Main Image

 Damara Infographic - Sediment Transport

Fifty years ago I was introduced to a young family in Canberra—the Eliots. Father Ian had commenced his PhD research supervised by John Chappell at the ANU. At the time I was a new Research Fellow keen to get into coastal studies and looking around for like-minded people on the campus. John said I must meet this enthusiastic chap keen to study rip currents at a place called Durras north of Batemans Bay. Ian and I talked through his project and in December 1971 we visited several south coast beaches with a view to establishing a long-term monitoring site. The Moruya embayment was selected (Bengello Beach) and he guided me in the installation of profile stations which Roger McLean continues to survey to this day (another blog on this coming soon).

Durras became the centre of Ian’s life for several years working with John and others on a number of adventures in beach process studies. While navigating the joys of a PhD he and John conducted several beach experiments with colleagues such as Mark Bradshaw. One of those attempted to “pump a beach dry” (see Bradshaw and Eliot, in Journal of Coastal Research, 2020, Special Issue, 101, 70-77). It was fun times as seen in Figure 1 of that paper typifying the way John and Ian were able to embrace students and staff into the world of coastal research.

The Eliot family moved to Wollongong for a period giving Ian the opportunity to study in detail another beach, Warilla, in the company of Des Clarke. Many papers flowed from this work (e.g. Clarke and Eliot, 1987, Marine Geology, 77, 319-326). Ian’s passion for such work continued when the family migrated back to his home state of Western Australia following an appointment to UWA. On several visits to Perth I was delighted to catch up for long discussions and visits to many of his favourite haunts including his beloved Scarborough Beach. I cherished his frankness and ability to critically reveal weaknesses in arguments.

By this time another one of the Eliot flock was showing passion for coastal research but with a twist, that of coastal engineering. His son Matt first came to my attention with a study he and his father (with A. Travers) undertook on a low-energy beach (Como Beach) in the Swan River Estuary (in Journal of Coastal Research, 2006, 22, 63-77). This paper was in an edition of JCR that Andy Short and I edited on Australian coastal geomorphology. Matt had received the benefits of not only working with an inspired father, but also with several engineers at UWA and in the WA state government. This enriched his ability to develop and apply quantitative models to an already sound geomorphic background.  A career was born that has further enlightened us on the nature of the extensive WA coast.

Matt Eliot established a small consulting company, Damara, that has undertaken work for government agencies and the private sector in recent years. Ian has been part of his son’s operation. It has been incredibly productive in examining coastal vulnerability to extreme events and climate change, for instance in the Pilbara and more southern regions. From this work Matt and colleagues have gleaned certain generic conclusions such as his excellent report to Geoscience Australia in 2013 on “Application of geomorphic frameworks to sea-level rise impact assessment” (Damara Report 193-01). I greatly admired the son-father article in Hydrobiologia, 2013, 708, 3-210 on interpreting estuarine change in northern Australia

I invited Matt to join a team under the NCCARF banner to look into climate change and coastal adaptation. One outcome of this work was a joint study on coastal sediment compartments at a national scale (part of CoastAdapt--Shoreline Explorer, see Thom et al., Ocean and Coastal Management, 2018, 154, 103-120. This work would not have been possible without the contribution of Matt and Ian. Since then Matt has generously provided some amazing infographics on coastal processes and geomorphology. He has allowed us to post these on the ACS website and with this blog I offer some examples (Groynes; Sediment Transport; Salinisation) In one page we can grasp the essence of some quite complex processes and be stimulated to learn more. Thanks Matt.

In paying tribute to Ian and Matt and their wonderful family, I am delighted to have benefitted from both knowing them as a family and working with them. They have inspired so many and I expect we will hear a lot more of their work in years to come.

Bruce Thom   

Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2021. For correspondence about this blog post please email