"IT'S just a ridiculous situation."
Gold Coast brothers Clayton and Clint Black were shocked by what they saw at their father's Old Bar beachfront property in the first light of dawn yesterday.
The brothers had taken time off work and travelled from Queensland overnight to support their distraught 82-year-old father, Mal, as he watches more of his backyard wash into the sea with each wave.
Less than 20 metres from his back door, across what used to be a wide grass lawn, is a four metre high drop-off ... a sandy cliff onto the eroded beach, buffeted by waves.
They estimate 25 metres of their father's yard has disappeared into the sea in recent years.
"Our greatest fear is that Dad's house is now located within that 20 metre line on a map where he can be ordered to either evacuate or demolish," Clayton Black said.
Already three other homeowners along the stretch of Old Bar's eroding coast have faced this predicament, their houses demolished in 2008 and their pricey properties left in limbo ever since without compensation.
All this time Greater Taree City Council has been preparing its Coastline Management Policy, still not completed.
Council has however adopted a strategy of 'planned retreat', and just yesterday delivered a letter to residents of Lewis Street, Old Bar, saying that while its policies have not changed, a recent reform to the NSW Coastal Protection Act makes it easier for affected landowners to place large sandbags on beaches as temporary coastal protection works, to reduce erosion impacts during storms.
The allowable height of these works is currently 1.5 metres, "which may be altered in a new code expected in the first half of this year," council's letter states.
As the Black brothers surveyed the four metre drop into the sea from their father's backyard at 5.30am yesterday, council's letter was little compensation.
"We just don't know what to do next," Clayton Black said.
The family has a thick file of documents detailing changes to coastal protection practices, with Clayton looking at the responsibilities of councils in beach protection issues.
His father bought the property at 24 Lewis Street in 1987, with no hint of what would happen in the next 26 years.
The property is to the north of the Meridian resort, which itself has lost around 40 metres of grounds in recent years and currently has a development application with the state government to construct substantial protection works with sand-filled geofabric bags.
Immediately to the south of Meridian are the three properties where houses have already been demolished as they threatened to topple into the sea.
"Substantial erosion has been ongoing at Dad's place for some time," Clayton Black said. "It's been at a fairly slow rate but this last lot of storms in the last few weeks have picked it up and brought it to within what we believe is the proclaimed 'evacuate or demolish' line.
"Dad is struggling health-wise, and has been struggling to deal with the situation with council for about five years.
"He was a member of a placard-carrying demonstration outside council some years back, when council officers were told they were not even allowed to talk about it (the erosion)."
Mr Black said two mature Norfolk Island pine trees that had once been between his father's house and the ocean were "the only things" now preventing even faster erosion. Both trees toppled onto the beach about a year ago, and their remains now offer scant protection to the crashing waves.
"They're offering token protection... probably the only thing saving it from eroding even further. If they weren't there the ocean would probably be within 15 metres of the house."
Mr Black said pressure must be brought to bear on Greater Taree City Council to take a lead in coastal protection measures, considering its much publicised position as one of the top three erosion 'hotspots' in New South Wales.
"Everyone along this stretch of eroding Old Bar coastline pays their rates... in fact they pay some of the highest rates. And would you believe, here in this street there isn't even kerbing and guttering.
"Council has sat on its hands on the erosion issue for years, and despite many formal requests they just keep knocking us back. Now they're going to have to play catch-up.
"If council still doesn't want to assist, it looks like even more houses will disappear."
As this edition went to press, the Black family was continuing talks with Old Bar Beach Sand Replenishment Group which is pressing for protection from a manmade offshore reef, and with other affected landowners.
"We need those eco-fabric sand bags," a family friend, Beryl Wardel told the Times.
"You would think that if they can help all the flood victims they could come and help this man who is recovering from a very bad time health-wise and is incapable of protecting his home of 26 years."