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Meet the man who blew up Byron's jetty

Almost half a century on since civil engineer Bo Wharton was involved in the demolition of the Byron Jetty.
Almost half a century on since civil engineer Bo Wharton was involved in the demolition of the Byron Jetty. Samantha Poate

IT'S been 46 years since Bo Wharton demolished the Byron Whaling Jetty, which he now says should of been a nice tourist attraction.

Fresh out of university, a young 23 year-old Mr Wharton was assigned to Byron Bay as part of his engineering cadetship with NSW Public Works.

His first task on the job was to get rid of the remnants of the Byron Jetty as it had become extremely unsafe following a cyclone in 1954.

"The jetty use to be three quarters of a mile long, it was a substantial jetty, it was made of turpentine pylons and they would be 18inches diameter," Mr Wharton said.

"When I got to it there was about a quarter of a mile remaining and it has a railway on it and a train.

"I said I didn't think I could do it, we built things at university not tear things down."

To complete the task, Mr Wharton said he hired a diving team from Ballina.

"They had a work boat, a big aluminium dingy and a lot of diving equipment," he said.

Before demolition could begin, the sludge line from the old meat works had to be removed.

"All this blood and guts was running into the water which was attracting fish and sharks," Mr Wharton said.

"So, first thing we had to do was take the line off the jetty and lay it on the bottom of the ocean."

Mr Wharton still remembers clearly the procedure they went through to slowly take down the old jetty.

"We went down diving with hooker gear - which are tubes going up to a compressor - and we would go down with arms full of explosives gel ignite, and we'd wrap it around the base of a line of six piers, right on the sand.

"We then had an explosive wire called the cortex, to bring it up to the surface.

"Then the blokes on the top, having removed the rails, would then chain saw through the deck, and we had a bulldozer on the beach.

"We hit the bulldozer with wire rope to join it up to the jetty, pressed the button, then boom a big explosion, then we pulled all the stuff to shore, stacked it up on the beach and burned it.

"There were no environmental impact statements then, it was golden days."

Almost 50 years on and Mr Wharton said it was a shame the jetty was gone.

"It is a shame really if it was there today it would be rescued which would be nice, but in those days, it wasn't like that."

The site itself is still significant as tourists at Belongil Beach can read a plaque about the old jetty.

However, Mr Wharton said he was quite disappointed to see they have got a few details wrong.

"The sign ahead of it said it was destroyed by the cyclone in 1974 but that's not correct because it was gone by then."

Topics:  history


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