The History of Treasure Beach
While the history of the Treasure Beach Environmental Education Centre is relatively recent, the geologic history of Treasure Beach and the Bluff Ridge on which it is situated sweeps back into Geologic time. Remnants from the Ice Age, wave-cut platforms, aeolianite rock and conglomerate glacial till bear silent testimony to different climates and different sea-levels in the past.
In more recent times, on Christmas Day in 1497, Vasco Da Gama on his voyage of discovery sights the land which he names “Natal”. He names the Bluff headland “Ponta Da Pescaria” and the bay that it protects “Port Natal”. Little happens in this area until the British ship The Salisbury arrives in 1824 with a band of 26 settlers. In 1832 more settlers arrive, and hunters are brought in to clear the big game. In 1835 the town is named “Durban” after the then governor of the Cape.
On 4 August 1782 the Grosvenor was wrecked on the Pondoland coast north of Port St. Johns. Its legendary cargo was “an extravagant falsehood, invented to tantalise fortune-seekers to invest in the Grosvenor Bullion Syndicate Ltd in 1923”. Syndicates and salvage companies captured popular imagination leading to locals taking to digging on one beach in particular, looking for treasure. Thus was “Treasure Beach” so named. It had also been established that there are coal deposits under the Bluff. However, the small quantities are not economically viable for extraction.
The advent of World War Two bought about the development of RADAR, and a radar-training school was built in 1943 on the Bluff, operated by the Special Signal Service. In 1955 the British military handed over all radar sites to the South African Navy, and they were disbanded by 1958. They were handed over in turn to the Public Works Department, who had no further use for them. Most were not maintained, and thus allowed to become derelict.
Through the 1960's, the derelict buildings were used for photo-shoots by Republican Press, for modelling shots as well as action-stills taken to produce the so-called “penny horribles”; photo-magazines that were narratives of rebellious wrongdoing for the powerless masses・.
The environment was under threat. 1906 saw the last elephant shot in Zululand. In 1907, whaling in Durban commenced, reaching its peak in 1965. By 1975 the whaling station on the Bluff closed. 1975 and '76 saw a number of reports and motivations for conservation drawn up and submitted. Mr Roddy Ward and Mrs E Hennessy of the University of Durban-Westville Botany Department alerted authorities that the area housing the old radar-training school comprises a small remnant of the unique climax coastal grassland of a type not presented elsewhere in South Africa.・ Dave Hatton and Bill Hunt drew attention to the Reunion Rocks as the best example of inter-tidal rock pool habitat on the entire South African coastline. Dr. Ian Whitton saw the potential of converting the old radar school into an environmental education centre.
1982 saw the Wildlife Society motivating and negotiating to establish a Reunion Rocks / Treasure Beach / Happy Valley Conservation Area・, known as the Treasure Beach Project. Some of the land in question needed to be rezoned from apartheid-designated residential zones to Conservation status.
1984 ・ saw The Wildlife Society Treasure Beach Trust formed. Fund-raising and negotiating at the highest levels of government and the Zulu monarchy were undertaken.
1985 ・ Members, the community and Big Business got behind the project. Generous donations poured in.
1986 ・ Renovations get underway and by late 1987, the centre is close to completion.
1988 ・ The first school groups visit. Continuous upgrades take place as funds are available.
2003 ・ The Grace Alice Baumann Trust sees further upgrades to the kitchen and aquatic mural.