Lake Illawarra warrior hands over reins

Current Save Lake Illawarra Action Group chairman Col Wilton with outgoing chairman Bob Parsons.

Current Save Lake Illawarra Action Group chairman Col Wilton with outgoing chairman Bob Parsons.

Bob Parsons is happy to be labelled an activist.

"I've been called a lot of things," he laughed as he placed 12 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings on his dining room table, the first an Illawarra Mercury article from 1999.

It was the end of an era in 2013 when the NSW Government announced it would disband the Lake Illawarra Authority after 25 years, but 2013 was also a milestone year for the LIA's "mortal enemy" the Save Lake Illawarra Action Group (SLIAG).

After more than a decade in the role, Mr Parsons, the inaugural SLIAG chairman, has now handed over the reins to Col Wilton.

The entrance to Lake Illawarra has been alive this week with hundreds of holidaymakers and locals fishing from the foreshore and in boats, but it was a vastly different story 10 years ago.

"The lake stunk," Mr Parsons said.

Premature: The lake’s ‘‘death’’ in 2006.

Premature: The lake’s ‘‘death’’ in 2006.

Mr Parsons said ongoing frustration with the lake's condition, particularly after millions was spent on the entrance at the turn of the century, led to SLIAG events such as "the big dig" in 2002 and the "Save the Lake" rally in 2003, when a permanent lake entrance was called for.

Next came Pollution Man who, dressed in flippers and fangs, would emerge from the water at community protests, scaring some children.

Then in 2006 came the "Lake Wake", where crosses commemorated the "death" of the lake.

Monster from the deep: Bob Parsons takes on Pollution Man at Reddall Reserve.

Monster from the deep: Bob Parsons takes on Pollution Man at Reddall Reserve.

"When we had a thousand people people turn up for the big dig we knew then the community saw the lake as a big issue," Mr Parsons said.

"We were angry that millions was being spent on the foreshore but not the lake itself, the lake was a disgrace."

Mr Parsons said that SLIAG had achieved what it set out to do, which was to apply pressure on the government to provide the LIA with funds for a permanent entrance.

He does have a slight regret that SLIAG was seen to be political or anti-Labor, but he said they would have taken the same approach no matter who was in power.

"It was a Labor Government that controlled the purse strings ... at the time they had the power and the money," Mr Parsons said.

"The LIA didn't have the ability to pressure the government as it was controlled by the government and the people on it appointed by the government."

Mr Parsons said had the LIA had broader community input, SLIAG could have campaigned to keep the LIA structure in place, but the animosity between the two groups was just too strong.

"Now they've had it and we are still going," he said.

Mr Parsons said there will still be a role for SLIAG and with the proposed estuary management committee controlled by Wollongong and Shellharbour councils still in limbo, he fears Mr Wilton will have an arguably harder job overcoming the politics of the two councils.

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