Wollongong's beach season will end a month early, with flags at all 17 patrolled beaches coming down at the end of the day on Tuesday as the council works to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The move comes as some residents in the city's northern suburbs have taken matters into their own hands, installing makeshift signs to deter out-of-towners.
Over the weekend, as many beaches remained busy, signs appeared at Sharkeys Beach in Coledale telling people it was a "COVID-19 self isolation zone. GO AWAY."
Other graffiti appeared on the bridge to Thirroul and at the top of Bulli pass which says, in various forms, "COVID IS HERE - GO HOME".
On Tuesday, the council announced it would remove patrols from its beaches to try to stop people from gathering in public spaces.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the early end to beach season was a response to tightening NSW Government regulations about public gatherings and leaving home, which came into force on Tuesday.
"Vigilantism can be dangerous in itself. We don't want individuals to feel they have permission to actively be racist or violent towards others and what might be an innocent sign on the beach can turn into a permission giving exercise for people to take matters in to their own hands."Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, in response to the graffiti in the northern suburbs.
He said beaches were not closed, but emphasised that any people using them must obey the laws banning all gatherings of more than two people. Wollongong beaches could still be used for exercise - like walking or surfing, either alone or with family members - and social distancing must be observed, he said.
"It's going to be near impossible to fence off beaches here, like they have done at Bondi," he said.
"We have 17 patrolled beaches, and more that aren't patrolled. But one of the reasons we are bringing down the flags, is to stop people from clustering in that area near the flags."
Council lifeguards will place signs at the beaches and "pursue passive surveillance duties", and Wollongong's beach amenities remain open.
As for the installation of home-made signs, Cr Bradbery said he was "extremely concerned" about any "vigilantism".
"We need to act to curb any behaviour like that," he said.
"Vigilantism can be dangerous in itself. We don't want individuals to feel they have permission to actively be racist or violent towards others and what might be an innocent sign on the beach can turn into a permission giving exercise for people to take matters in to their own hands."
However, he emphasised that people from Sydney - be it the eastern suburbs where beaches are closed or South Western Sydney - should not be visiting Illawarra beaches.
"We have been given directions from the state to avoid unnecessary travel - that includes people from Sydney coming down to the Illawarra," he said.
"We don't want people down here on beaches or around tourist destinations to cluster in groups."
He said residents should not "waste the opportunity" to bring the disease outbreak under under control, and warned that further restrictions completely stopping people from going outside could follow if people didn't follow the law.
"If we abide by these rules we can possibly stop further restrictions from being put in place and we can still have some freedoms," he said.
"The measures and new fines the NSW State Government have announced today are hefty, and rightly so. Coronavirus could be a life-and-death matter for some people in our community and we all have a responsibility to work together and help one another.''
Wollongong councillor Leigh Colacino, who lives at Stanwell Park, said residents should know they were able to go out and exercise at beaches as long as they practised social distancing.
"At the moment, you can still go for a walk on our beaches, you can go for a surf, but you have to practise social distancing and you cannot be in groups of more than two people," he said.
"We still want people to exercise, we still want people to use local outdoor spaces - but COVID-19 is real and it's serious and you need to follow the rules. Hopefully this short period of discomfort means we can eventually go back to our normal way of life in a few months time."
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