Bondi's hedonists could win heritage status for Sydney beach

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The Independent Online

Swimmers, sunbathers, surfers, joggers and attention-seekers treat it as their backyard. Now Australia's most famous stretch of sand, Bondi Beach, could receive the accolade of being listed as a heritage site. The Sydney beach and its environs, including an art deco changing pavilion, is one of 30 sites recommended for inclusion on the country's National Heritage List.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Environment Minister, proclaimed Bondi's virtues yesterday, saying that it embodied heroism and hedonism, and combined Australia's beach culture with its surf life-saving tradition. "Bondi symbolises the Aussie summer, the Aussie lifestyle and the Aussie spirit we hold so dear," said Mr Turnbull, whose Wentworth constituency includes the half-mile arc of golden sand. "It does include so many iconic and indelible Australian values – the life-saving movement, voluntarism, the heroism of men and women battling to save lives in the surf. It's all to be found here, together with a relaxed hedonism as well."

Bondi is not only a beach but also a densely populated residential area which has drawn successive waves of migrants, including Maoris from New Zealand and Jews from Russia. "It is an important cultural place because of the way it embraces the whole world," said Mr Turnbull, describing Bondi as "a truly international destination".

The site proposed for listing comprises 65 hectares of land and water, including the beach itself, a swathe of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding parks, promenades and clifftops. Also included would be two surf life-saving clubs, one of which – Bondi Surf Bathers Club, founded in 1906 – claims to be Australia's oldest surf club and one of the oldest in the world. The beach itself is far from being Australia's most beautiful stretch of sand. Some find it unappealing and its surroundings a bit tawdry. But there is no doubting its popularity. Yesterday, as Sydneysiders enjoyed high spring temperatures and a public holiday, the beach – which was opened in 1855 – was full of locals and visitors.

The list of proposed new sites will be put out to public consultation over the next 12 months but there seems little doubt that Bondi will be successful. Tom Harley, the chairman of the Australian National Heritage Council, said yesterday: "It's hard to think of the iconic Australian places – Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Barrier Reef – without thinking of Bondi Beach. It is perhaps at the centre of a lot of understanding of who we are as a country – the beach culture, the concept of voluntarism, which is embodied in the surf life-saving organisations along this beach."

If its heritage status is approved, Bondi would join other Australian landmarks on the list such as Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Port Arthur convict settlement in Tasmania. Other sites to be assessed in the coming year include the Outback mining town of Broken Hill, the spectacular Great Ocean Road highway, Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – a collection of activists' tents on the lawn of Old Parliament House in Canberra.