With the sandbanks receding, only old carpets stop the ocean washing away the shack’s foundation. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
For many, the seaside shanty town of Wedge Island, on Western Australia’s coastline 160 kilometres north of Perth, is a weekend getaway destination.
But for one family it is the only home they have.
Rob and Kerry Howell live in a rusted tin shack and have been told they must leave because the ocean is threatening to wash away their home, in a devastating display of coastal erosion.
It is the second shack to be issued a demolition notice in two weeks, following bad weather and high tides.
Rob Howell built the shack with his father in the 1970s, and it is now his family home. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) has told the Howell family they must find emergency accommodation because their makeshift home is too dangerous.
Mr Howell said a car accident in 2014 left him unable to work, and they had to sell their home of 16 years in Perth.
Now their wobbly little shack is the only place they have left.
“We have already lost everything. We are living here because we have to; we were forced,” he said.
Mrs Howell said they were devastated.
“They have told us it has been undermined by the ocean, the sand is going away and we cannot inhabit [it]. We are in danger,” she said.
“We were given 24 hours to move out.”
But more than a week later, the couple and their two children are still there and are refusing to leave.
“We will not let the water take it away. We will manage it and make sure we move it back bit by bit,” Mrs Howell said.
The shack stands perilously close to the edge of the sandbank and local authorities are concerned about the consequences of more bad weather. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
Defending the castle against natural forces
Just a week before the Howells were told to evacuate, the shack next door crumbled onto the beach after a powerful storm washed away sandbanks. (Supplied: Facebook)
The Wedge Island Protection Association has a deal with the DBCA that licence holders must relinquish their shacks once nature threatens to destroy them.
President Brad Glew said there were not many options for the Howells.
“Coastal processes are one of the reasons that we would relinquish a shack or manage its retreat,” he said.
He said coastal erosion was an issue that came and went.
“It is a concern for all of the coastline,” he said.
“A lot of erosion has happened along this coastline, especially in the last couple of weeks because of these storms.
“We obviously see the beach grow and reduce throughout the years.”
Shire of Dandaragan president Leslee Holmes said she held concerns for other shacks in the future.
“I think there are a few that could be in jeopardy,” she said.
“At the point where the island is, you can see some years ago that they put car bodies in the dunes to try to stop that from eroding.
“Sometimes when it is all washed away you can see them, which is really unpleasant and unsafe.”
The ocean gives, then takes away
Mr Howell built the shack with his father in the 1970s and said it had been a home away from home for four generations.
Wedge Island has been home to holiday and fishing shacks since before World War II. (Supplied: Preserving Wedge and Grey for WA/Facebook)
“We started building it because my mum fell pregnant with my sister,” he said.
“So my little sister was raised here. We were all raised here and so were my kids, Kerry’s kids and we have kids together.”
Back then, several metres of sand dunes protected them from the beach, but the natural process of the ocean has taken that away.
Mrs Howell said it had happened before, but without such a detrimental impact.
“Forty years we have been here. The previous time the ocean took the sand away that was unexpected. It took quite a bit,” she said.
“This is the second time it has happened but we did not anticipate it coming so quickly and so dramatically.”
The couple said they would reapply to renew their yearly shack licence, with the hope of being allowed to move the structure back off the shoreline.
In the meantime, they are applying for emergency housing through the Department of Communities and hope another storm surge does not come through and destroy their slice of paradise.