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Getting to the Truth of Bondi Pavilion

By Dave Benson on August 30, 2017 in People

Photo by Aquabumps

Recent plans by Waverley Council to upgrade Bondi Pavilion have resulted in a small, and quite militant group of people protesting the changes. They claim to be motivated by concern for the community, but is that really true of all of them?

Before answering that, another question may help us get there: What makes a community?

I remember a group of people back in 2000, who claimed community interest was motivating them to protest against the Olympic volleyball stadium on Bondi. They claimed the stadium risked severe environmental damage, that a storm might wash it away, that the structure was contrary to Aboriginal spirituality, a danger to construction workers, and that a bad rip may be created in the surf. Stephen Uniacke, a lawyer involved in the campaign was quoted saying: “They’re prepared to risk lives and risk the Bondi Beach environment for the sake of eight days of volleyball”.

During a protest on the beach I went to see what the fuss was about. Less than a couple of hundred people gathered, and among them I recognised some as born and bred in the area – at the very least a pair of local surfing brothers, their mum, and a muso I grew up with. There may have been other home grown folk, but it was hardly a gathering of the tribe. A childhood friend, whose family has been in Bondi since the 1870s also noted the deficit of local faces, before she gave the papers a quote: “I want the volleyball, it’s going to be great”. She wasn’t alone.

The stadium went ahead, and the event was a triumph. Kerri Pottharst and Natalie Cook defeated the heavily favoured Brazilian opposition, to win Olympic gold for Australia. Nothing was washed away, and worker injuries never materialised. A rip developed, but didn’t claim any lives, instead it gave us pumping waves and we called it Macca-Stadiums for its Macaroni-like form.

Now, a new battle is raging around Bondi Pavilion, and we’re getting similar predictions of doom. Again I went to see what the fuss was about. At a recent council meeting a small group were once again making a lot of noise. The key question I asked myself was: are these people motivated by community interests? My answer is – possibly yes for a very small minority, but almost certainly no for the majority, and this is why:

Buildings don’t make communities, institutions do.

Of course institutions can benefit from having buildings, but buildings can’t make institutions. Bondi’s great institutions are principally sporting clubs, along with social groups, and then religious communities. But sticking with sporting clubs for now, it’s institutions like Bondi’s Surf Clubs, the Icebergs, Bondi Board riders, Bondi United, The Diggers, and even Paddo Colts (a defacto Bondi club) – which make communities. It’s in these institutions that kids learn perseverance, overcoming obstacles, personal responsibility, loyalty, and – most notably – they make lifelong friendships.

There’s little to no glamour to be found by volunteering in these organisations. No rock stars, actors, TV presenters, or photo shoots. And it is week in week out for years on end, often just like your parents and grandparents did before you. The Pavilion hosts pottery classes, AA meetings, dance and yoga sessions. They’re not without value, but are they the substrate of the community? No they’re not. I don’t propose deleting them (I enjoyed the art classes in the Pav as a kid, and may visit AA one day), but when I compare the much lesser value of these classes to the aforementioned clubs, I ask myself why are the protesters putting so much energy into their Bondi Pavilion campaign? Where were they when the Icebergs was about to be bulldozed by the council of the time? Where were they when Bondi United didn’t have a local comp to play in, when Paddo Colts folded, when the Boardriders shut down, when the Diggers Club was going broke and had to sell the building?

There would certainly be people who bridge both the clubs and protester groups but they are the exception not the rule, and few in number. The reason is that a large proportion of people protesting the Pavilion proposal, are not motivated by community they’re motivated by politics. The ‘manifesto’ for the Volleyball protests came from a political group (see Green Left Weekly May 2000: https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/bondi-protests-olympics-impact). At the recent council meeting, objection was framed by the abject hatred of political opposites. I couldn’t help but conclude these people were using the Pavilion as ammo for a political cause, rather than a cause for the community.

In that instance their message is corrupted by their political agendas, and so I have no faith in their motives and in turn distrust their claims. It’s not to say we should turn a blind eye to the Pavilion upgrades, these things must be investigated, my point is that we’re better off listening to voices that are unencumbered by political ideology. Listen to the voices of people with the credibility of time served in local institutions.

Save Bondi Pavilion posters are up in local shops, emblazoned with the bi-line: we will not be deceived. The irony of this is, at once, hilarious and tragic. If the shop owners understood the motives and politics of the messengers, and took the time to investigate the freely available information, they may think twice about buying this line. We all love the area, so a campaign to save a local icon is naturally attractive, especially if you’re new to the suburb and want to demonstrate your devotion, but be wary of who is giving you information before you join the debate.

Of course Bondi needs people who’re prepared to scrutinise change, but they must be objective. If you want to know what’s going on, review the Plans, and make your own mind up. Don’t listen to people pushing political barrows. If we all did that back in 2000 we would have been robbed of 8 great Bondi days back in 2000.

A voice from The Valley.


  1. Dave Benson’s discussion of the Olympic volleyball stadium leaves out an important factor – the risk of a storm while the stadium was there. Just a year later, a big storm exposed sand screws that were not recovered when the stadium was removed, despite the promises from authorities.

    A storm like that during the games or the construction period would have posed an unacceptable risk – but in a gung-ho fever all that was pushed to the side and covered with a blanket of secrecy. We were lucky – very lucky indeed, as big storms are frequent in early spring.

    The parallels with the Liberals’ plans for Bondi Pavilion are obvious – a blanket of secrecy and big risk to the small scale community uses of the Pavilion. We still have no idea what is to be included in “stage 2” or later stages of the Liberals’ grand scheme. They haven’t ruled out significant privatisation of the top floor, the big-blue-box “theatre”, the loss of most or all of the music facilities, and end to use of the courtyards for festivals etc. We have to take them on trust.

    What that have made clear is that their scheme will cost ratepayers upwards of $45m – when the original renovation plan was costed at $10m. There is no business plan to explain the benefit of spending all that money, and there’s no community plan either.

    Whatever your political stripe, that amounts to gross mismanagement at best, and corruption at worst. That’s why thousands of Bondi locals and Pavilion users are saying that we shouldn’t risk another Liberal controlled council after this election.

    PS The last Liberal council in Waverley, led by Jim Markham in the 1980s also tried to kick the community out of the Pavilion. They were kicked out of office for their efforts.

    Posted by: Chris Maltby | August 31, 2017, 9:57 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • While the 2000 Olympics were a great party, I should add that they cost NSW taxpayers an immense amount of money. That money was ripped out of budgets that could have funded rail upgrades, hospitals, schools, social housing etc. It was Liberal Premier John Fahey who won the bid, but the subsequent Carr government and NSW residents that ended up footing the enormous bills.

      Once again it is Liberals who want to splash ratepayers cash on grandiose schemes like $45m Pavilion upgrades.

      And does anyone think we won the beach volleyball gold medal because we built a stadium on Bondi Beach? They only did it because that’s what the TV networks wanted.

      Posted by: Chris Maltby | September 1, 2017, 12:16 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
      • What an ill-informed remark. The games in 2000 were self funding and left a legacy across the city of brilliant facilities.

        Posted by: Michael | September 2, 2017, 11:00 AM |

        Reply to this comment >
        • Ha, ha … don’t you know Chris Maltby’s history……..a Bondi campaigner / protestor par excellence!! Has opposed every decent proposal for this area since Adam was a boy!

          Posted by: MIke | September 2, 2017, 7:45 PM |

          Reply to this comment >
        • Self funding? What a joke…

          According to the New York Times

          For a party that lasted only 16 days, the Games carried a big bill. In a 2002 report, the New South Wales auditor general put the Games’ cost at $6.5 billion, of which $2.0 billion came from the government. The report cautiously accepts estimates by the government of New South Wales that the Games generated $653 million in additional tax revenues from visitors, but even that figure leaves a loss of $1.3 billion.

          All the extra costs of the Games were paid for from the budget, meaning they did not leave much of a fiscal hangover.

          “A lot of our planning was very extravagant,” Cashman said. “There was a decline in the health and education budgets in the years before the Games.”

          Posted by: Chris Maltby | September 3, 2017, 7:50 PM |

          Reply to this comment >
          • http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/24/news/what-did-olympics-bring-sydney.html?mcubz=0

            Posted by: Chris Maltby | September 3, 2017, 7:53 PM |

          • OK, OK so you’re saying there should never have been a Sydney Olympics…..despite all the net benefits received – measurable and immeasurable.
            Hey Chris! I want to renovate my kitchen. Are you going to start “campaigning” against that, make a song and dance like you do with everything else?
            Why does your opinion count more than the thousands who live in Bondi, who are not “campaigners”, but who just want to have half decent amenities. What is it about keeping Bondi in a 1950’s time warp you find so appealing?? Nostalgia? Why shove it down everyone else’s throat??

            Posted by: Mike | September 3, 2017, 9:46 PM |

          • Pretty dodgy argument, Mike.
            I pointed out that the person who said the Olympics paid for themselves was wrong. I did not say we shouldn’t have bid for them or held them – but perhaps we could have managed the budget better by not building a risky stadium on the sand at Bondi Beach.
            As for the legacy of great facilities, the NSW Government is about to spend more billions on reconfiguring the stadium at Homebush so that you can’t play AFL on it anymore. What a legacy!

            Anyway, this article is full of equivalent misinformation about the Liberals’ plans for the Bondi Pavilion, but we all seem to agree that they intend to spend a motza on them. And they are the ones who boast about the financial management skills…

            Posted by: Chris Maltby | September 4, 2017, 12:50 AM |

  2. The link to the plans isn’t working for me.
    Anyone have the correct one? Or am I the only one it isn’t working for?

    Posted by: Amelia | August 31, 2017, 10:08 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  3. Dave Benson, your reasoning seems a little flawed and tainted by alternate interests?

    1. I ask you why should the top floor of the pavilion be turned into a commercial operation at the rate rate payers’ expense? I have had the privilege of attending weddings, communions, christenings there that would not take place if we had a commercial operator running the show (for a profit).

    2. With the addition of this commercial operation, do you think that perhaps the council pushing for these changes may be acting on behalf of these commercial operators?

    3. I would also question if you yourself, Dave Benson, have any links to these developers?

    4. We need to follow the money trail, it often sheds light on shady proposals like the one at hand – and as a journalist I would expect you to bring this up in your expose.

    5. Rest assured the community is not fighting an upgrade like you are trying to expose to us, but merely ensuring a community building remains in the hands of the community and not end up being developed for commercial purposes.

    6. Bottom line is this Council with its shady links to developers is going to be removed from power.

    7. I also question The Beast’s real interests for publishing a pro developer article – are they an advertiser of yours?

    Nice try Dave Benson, but ultimately a flawed attempt.

    Posted by: Property Developer | August 31, 2017, 10:54 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  4. I can assure you that the writer has no vested interest in the Pav proposal, nor does he have any financial link to The Beast. Everyone is welcome to submit articles and all (non-defamatory) comments will be approved. Avoid the personal attacks and conspiracy theories and debate the issues please.

    Posted by: jimmyhutton | August 31, 2017, 10:59 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • Thank you for your comment.
      Points 1 and 5 are in my opinion debating the issue at hand.
      All other points are unsubstantiated but certainly deserve some reflection given the flawed perspective the writer is giving.
      This article is clearly pro commercial development of the Pav, perhaps the Beast should have published an alternate view to balance out?
      I find it insulting that just before council elections you would label opposing parties to the commercialization of the Pav to be politically motivated?

      Posted by: Property Developer | August 31, 2017, 11:10 AM |

      Reply to this comment >
      • Everyone is welcome to have their say in The Beast. We have commenting enabled on our online articles and we also have the letters to the editor section in the magazine. Anyone is also welcome to submit an article for publication.

        Posted by: jimmyhutton | September 2, 2017, 11:15 PM |

        Reply to this comment >
  5. A small clique has been trying to run the show in Bondi for years.
    It’s ironic they now call themselves ‘Save Bondi Pavilion’ because they’re only trying to save it for themselves, and shut out the wider community.
    Walk past the Pavilion on a sunny Weekend afternoon, the promenade and park are packed. The Pavilion balcony? Empty! WIth it’s iconic views it should also be packed with people and buzzing with life. Walk up to the first floor of the Pavilion, and it’s as dead as a door nail. What a joke! This is what this little clique is trying to “save”. Please give me a break!
    Btw: I was born in Bondi 47 years ago so have seen this joke carry on for decades now.

    Posted by: Mark | August 31, 2017, 9:06 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  6. I have, ahem, a “voice of credibility from time served in Bondi institutions”, with lifelong residence in Bondi and family connections going back almost 100 years, and I applaud every effort to ensure this council is not given a free rein to impose their unfettered will on the Pavilion and, indeed, other aspects of the community.

    Are we who oppose (or indeed support) certain matters in the community supposed to otherwise simply let things sail on through simply because the council wants them to happen? No, we refuse to do that, particularly in regard to the actions of this particular council.

    It is clear that this council works hand-in-glove with developers who have an agenda to monetise as much as possible of Bondi. Blind Freddy can see that they are attempting to link the Pavilion to the “Pacific” former Swiss Grand site by “opening up” the Pav on the other side, and relatedly pushing ahead with mooted plans for an underground carpark etc. Which would, conveniently no doubt, provide extensive parking for their site, which from appearances is currently windswept and seemingly rather deserted. This would serve to create a commercial “precinct”, using the formerly public space of the Pavilion as a key aspect.

    I agree that the Pavilion does need to be upgraded but public facilities being positioned for private gain does not sit well at all with me, nor many others I have spoken to from the long-term Bondi/Waverley community whom it seems Dave Benson believes should simply shut up. But then again, it is a Liberal government which authorised the sale of the GPO, so clearly nothing is sacred.

    Posted by: Adam Gibson | August 31, 2017, 11:49 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • Putting the car park underground means we can pedestrianise Queen Elizabeth Drive. That combined with Park Parade will give us an extra 1.75 hectares of recreation space.

      We’d be removing a pedestrian hazard, concrete eyesore and urban heat island.

      WIth the promenade and park increasingly packed it is archaic to have an overground car park occupy so much valuable room – the extra green space is much needed. The current layout belongs to the 1920’s, not the 21st century.

      Posted by: Mark | September 1, 2017, 9:17 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
  7. As a third generation born and bred in bondi, also attended the last council meeting and agree with Dave Benson. Such groups like the Save Bondi Pavilion are “using the Pavilion as ammo for a political cause, rather than a cause for the community.”

    There was a report included at council which identifies the misinformation of this minority group and explains what really is happening at the Pavilion yet members of this group and some councillors who are protesting about this as well are also trying to hide the facts and don’t want the community to know the truth.

    I urge everyone to stop believing these conspiracy theories by lefties and those who are supporting them and read from page 604 of this document which can be downloaded here http://waverley.infocouncil.biz/Open/2017/08/CM_20170808_AGN_437_AT.PDF

    Posted by: Tammy Lee | September 1, 2017, 8:52 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • Maybe we’re just over the Liberal Party and there’s nothing political about that. Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Next week we are hoping to kick this mob out! It’s time! #SAVEBONDIPAVILION

      Posted by: Ray Lalotoa | September 2, 2017, 9:58 AM |

      Reply to this comment >
  8. Hi. This is framing the issue around politics, and this is not the case. I can understand people just wanting to keep the same for their own benefit and identity, but concluding same just because of one meeting to attend is not journalism and certainly not balanced.

    That it is barbed as it is only questions the scope and depth of the article to make conclusions it has.

    The redevelopment is $38m, money the council doesn’t have. That out sinto debt, shouts ownship to private enterprise, and the community of the building is lost. The work is framed around returning the building to a more heritage style, but this is only one facade and the rest are, in essence, shit. Further, there is a modern theatre that all in the theatre world say is extremely limited so worthless, and also has no heritage or historic sensitivity. Let alone destruction of facilities that are already there.

    I did a design that is far simpler and gave a lot more face to the building rug utilised, as community wanted, but that’s is no corporate buy in with that, or debt to feign disempowerment.

    I could go on, but where is there any analysis of what the community is fighting for? This is more political bullshit and you gave it face without the other side replying. Anyone who thinks can see the shalllow nature of such an article.

    Get to the facts. Then decide. Rumour means nothing. So please don’t say you know the situation form a stupid irrelevant one-sided article like this.

    OK, Beast. Going to show the other side? Talk to Dominic Wy Kanak, the Greens councillor. An incredibly civil humble representative.

    Posted by: Frederick Malouf | September 1, 2017, 9:12 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • I was once a supporter of the save Bondi group until i realised that the Pavilion was in dire straits of an upgrade regardless of which political party is in charge. When I questioned this with some of the members they denied it and continued to accuse council of trying to privatise the Bondi Pavilion but when I tried to look for proof there wasn’t any.

      The article describes what almost every meeting I’ve gone to and seen how the Greens always vote against everything. Mr Kanak is a good example of someone who ive seen objecting to nearly everything and is known as vexatious litigator by the Australian courts for wasting people’s money and also objecting to such projects as this. Here is what came up when I googled his name. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/06/1078464694830.html

      As a user of the Bondi Pavilion as well I just want the council to get on with the job and fix the place up and for the groups to stop trying to block progress.

      Posted by: Tammy | September 1, 2017, 12:16 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
    • Mr Wy Kanak is welcome to contact The Beast at any time, as is anyone else for that matter.

      Posted by: jimmyhutton | September 2, 2017, 11:17 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
  9. Your comment Ray is very contradicting and supports the message of this article. It’s groups like the #SaveBondiPavilion that ruins communities rather than saving them.

    Posted by: Tammy | September 2, 2017, 11:37 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  10. I don’t have a problem with the pavilion being renovated, but the expense of this project really smacks when Tamarama Surf Club has to fundraise $4m for their much more needed renovation, which Waverley Council gets to specify all kinds of things including the paint colour, but they’re only prepared to stump up $750k towards the work. If they have $45m for the pavilion they can find some more cash for Tama – $4m is just a stupid amount of money to expect a small club to fundraise.

    Posted by: Aurelia | September 4, 2017, 6:35 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • The cost is not $45million as falsely claimed by Save The Pavilion Group. I’m afraid you are being misled!

      Posted by: Tammy | September 4, 2017, 7:43 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
  11. Wow, I was just reading about how this Save Bondi Pavilion group are unrepresentative politically motivated a small clique, Etc so I thought I’d look at their Facebook page. They have thousands of supporters and there are testimonials from actor Jack Thompson, the Hoodoo Gurus, Reg Mombassa, AFL legend Josh Kennedy, I could go on for ever here! Have they just conned all these people? Or is just possible they actually have community support and the likes of Dave Benson and Leanne are the ones that are out of step here?

    Posted by: Mark Hersey | September 4, 2017, 7:29 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • Is that you Andrew Worssam???

      Posted by: The Real Mark Hersey | September 4, 2017, 10:16 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
  12. Can you please fix the link to the “Plans”?
    Its supposed to be here:

    Posted by: Fred Schebesta | September 4, 2017, 8:20 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  13. Tammy sounds exactly like she’s talking from the Liberal party songsheet: ‘Save Bondi Pavilion’ are just a tiny bunch of rabble rousers, they’re just a front for the Greens and Labour, they’re self-interested, not interested in improving Bondi Pavilion’ etc. etc. What a load of BS. Save Bondi Pavilion, if you had ever bothered to follow what they say, have ALWAYS said ‘Makeover not Takeover’. They are very interested in, and totally support renovation of the Pavilion, but not at the expense of the community, and not if that means community space is taken away from us. SBP asked ALL candidates to sign a pledge that they would ensure Bondi Pavilion be retained as a community cultural centre. Guess what? All the Greens and Labour candidates signed the pledge, and not one Liberal candidate did. Why? Well, one can only surmise that it’s because they really don’t want to make that promise, because they have some other deal with developers that they won’t tell us about. The secrecy of the Liberals, the lies they continue to tell, are breathtaking in their arrogance and disregard for the community. THAT’S why Save Bondi Pavilion are telling people to VOTE LIBERALS LAST, because they can’t be trusted to act in the community’s best interests. And that figure is $43 million, a figure that Waverley Council itself has put out – since the Liberals split the project into two Stages, the costs have blown out from $38 million to $43 million, but there’s no doubt that figure will rise, looking at how the Council handled the building of the picnic shelters and the toilets at the North Bondi.

    Posted by: Eliane | September 4, 2017, 8:33 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
    • I am not associated with any political party but you on the other hand are confirming the authors point by turning this into politics yourself. Every time someone from the Save The Pavilion Group writes a comment they make it political and you are no different. Get a life.

      Posted by: Tammy | September 4, 2017, 9:37 PM |

      Reply to this comment >
      • It’s odd to complain about the issue becoming political. The Liberal controlled council pushed all the key decisions on the future of the Pavilion to a time “after the election” and refused to rule anything in or out.

        They effectively turned the Council elections into a referendum on the future of the Pavilion – a choice between a renovated community arts centre (what Save Bondi Pavilion and its thousands of supporters have wanted all along) or some sort of grandiose commercial centre with big cuts to the kinds of community activities that define the Pavilion.

        Election of more Greens and Labor councillors will deliver the former; keep the Liberals and get the second. It shouldn’t need to be political – it’s not as if the Liberals haven’t been told in consultation after consultation that people don’t want their grand plans, they just want Council to fix the place up a bit as they should have been doing all along.

        But since the Liberals brought politics into it, they have to wear the consequences.

        Posted by: Chris Maltby | September 4, 2017, 11:07 PM |

        Reply to this comment >
        • The only people who are describing this as a “grandiose commercial centre with big cuts to the community activities” is you and other members of the Save Bondi Pavilion Group. Unless you can provide me with convincing evidence other than making it purely political than I find it very difficult to believe anything you say.

          Posted by: Tammy | September 4, 2017, 11:52 PM |

          Reply to this comment >
  14. Er Tammy, it would appear from this discussion that the Save Bondi Pavilion group and their supporters are about promoting candidates who have pledged to provide a good result for the Pavilion and by extension the local community. Is that so bad? Nothing is ever achieved by sitting on your hands, complaining about “politics”.

    Posted by: Andrew | September 4, 2017, 10:07 PM |

    Reply to this comment >
  15. I would like to see the Pavilion reinvigorated as a Community Arts Centre – it should be the cultural hub of our suburb. I would particularly like to see an emphasis on activities for children and teenagers.

    I would like to see a second public high school in the Eastern suburbs.

    I would like to see the car park removed from the beachfront so it is made safe for children.

    Posted by: Yogi | September 5, 2017, 9:13 AM |

    Reply to this comment >
  16. If you want to build a carpark for Bondi Beach, carve out an Opera House style carpark under Bondi Rd at the south end, channeling visitor traffic in before they reach the beach front pedestrian traffic. This still leaves the Bondi Rd traffic problem which will need no parking 24/7 that then requires 60° parking be installed on the western side of every side street, with multiple time restricted spaces for use by patrons of businesses fronting the main road.

    So there’s that kerfuffel sorted, leaving the Pavilion free to remain maintained as a public space without the “maybe, lets try” futile, indulgent changes that disturb the heritage valued by locals and tourists alike.
    Don’t let progress fuck with the nostalgic charm of an iconic landmark, sending it on the slippery slope to becoming a parody of the experience you could experience if you were really experiencing the experience which has been changed to cater to enhancing the experience, thus encumbering the experiences from being truly experienced, for the experienced and unexperienced alike.

    Posted by: Pedro | November 10, 2017, 10:17 PM |

    Reply to this comment >


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