The local council in Robe, in South Australia’s south-east, has decided to not spend ratepayers’ money to investigate saving the town’s famous obelisk from falling into the sea.

There has been debate in the town about whether money should be spent to prolong the life of the 169-year-old monument that sits on an eroding promontory.

But in its latest strategic plan the District Council of Robe announced its decision not to pursue an investigation into what to do about it.

Pounding waves on the rocks around the obelisk could lead to it collapsing into the sea at any time, but the council has previously said there was also a chance it could remain there for another 100 years.

The council has also put off how to memorialise the obelisk until after it collapses.

The obelisk had much more land around it in 1919.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

Divided views on cost

Mayor Lisa Ruffell said the council had come to the conclusion that preserving the obelisk in its current location was not a responsible use of ratepayer funds.

“While we recognise its profound historical significance, various factors such as cost, environmental impact, practicality and community opinion present significant challenges,” she said.

District Council chief executive Nat Traeger (left) with Mayor Lisa Ruffell, who says it would be irresponsible to spend ratepayers’ money on the investigation.(Supplied: District Council of Robe)

The obelisk was installed in 1855 as a day guide for ships entering Guichen Bay and now is a notable landmark and tourist attraction.

An online survey conducted by the council in April found 58 per cent of respondents wanted all options explored to save the monument.

A separate council survey found 70 per cent of respondents thought an “attractive replica” should be built if the obelisk collapsed.

Less popular suggestions included an interactive display, light show, or even a hologram.

Support for monument

Tourists and locals spoken to by the ABC were unanimous in wanting the obelisk saved.

Queensland tourist Mick Brennan did a painting of the obelisk after visiting it this week.

“I think they should put some effort into either relocating it or securing it. It’d be shame to lose a bit of history,” he said.

The obelisk features on souvenirs and promotional material for both Robe and the wider Limestone Coast.

Helen Warren says the obelisk doorstops are a popular souvenir.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Robe resident Helen Warren said doorstops in the shape of the obelisk were among the most popular items sold at the souvenir and homeware store she worked in.

“I don’t know how you fight erosion, but it’d be nice for it to remain if possible … it’d be nice to have an investigation, yes,” she said.

Local Jo Murray agreed.

“Whenever anyone comes to Robe, they go for a walk and see the obelisk,” she said.

The obelisk on a cliff near Robe was built in 1855, and is a local icon. February 2024(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

Decision ‘disappointing’

Richard Angove is a building project manager who lives part-time in Robe.

He first raised the issue with the former council chief executive in 2020 and spoke before elected members last year urging them to investigate shoring up the base of the cliff where the obelisk sits.

Robe home owner and part-time resident Richard Angove has advocated saving the obelisk.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

He said the council’s decision was “completely disappointing”.

“If we knew $200,000 would shore up the face of the cliff, and that could continue the life of the obelisk for 50 years, I think the vast majority of the community would be supportive of that,” he said.

“If that was the case and council didn’t proceed with it then I think there would be a fairly large outcry by the community — both residents of Robe and those that visit Robe.” 

The council will spend $250,000 in the coming financial year re-routing a trail south of the obelisk around a blowhole that appeared in 2021.

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