The Berry Canal was dug in 1822 so that boats could pass further up the Crookhaven River and enable the transportation of goods to Sydney and beyond. Connecting the Crookhaven and Shoalhaven rivers by means of the canal changed the river ecosystem completely and over time the old mouth of the Shoalhaven River almost completely disappeared.
However in times of flood the natural river system reasserts itself and the old river mouth opens up, cutting off Comerong Island from Seven Mile Beach. Sometimes the mouth opens by itself and sometimes it needs a helping hand to get things moving. It is not unusual for the council to bring excavation equipment down onto the beach and for council workers to prepare for high tides during river flood.
On March 8th 2012 the river was in flood and, as the high tide approached, water levels were two metres above their usual levels. The public wharf was covered by the rising water levels and the water started creeping across the grass and towards the road past the top caravan park.
The council had been on-site prior to the flood, digging a channel with mechanical excavators, but the ‘notch’ was placed in a location to the north of the old river mouth and it was felt that this was not the best place to situate the flood remediation notch. It had been a long time since the mouth of the river had opened and the benefits of opening it, above and beyond stopping the village from flooding, were many.
As luck would have it, a group of locals had spontaneously decided to go out walking on the beach that morning with spades and other digging implements. One of the men accidentally began digging a trench in the beach sand and other men accidentally joined in with the spades and other digging implements they had randomly decided to take with them to the beach. They had no idea why they’d all decided to start digging in that place at that time, but they had really good fun doing it.
Before long, a trench had been accidentally dug from the edge of the ocean, across the old river mouth, to the edge of the river waters. An official from the Fisheries agency arrived at the scene and took issue with the trench that had been accidentally cut. The official wanted the local spade-and-digging-implements-beach-walk group to accompany him to be questioned about the trench and what he termed ‘illegal dredging’, but all of the locals suddenly discovered that they had urgent appointments to keep elsewhere and were unable to join the nice man from the Fisheries agency.
The water soon found its way through the accidental trench and before long the water started flowing through properly and carving away a path across the old silted-up river mouth. The Shoalhaven River mouth was open once again. However, as the flood waters receeded and things started returning to normal, over the course of the following months, the mouth slowly closed back up again.