The people’s pavillion

Dec 10, 2023
Bondi Pavilion Facade 2016. Image iStock

The third preview of the ABC acquired documentary; ‘Saving Bondi Pavilion’ was screened in the NSW Parliament theatrette on the 28th of November. It detailed the successful fight to prevent the privatisation/commercialisation of one of our treasured national icons.

Following the screening the audience was shocked to learn that the ABC had mothballed the documentary.

The film was introduced by another couple of icons, Sam Neill, whom we often claim as our own and Michael Caton, who clearly is very much one of ours. There were also pieces to camera by Aussie legends Jack Thompson and Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett.

As the film unfolded it became apparent that the Bondi community had rallied yet again to stave off another attempt by the then Liberal led Waverley Council to turn the grand old structure into a number of up market privately run commercial venues.

Under the auspice of the Waverley Council the decaying pavilion had been subjected to the time honoured approach of demolition by neglect.

The hard won kids dance company spaces, the three music studio rooms, the existing theatre, the pottery studio, and a number of other community rooms were all earmarked for the axe. All of the great many community groups using the entire upper level were all to be evicted from the pavilion; Bondi’s public venue that had served a plethora of community groups for decades.

The sense of outrage was palpable. The doco captured the mood of a now galvanised local Bondi community. Waverley Council were lobbied. Council meeting after meeting saw scores of locals attend, all asking why the grand old building was being permitted to fall into ruin.

Why, they asked, was such a recognisable Australian public landmark being placed in private hands; and why had the Councillors determined that the details of the proposal not be made public. The many community user groups banded together as ‘The Friends of Bondi Pavilion’. They put on concerts to raise awareness and money.

The Hoodo Gurus even rocked up. The Friends leafleted the community and encouraged a great many locals to come out in support of the grass roots campaign to save the pavilion from the privateers.

To those who’d seen it all before, there was a real sense of Deja Vue. It was thirty years previously that another conservative council had attempted to wrest the building from the community.

But this time Waverly Council weren’t about to be swayed by community opposition. They stood their ground, firm in the belief that they had the numbers. The Liberal Councillors who were proponents of the development all refused to be interviewed for the documentary.

The next step in the community campaign was to enlist the support of the Union movement. Jack Mundey stepped up and in one of his very last campaigns, a Green ban was placed on any development of the pavilion that didn’t have the support of the community.

The Council elections held in 2017 saw the Liberals removed from control following a huge public grass roots campaign. The Liberals again failed to gain a majority in the 2021 elections. Every polling booth was staffed with locals who wanted the pavilion kept in public hands.

The catchcry was “Save Bondi Pavilion. Vote Liberals last”.

A pro-community Council was duly elected. The very first item on the agenda was to bin the plans to privatise Bondi Pavilion.

The manic push all over the world to privatise every activity under the control of government, whether local, state, or federal has seen communities further distanced from access to public spaces and infrastructure, facilities solely for public use. Many of these community buildings, even Town Halls, are now being rented out by councils that are heavy on management and light on services, at rates that make community use practically impossible.

The push by the Baird/Berejiklian/Perrottet NSW Government to amalgamate local councils and to legislate to take decision making out of the hands of the community; away from those residents who are directly impacted – particularly in relation to development, was a direct attack on the most fundamental tenet of a democracy: ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’, first uttered by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863.

Any meaningful input into decision making that radically affects the lives of the community surely has to be made by those concerned. This is why local government only functions if it is truly local.
Privatisation of public utilities is a universal malaise. For developers, this is low hanging fruit. For governments which eschew genuine governance, it is a pragmatic social cop-out, disguised as responsible economic management. The bottom line is it advantages the few and disenfranchises the many.

The writer, producer, director, Mark Gould from Bondi Rocks Media, in response to a question in the Q and A segment following the screening, told the audience he’d been advised by the ABC Board that the doco would not be screened – a baby euthanized at birth, almost certainly because it was deemed too politically risky to be given air.

The ABC presently hold the rights for five years. Public monies were used to acquire the documentary for COMPASS, the flagship Religion, Values and Ethics time slot. Does senate estimates even know about the write off.?

Given that we are all ABC shareholders and that they have spent just a miniscule proportion of the annual ABC budget on the documentary, this begs the question. Why then are they refusing to screen it?

Could it simply be that the heavy hand of the NSW Liberal Party has applied an inordinate amount of pressure to the ABC board and now has them all quivering in their boots. For a broadcaster whose basic charter is to contribute to the Public Good, this is surely a cowed and cowardly decision.

It’s a shame really. The doco really does deserve to be seen. It tells it like it is.

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