Brian Caton ‘a coastal legend’- RIP 9 February 2020

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A number of ACS members in Adelaide recently attended a wake for Brian Caton. Our condolences to Angela and his family. Brian’s wake had many ‘coastal’ people, representing a mark of respect and appreciation for Brian’s immense contribution to coastal management in SA.

We have selected a few comments below to illustrate Brian’s legacy in coastal management.

Bruce Thom – I remember some time ago when Brian was working at The University of New England he did a consulting report for the residents of New Brighton who were concerned about loss of their beach. Brian’s report concluded that the training walls at New Brunswick were a major cause of increased erosion at New Brighton. At the time, the NSW Public Works Department engineers dismissed Brian’s conclusions, however, Brian was later vindicated by detailed studies undertaken by Angus Gordon and others.

Doug Fotheringham, Rob Tucker and Murray Townsend - We collectively put together a response for his funeral. As long-term members of the Coastal Management Branch in SA, we witnessed the great respect our colleagues had for Brian and his contribution to coastal management in South Australia. He was passionate about the coast. He also got his university students involved in practical ways, such as his student-based long-term monitoring of seabed movements on Brighton jetty compiling more than 10 years of depth measurement. This only stopped because the jetty was rebuilt.

His work for the Coast Protection Board was unstinting, professional, valued and without fear or favour. Initially joining the Board as the coastal expert, he eventually became the Presiding Member. One of his most important actions, characteristic of his passion and integrity, was his stand in the 1990s against the government of the day’s decision to freehold shacks on the coast and River Murray. This conflicted with the Board’s policies to not approve development at high risk from erosion or flooding. As Presiding Member he advised the Board that in time if the Board did not hold firm on its policy it would be poorly judged by history. He took the matter so seriously that he agreed to a helicopter flight by Channel 9 around the coast of Yorke Peninsula to highlight the government’s intention and draw the attention of the public to such folly. He did this well knowing that it was an action, which was certain to bring him into disfavour, and he was not unexpectedly removed from the Board.

A later government reappointed him to the Board. In his retirement Brian once again got involved in hands on coastal work. He joined a team to undertake conservation assessments of the coast. He coordinated the writing of most of the reports. He mentored a number of young researchers involved in this work. The reports have been invaluable to government and community groups associated with the coast. He was a good friend to many of the coastal staff and a sad loss.

Nick Harvey – Over the 40 years, I knew Brian, he became involved in many aspects of coastal management at different levels. For example, in 1993 he was part of the Australian Government delegation to the World Coast Conference in The Netherlands, working with Gerry Morvell, Peter Waterman and others. He later took on a key role in the federally funded Coasts and Clean Seas Program.

My main memory of Brian has to be when we jointly wrote the book ‘Coastal Management in Australia’ for Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2003. Brian and I approached the task with a mutual understanding of what needed to go in the book and remarkably we had no disagreement about how we would divide the writing between us. Although much of the policies and government legislation in our book has changed, our discussion on the principles of coastal management remains valid. When OUP decided not to reprint the book, we made it freely available as a PDF download through the University of Adelaide Press (LINK). For a long time it was the highest downloaded publication.

After retiring from university, Brian re-modelled himself as a coastal consultant. Perhaps one of his greatest consulting legacies was his involvement as the main writer in the suite of Coastal Action plans produced for most of the coastal regions of SA. These comprehensive plans were practical, GIS-based and included coastal ecology, coastal conservation, coastal hazards, climate change and directions for future action.

Damian Maroney - I remember, Brian being a key player in the Coasts and Clean Seas program as Chair of the Assessment Panel (Coastcare and Clean Seas grant programs) for 8 years. Brian also took a lead role in the development of both the Metropolitan and Adelaide and Northern Coastal Action Plan and the Southern Fleurieu Coastal Action Plan.

Beverley Clarke - Brian taught Coastal Studies to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Flinders University up to 2004. He was a dedicated and highly skilled teacher. Brian was a firm believer in teaching by example and then letting students loose to find their way, and it almost always worked! He cared deeply for students under his tutelage and was generous with his time and knowledge. Many students taught by Brian are now employed as coastal managers. All the students he taught benefitted from his wisdom, patience, humour and most importantly, his valuable insights generated from a love of the coast, and a wealth of practical experience. Brian is remembered by his Flinders colleagues as one of the good guys.

Nick Harvey and Doug Fotheringham – We would like to conclude by saying that Brian has left us a tremendous legacy for coastal management in South Australia. He stuck to his principles on coastal management, he had a passion for the coast, he was a great communicator and he was very well respected by all and will be sadly missed by former colleagues.


Words by Nick Harvey and Doug Fotheringham. Please respect the authors' thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2020, for correspondence about this blog post please email