A proposal to launch an Amalfi-style beach club on Bondi Beach has raised the ire of some Sydneysiders, with critics protesting that roping off access to a portion of the beach is elitist and goes against the traditional egalitarianism of Australian beaches.
Bondi local Janek Gazecki (who also founded the Urban Polo series) submitted a proposal to Waverley Council in May, seeking approval to open Amalfi Beach Club on Bondi Beach. Inspired by paid-entry clubs along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, patrons would pay $80 for a two-hour visit to the private section of the beach. The fee would include use of a socially distanced cabana, and can be redeemed for food and beverages. Gazecki says he intends to enlist local restaurants to take over the pop-up for a month at a time to help them generate income post-lockdown.
However, the proposal has angered members of the public, who feel that public access to beaches is an integral part of the Australian identity.
“If there is one thing that should unite us politically in Australia, it’s public access to beaches,” Greens NSW MP and former Woollahra Council member David Shoebridge tells Broadsheet. “They’re for everyone and must never be fenced off for the elite.
“There is something fundamental about the right of anyone to go to the beach. I think that’s why the proposal to rope of part off Bondi and only allow entry to a cashed-up minority has touched such a nerve. There are very few symbols that speak deeply across economic and geographic divides in Australia, and one of [those] is the beaches in our culture.”
Shoebridge says he’s received support for his stance across the political spectrum, not just the Greens’ traditional base.
The proposal states that the club would target “high net worth” individuals aged between 25 and 45, with plenty of disposable income. According to the proposal male patrons would typically be “doctors, surgeons and members of the finance industry”, while female visitors would “occupy a similar high-end platform in the areas of publishing, advertising, fashion, beauty and modelling”.
The council rejected an initial proposal to launch the club between December and January on the grounds that it doesn’t support events on the sand during peak season, the beach is an alcohol-prohibited area, and mixing drinking with swimming is a safety risk.
Gazecki has since applied for permission to open the club between February and May 2021, and the council has found that he will need to apply for a development application in addition to a separate event application.
“It is important that council follow proper process in assessing this proposal,” Waverley Council mayor Paula Masselos said in a statement. “While there are various views on the proposal being aired, anyone has the right to submit a proposal.
“While as a matter of principle, the regulatory and policy settings are geared towards beaches and open spaces being there to be enjoyed freely by everyone, this proposal needs to be properly assessed against those laws and policies so that the appropriate determinations can be made.”
Addressing claims that his plans to block public use of a 24 by 14-metre stretch of beach are elitist and exclusionary, Gazecki says the benefits to the economy and local business will outweigh the loss of public access.
“Those who oppose have been suggesting it’s elitist and only for the rich,” he tells Broadsheet. “It is for absolutely everyone. Anyone will be able to book online and it will be great for local business and the economy. You won’t find any other restaurant in Bondi Beach where you will pay less [than $80] for [food and beverage]. It will also introduce a bit of vibrancy at a time when morale is down.”
But Shoebridge argues that people will visit Bondi Beach, “whether or not this developer wants to grab a part of it for private property”.
“It’s used by millions of people a year,” Shoebridge says. “Many people thought [privately reserving part of the beach] could not be done, that the laws would prohibit it. What it has raised is the need for parliament to step up and make some of these assumptions black-and-white legal protection.”
Gazecki has launched a petition seeking support for his application, which has gained 963 signatures at the time of writing. A competing petition to keep the beach public has so far garnered 1793 signatures. Icebergs restaurateur Maurice Terzini also seems to be on board with the proposal, posting on Instagram that “beach clubs are just trying to generate much-needed cash flow”.
Waverley Council has not confirmed when it will make a decision on the proposal.