Wollongong City Council works to fix drain where Ryan Teasdale was swept away

Preventing another tragedy: Wollongong council has started work to cover the Unanderra stormwater opening where Ryan Teasdale disappeared in March. Picture: Robert Peet.
Preventing another tragedy: Wollongong council has started work to cover the Unanderra stormwater opening where Ryan Teasdale disappeared in March. Picture: Robert Peet.

The open drain where Unanderra boy Ryan Teasdale died after being swept away in floodwaters will be covered by a new grate system, as part of a Wollongong council design change prompted by the March tragedy.

Council workers have started construction on a new stormwater drain system in Riley Park, where the 11-year-old disappeared on March 16 while playing on his boogie board with his older brother and other children in gushing water.

Ryan’s body was found the following morning about 500 metres from the drain opening at the downhill end of the Unanderra park.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the council had consulted with the Teasdale family about the work, which had been brought about by Ryan’s death.

“The council is always going to go back and review what it does to prevent further injury or mishap,” Cr Bradbery said.

“It’s not that the council had any precedent to work on, this was the first fatality of that type, and we’re looking at ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He said the council had identified about five drain sites to be reviewed.

Immediately after the boy’s death, many Illawarra residents questioned why the stormwater opening was not covered by a grate or some other covering.

At the time, the council said it would await findings from the Coroner – who is still reviewing the death – before changing the drain system at the park. 

Staff noted that there was a danger in simply placing a grate over the top of the existing opening, as this may create a dam and cause water to flood the road or nearby houses.

Since then, Cr Bradbery said the council had sourced a replacement for the 1950s stormwater drain, which would allow water to flow away while stopping any risk of people being washed down the drain.

“The point of the exercise is to make sure the water drains away, but that large objects can’t get into that system,” he said.

The new system has been described by the council as a “grated letterbox drop pit”. 

The council works will also reconfigure the way the water flows across the park in heavy rain, and an earth mound will be built along Ridley Parade to reduce the amount of water that may flow onto the road.

The work is expected to take about three weeks to complete.

The council said this work was being based on safety standards from Queensland, as there were no equivalent standards in NSW or national guidelines.

​“The existing design in the park was built in the 1950s as part of a NSW Housing Commission development. It isn’t consistent with what we would be required to construct in this location now.”

“Council found that the NSW and National guidelines for public safety and design of ageing and new stormwater inlet structures only provided generic risk assessment guidelines and didn’t consider designs that prevent access to inlet structures while also managing blockage and flood impacts,” the council’s infrastructure strategy and planning manager Mike Dowd said.

He also said the council was putting together new risk management criteria to assess other drain structures across the city.

“Once we have these criteria finalised we will systematically review and, if appropriate, replace or modify other structures as part of our Capital Works Program.,” he said.