Hundreds swimming at Byron Bay's Main Beach at noon Sunday despite the fact the beach was closed yesterday after a shark incident at Belongil.
Hundreds swimming at Byron Bay's Main Beach at noon Sunday despite the fact the beach was closed yesterday after a shark incident at Belongil. Javier Encalada

Our disregard for safety: Are we dare devils or just dumb?

IT doesn't matter whether it's a warning about sharks, snakes, fires, floods or imminent road collapses, Northern Rivers' residents have recently displayed an alarming dose of the Aussie 'she'll be right attitude'.

Is it because we are locals or because we have grown accustomed to disregard advice from authority?

Ignoring warning signs reached new heights on the weekend when hours after a surfer had a 'huge chunk' taken out of his leg at Belongil Beach a few hundred metres up the sand, swimmers and surfers were wilfully ignoring advice and going back in the water.

Living in Australia certainly means enjoying some freedom, it's part of our culture.

But there is this other side of Aussie culture, the 'devil may care' and the 'she'll be right' culture, where we defy the authority and we take the risk because, after all, is part of our freedom. Right?

But what happens when authorities are trying to keep people safe and we don't listen to them?

After Sunday's shark attack at Belongil, Surf Life Savers closed all of Byron Shire beaches for the day.

By noon, only six hours after the incident, hundreds of people were enjoying a nice swim at Main Beach despite a sign stating the beach was closed and why.

Sure, sharks rarely attack during the day, but the fact the beach was closed remains.

At around 12.20pm, life savers added a new sign to the beach: 'Snake! Spotted in rocks' it read, and the surf life saver let a young man know that it was dangerous to stay seated on the rocks.

That man stayed seating there for another hour.

Last Friday, Byron Council was forced to close a section of Federal Drive because of the potential for a serious land slip.

The road was closed on Friday afternoon after an inspection of a section of the road by an independent Geotechnical Consultant Engineer.

The section of road on the western side of Federal Drive was identified as a land slip hazard in June 2018 and staff began planning for stabilisation works to be undertaken.

This morning, drivers were going around the sign and driving through the road, despite all the signs.

An SCU psychology expert has suggested lack of respect for authorities and local knowledge trumping expert knowledge were some of the reasons for this behaviour.

SCU lecturer in psychology Dr James Donnelly said he saw this in America, where he is from, during hurricane season in California, where some long time residents did not prepare and ended up having to be rescued.

"Their interpretation is, 'It's not as bad as I've been told and if it is bad I'm going to be able to handle it because I'm a local'. That's the meaning that they attach when estimating the level of risk,” he said.

The clinical psychologist said a lack of trust on politicians and authority may play against those trying to keep people safe but it is not only an Australian feature.

"I came from the US and there is also a sense there that politicians and governments are not someone you can necessarily trust, and if that's part of someone's belief system, that will make the discount information given to them coming from someone they perceive as different.”

Dr Donnelly said his son has been a paramedic and firefighter in South California for twenty years, and has seen the effect of people not trusting firefighters' advice during an emergency.

"It's very frustrating for the people trying to save or protect properties and lives, because they see the fallout. I worked in an Emergency Department for a while too and I saw what goes on when people expose themselves to risky situations,” he said.



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