These isolated Sydney homes are under ‘massive’ boulders which could fall at any moment, and authorities don’t know what to do


In Greek mythology, the sword of Damocles signified perpetual peril suspended over someone’s head, ready to fall at any moment.

Suzie and Joe Haddock know the story well — they’re living it — and are, so far, on day 120.

The couple’s home, in one of Sydney’s most remote suburbs, has been the subject of an evacuation order since October 25, when several boulders tumbled off a nearby escarpment and into their garden.

Authorities are worried there are more on the way.

The situation is so perilous, the Haddocks are only allowed to enter their home for 10 minutes a week.

“We’ve got the sword of Damocles hanging over us, literally,” Joe said.

“We live in limbo, and I just think — how can this have happened to us?”

A man and a woman stand on their front balcony, adorned with flags and hanging plants. The woman is pointing at her garden.
The Haddocks are limited to just 10 minutes a week at their home.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
An image of Great Mackerel Beach with a wharf and a boat in the foreground and homes surrounded by trees in the background.
Great Mackerel Beach is on Pittwater and has just three-dozen full-time residents.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

On a stormy night at Great Mackerel Beach (or “Mackerel” as the area’s three-dozen full-time residents call it) the Haddocks woke to what they thought was thunder, then a crack and a thud.

When they peered outside, they saw a massive boulder had landed four metres from where they were sleeping.

Their neighbours weren’t so lucky.

Two doors down, Ray and Lorraine Kemp’s place was smashed by the rock slide.

A man and woman, Ray and Lorraine Kemp, look at the camera with slightly sad expressions
Ray and Lorraine Kemp’s home was badly damaged in the landslide.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
A damaged garden behind a house
The property is now open to the elements — and any animals that want to make it home.(Supplied: Ray Kemp)

They weren’t there at the time, but have seen drone pictures of the damage — walls and windows destroyed, furniture broken, the boulders even felled their fridge, leaving rotting food all over the floor.

“It’s all open at the back, so there’s going to be animals in there, doing their business,” Lorraine said.

“Everything is just going to be ruined.”

“It would only take one more to come down, and that’s my place flattened I’d say,” Ray said.

“Now the path is clear, there’s a good chance it could just be barrelling straight into our house.”

A picture of a metre wide boulder that is wedged up against a tree and a wire fence.
A massive boulder landed metres from the Haddock’s home.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
Damage after a rock slide
A risk assessment says massive rocks still overhang the escarpment above the homes.(Supplied: Ray Kemp)

Another nearby home was largely destroyed in the incident, which has left an enormous scar on the cliffs that soar over Mackerel — a suburb wedged between Pittwater and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and accessible only by boat.

Four months after the incident, authorities remain unsure what to do.

A risk assessment by global engineering firm Jacobs shown to residents last week found “massive” rocks on the side of slope were “frequently overhanging”.

“Several detached blocks with maximum dimensions up to 5m are perched near the crest of the escarpment,” it read.

The assessment rated the risk of fatalities from a similar event in the future as “unacceptable” at three properties, including the Kemp’s and the Haddock’s.

Two men and two women stand next to a temporary fence looking unhappy. A yellow danger sign is out of focus in the foreground.
The Haddocks and Kemps have been living in limbo for 120 days.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
A yellow sign attached to a wire fence with an illustration of falling rocks. The sign reads 'Warning. Danger Do Not Enter'.
A more in depth analysis of the slope and potential solutions is being planned.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

The only solution proposed in the report to protect the houses — a fence — would be “challenging and expensive” to construct, and “onerous” to maintain, it warned.

In a statement, a National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson said the organisation’s priority was keeping residents safe.

They said a more comprehensive analysis of the slope above the homes, and potential solutions, was being planned.

“Specialist geotechnical engineers will complete the detailed analysis as quickly as possible to provide residents with the certainty they need,” the spokesperson said.

For now, the Haddocks are homeless.

“I’ve never been an anxious person, but I’ve discovered during this that I am,” Suzie said.

“When you start waking up each morning in tears, you know that it’s really affecting you.”

Two men and two women walk over a footbridge at Great Mackerel Beach.
The Haddocks are currently homeless and the Kemps can’t get an insurance assessment.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
A few boats and two canoes on a patch of grass in the foreground, with Pittwater and the Great Mackerel Beach wharf behind
The couples love its idyllic location and lifestyle.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

The Kemps have been living in another home they own, but insurance assessors have been unable to access their Mackerel property because it’s too dangerous.

The Haddocks, meanwhile, are caught in an insurance loophole — as their property is not damaged, they can’t make a claim.

Even if they could, it doesn’t solve the problem of their home being deemed too dangerous to live in.

They’ve been surviving on the generosity of friends, and crashing wherever they can.

“In May, Joe turns 70. I don’t think that he thought he’d be couch-surfing at that age,” Suzie said.

“We can’t sell our property, we can’t move on. We can’t do anything.”

The initial evacuation order was for a month, but it’s since been extended.

After a meeting with authorities last week, the couples now believe it could be years before there is a resolution.

A man and woman, Suzie and Joe Haddock stand at a temporary fence. Suzie is touching the fence and Joe holds their dog Karl Barx
Suzie and Joe Haddock’s Great Mackerel Beach home is uninhabitable due to a landslide.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)
A photo of a man docking a water taxi to the wharf at Great Mackerel Beach. A woman is standing upright to disembark.
Great Mackerel Beach is only accessible by boat.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

Petrified the sword would fall, Damocles begged to be allowed to escape from under it.

While he eventually did, the future for these couples is more complicated.

Despite loving Mackerel, the Kemps and Haddocks are resigned to the fact they will likely have to leave and are even open to having their properties forcibly acquired.

But it’s not that easy.

“We don’t own two houses, like a lot of people do on Mackerel,” Suzie said.

“We’ve invested everything we own in that house.

“If this goes on for two years, I don’t know what we’ll do.”



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