Bondi Snobs Hobble Pavilion’s Millions

Never get between an Australian neoliberal and a piece of public property.

Behind every #Coalition-run government lurk deep pockets and acquisitive eyes with a ready case to make this or that infrastructure “profitable” and for public monies to to grease the way.

When Waverley Council said they would throw $38 million at the Bondi Beach pavilion, ratepayers took fright.

Sure enough, in amongst the “heritage”, “restoration” and “tourism” brochure-speak was the expected ploy to privatise as much of the top level as it dared.

We’re used to standard “puff pieces” in papers and on TV, but Throsby noticed the Financial Revue run what might be termed a “pout piece” in which former Mayor Betts had a good ole gripe.

The paint is peeling off the walls and door frames. The toilets stink. Homeless people camp under the archways. A greasy takeaway sells overpriced ham-and-cheese rolls.”

So the local “snobs” who positively detest outsiders and visitors voted the mayoress out and scrapped her steadfast plan to turn the dirty old building – obviously wasted on hoi polloi, local beachgoers, and the homeless – into a “little Westfield” at the beach, apparently to impress the tourists.

Artists came out and said ‘we want to keep it as it is,’ which is ludicrous because they don’t even use it,” said Ms Betts.

The Fin Revue ran three pout pieces, by the way. One for Ms Betts, another for peeved architects, and a snarly OpEd titled “Who’s buggering Bondi…” pining for “magnificence” ruined by “hoons” driving up and down the main drag.

No mention - while nitpicking about dirty toilets, peeling paint, rubbish, (and homeless chattels) - of council neglect (or lack of assistance for the homeless) that brought the Bondi Beach pavilion to this sorry state. But that’s standard operating procedure: run infrastructure down and then say “privatisation will fix it.”

The headline grouse, that there weren’t enough restaurants or coffee houses near the beach to edify visitors and tourists, carried a subtext that the upper level was wastefully squandered on community activities.

Local snobs consider all of that a bonus.


The battle was over. It took citizen action, union work bans, and a line-up of well-known Australians to win. Along the way, Waverley’s mayor – who campaigned for a $38 million “renovation” and privatisation of the structure’s upper floor – lost her job.

Bondi belongs to Australia. The union [CFMEU] is right behind the ban, and the union has got tremendous support. It will bring the union back to its great power that saved so much of Sydney." ~ Veteran unionist Jack Mundey of Sydney’s green ban fame.

The plan – for a “grand entrance,” new theatre, restaurants and cafes – would mean loss of public spaces used over the years for arts, crafts, music bands, yoga, and meditation.

Bondi Beach is one of the great icons of Australia. And the Bondi Pavilion belongs to all Australians, as does the beach – and in particular, it belongs to the community of Bondi. The Bondi Pavilion must remain a community centre.

Get your hands off the Bondi Pavilion. It’s not a retail centre, it’s our community centre.

~ Actor Jack Thompson. [video at Facebook]

Former mayor Betts and her business-friendly Liberals were voted out in favour of a Labor-Greens dominated council that has downsized the spend to around $20 million with a focus on renovation, not commercialisation.

You sting the Bondi community $38 million to do up the pavilion, but then you freeze them out of the finished product. Great plan, hey?

~ Actor Michael Caton

Mayor of Waverley, John Wakefield, wants the pavilion to be renovated but unchanged, with the theatre, music room, large ballrooms, and seagull room retained.

It’s a great lesson of what normal people banding together, working together, can achieve. This is a credit to the thousands and thousands of people across Waverley that took a stance on a local issue that was important to them and worked tirelessly for an outcome.

We live in one of the most densely populated areas in Sydney and we’re lacking in community space."

~ Kilty O’Brien, Save Bondi Pavilion campaign

Variations on a Theme

A similar situation emerged at Newcastle. That city's century-old ocean baths were in sore need of restoration. While it's "shabbiness" - considered by some as a feature, not a complaint; it has always had a rather comforting used feel about the place - was becoming a problem, a council plan to facelift the old girl came across as a similar drive to privatise. 

The public uproar was quite deafening. Although the Labor-dominated council felt they were proceeding with the best of intentions, their initial announcements presented as a yuppie-makeover with generous concession to apparently (and also, ala Bondi) privatise an upstairs addition - that the architects unfortunately depicted (lacking any firm direction at this early stage) as bloody great ugly box overlooking the swimmers, from which (it was evident) the wealthy revellers/wedding guests/upmarket tourists could voyeur on the hapless traditional bathers. After stealing all the scarce parking around the baths.

No self-respecting patron of such a spiffy venue was ever going to let their  precious body within splashing distance of the commoners' salt water soup below. Of this, Friends of Newcastle Ocean Baths were instinctively aware, and had no desire to be gazed upon by an audience whose twain they would never meet.

We assume (hope and pray) Newcastle Council - oh, I mean City of Newcastle councillors - had the best of intentions, and were not in any way influenced by strong-minded wealthy citizens who may be broadly categorised in any era as "city fathers."

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