig Morris moved to Wollongong a little over two years ago and lives at the bottom of Mount Kiera Road. Morris and his wife would regularly pick up litter when they walked on trails near their home. After seeing someone else post about how much garbage there was on the Escarpment, he floated the idea of a cleanup to the riding community.
“I put a post up in a Wollongong Mountain Bikers Facebook group, and within two days, we had over 100 people saying yes, ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.’ It was nice to see the enthusiasm because mountain biking in the Illawarra cops a bit of caning,” he says.
The council told us they recycled over two-tonnes of scrap metal, they recycled eight-litres of engine oil, they recycled 120 (car) tyres, they got rid of 10-metres-squared of asbestos from three separate areas which has been bagged and properly disposed of.
Unfortunately, this was right as Covid reared its head and forced New South Wales into a lockdown, so their plans were delayed. Morris used this time to walk Clive Bissel Drive and Harry Graham Drive — two of the main access roads to the trails on the Escarpment — to get a handle on how much rubbish was out there, and where it was along the road.
“If we can just focus on those areas when we get a chance, that’s a pretty good start,” he says.
When the lockdown lifted, Morris picked a day — December 12 — and put the call out. A group of over 40 mountain bikers brought trailers and large hessian bags to collect the rubbish, and liaised with the council to have what they removed hauled away.
A multi-tonne opperation
According to Morris, after the council retrieved what they had removed, it reported the group had collected a total of seven-and–a–half-tonnes of illegally dumped rubbish.
“The council told us they recycled over two-tonnes of scrap metal, they recycled eight-litres of engine oil, they recycled 120 (car) tyres, they got rid of 10-metres-squared of asbestos from three separate areas which has been bagged and properly disposed of,” he says.
Morris tells Flow they also discovered another area of asbestos which the council has had to bring in a contractor to remove, and they pulled out furniture, fridges and metres upon metres of discarded electrical cabling.
“One of the comments from the guys who picked up all of the stuff that we pulled out, was that this was the biggest cleanup any volunteer group has done in the region,” says Morris.
“It was a fantastic feel-good thing for everyone involved, and we got so much support from the mountain bike community, and the wider community,” he continues.
Clean-up reveals the problem at hand
Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived, as he tells Flow less than a week later, someone had dumped a load of car tyres where they had just been.
Morris told Flow he is planning to organise another cleanup in February or March next year, and again in September just before the UCI Road World Championships come to Wollongong.
“We’ll organise to do one just prior to the race to make sure it’s looking its best, because obviously there’s going to be helicopter coverage and lots of cameras on the roads — we’ll try and make it look as good as possible,” he says.
National Parks is currently in the process of remediating trails on Mount Kiera due to environmental and aboriginal heritage concerns. However, with local riders going out on their own accord, and removing an African Elephant’s worth of garbage from this same area, it begs the question of why the onus has fallen on them to organise and conduct this cleanup.
“The thing that gets me is that the council and EPA really aren’t doing anything about people dumping stuff. Mountain bikers in our community have contacted the EPA and the Council previously and they don’t seem to be interested in doing anything about it,” Morris says.
From the outside looking in, while the powers at be are devoting a substantial amount of energy to closing trails that have been there for years, Wollongong’s mountain bike community is pulling more than their weight — seven-and-a-half-tonnes and counting — to look after the Illawarra Escarpment.