Horses are being banned from Warrnambool’s Levy’s Point on the cusp of the Spring Racing Carnival.
Aboriginal Affairs Victoria has “cautioned” Warrnambool City Council about the potential impacts of horse training on indigenous cultural heritage.
“As a result of this advice council has suspended horse access to Levy’s Point,” a council spokesman said.
Access is also being restricted at Warrnambool’s Lady Bay to better balance the needs of all beach users.
“Horse trainers are still able to take race horses to Lady Bay beach but the horses must remain on the wet sand close to the water’s edge, or in the water,” the spokesman said.
Changes are aimed at improving safety for both people and horses.
“In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of racehorses being taken to Lady Bay. Between 80 and 100 horses are now using the beach daily,” the spokesman said.
“This has implications for the environment and for other beach users including walkers, joggers, surfers and anglers.
The spokesman said the horse racing industry was an extremely important part of the city’s economy.
Leading trainer Darren Weir used south-west beaches to prepare galloper Prince Of Penzance before his famous victory in last year’s Melbourne Cup. The triumph fuelled an increase in beach training, prompting public safety concerns.
The council said it was working with South West Owners Trainers Riders Association and the State Government to develop a long-term strategy.
Association secretary Jane Baker said the racing fraternity was unaware of indigenous cultural significance at Levy’s Point.
"The news was a total surprise to us," she said.
“It's very disturbing. We're working closely with the council on this matter. We're all just catching our breath before we have a meeting next week.
“We have informed all trainers not to use Levy's Point until we receive further direction from the WCC."
Baker said trainers had to reapply to the council for Lady Bay access.
"The annual renewals are up for trainers to use the beach,” Baker said.
"There are some restrictions which have been put in place down at Lady Bay by the WCC regarding having smaller groups of horses working on the beach. We can understand their concerns and are working with them."