As Tumby Bay farmer Dion LeBrun plunged into the freezing cold water from the town’s jetty this morning in darkness, he couldn’t help but smile. 

The Eyre Peninsula seaside town, 50 kilometres north of Port Lincoln — the major hub of the region — had been without its 116-year old jetty from October 2022 until May this year, following extensive storm damage.

Mr LeBrun, who is also the Tumby Bay Progress Association president, was one of a hundred town residents who took part in a winter solstice swim to celebrate the official reopening of the jetty.

Brave Tumby Bay residents huddle at the jetty before the jump.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

While 7:20am marked the exact moment the Southern Hemisphere was at its furthest tilt from the sun this year — the winter solstice — Mr LeBrun swam in darkness and in the nude well before in a moment of personal victory and relief.

“I can’t count the hours myself and other community members have put into finding a solution,” Mr LeBrun said.

About 100 people jumped from the Tumby Bay jetty to mark the winter solstice.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

Mr LeBrun, who organised a protest jump at the jetty in summer when it was closed, said the winter solstice event was a chance to do something “a bit different”.

“We locked into a bit of Wim Hof breathing and leapt off the jetty,” he said.

“It’s a chance for the community to say, ‘We had our protest swim during summer when [the situation] was terrible, let’s have a celebration swim in winter now it’s open’.”

Novel solution provides temporary fix

Tumby Bay’s jetty is one of 36 in South Australia owned by the state government but leased to local councils, which are required to pay for maintenance.

Following the storm damage, Tumby Bay District Council faced the prospect of repairing the jetty for $4.8 million, with the state government paying half, or a potential rebuild, which would cost $11 million.

As the two-year mark without a jetty approached, the council received permission to pursue what CEO Rebecca Hayes called a “novel solution”, allowing it to reduce weight loading limits from a commercial jetty to a recreational one, which lowered repair costs significantly.

Friends hug after jumping.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

Mr LeBrun said the state government’s decision was a “game changer”, and everyone in the town had chipped in to find a short-term solution for the jetty once it became a possibility.

“Progress donated $75,000, the engineer contractors performed some expensive estimations for free, and we’ve been giving them food for smoko,” he said.

 “It shows what’s possible when a community comes together.”

Maritime Constructions chief executive officer Shane Fiedler said his company undertook work for free as they understood the significance of the project.

“That’s what motivated us to get involved,” he said.

Mr Fiedler said the solution meant the jetty would be open for two years while the council and state government worked out a long-term solution.

Long-term future not resolved

Asked about any progress with the state government, Ms Hayes said the council would be more likely to go ahead with a partial repair of the jetty, paid in half by the government, rather than a full replacement.

Tumby Bay District Council mayor Geoff Churchett and chief executive officer Rebecca Hayes.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

“It will buy us another 10–15 years — the replacement model is just outside our ability,” she said.

As many other regional councils face the same issues with unaffordable repairs needed for old jetties, Ms Hayes said she had written to the Local Government Association and asked for the possibility of a statewide jetty levy.

“If any of you go to Adelaide, you will probably walk on a jetty maintained and paid for by ratepayer money. All things being equal, it should apply here,” she said.

However, she said her ratepayers had voted against the possibility of a local jetty levy to support its jetties. 

Issue driven by ‘unnecessary’ repair costs

Mr Fiedler said his company had worked on almost all regional SA jetties in the past 30 years and believed the problem had reached a tipping point due to increasing “red tape” required by the government, which made jetty projects far more expensive than in the past.

Maritime Constructions chief executive officer Shane Fiedler.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Amelia Costigan)

“Basically, there are a lot more costs involved. We believe some of it is unnecessary,” he said.

“There is not a lot of variability in the [timber] jetties, as to how they are put together, we don’t need to look at each one individually as a new massive project.”

Mr LeBrun echoed the sentiment and said the town was in the same position as it was before the damage had occurred two years ago.

“We still need to find an affordable way for communities to do the upkeep and maintenance. We have advanced nowhere in that space,” he said.

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