Getting to the Truth of Bondi Pavilion
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.