Sydney Stories: Beach puritans, gas-guzzlers, speed wardens and an end to Lovely Lleyton

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The Independent Online

On a hot midsummer's day the golden crescent of Bondi Beach is packed with people swimming and sunbathing. And, er, swimming and sunbathing. For that is all one is permitted to do on Australia's most famous sweep of sand, where the list of proscribed activities grows ever more lengthy.

Dogs have long been banned, together with frisbees, kites, drinking glasses and litter. Ball games are not allowed - a restriction that remained in force even when Bondi was the venue for beach volleyball competitions during the 2000 Olympics. Smoking, too, was recently outlawed.

Now the local Waverley Council has outraged residents with a plan to ban all cameras from sections of the beach. The decision was a knee-jerk reaction to an incident involving a man who secretly photographed women sunbathing topless on nearby Coogee Beach, using a mobile phone camera. Peter Mackenzie, a 25-year-old labourer, was fined £208 after another woman spotted him and called the police. He apologised profusely, telling the magistrate: "I've always taken pride in myself as being a gentleman." But the council, which is responsible for some of Sydney's most popular beaches, was unimpressed.

The deputy mayor, George Newhouse, declared war on "sexual predators" and proposed banning cameras from public spaces including beaches and parks.

A watered-down version of the plan, aimed mainly at protecting children, was approved this month. Council rangers and beach life-savers now have the power to issue on-the-spot fines. But residents remain sceptical, and some have suggested that if women are worried about being photographed topless, they should leave their tops on.

Across the Harbour Bridge, in North Sydney, another council has infuriated ratepayers by introducing higher parking fees for the gas-guzzling 4WDs so beloved of local "urban cowboys". While owners of ordinary cars pay £18 for a residential permit, drivers of Jeeps and Landcruisers will have to fork out £37 a year.

Now it has emerged that the mayor, Genia McCaffery, herself owns a 4WD - a Volvo XC70, which is a large station-wagon. Under the council's new rules, however, her vehicle is classed as fuel-efficient and does not attract the higher charge. Her chief political opponent, Jilly Gibson, whom she defeated in the mayoral election, challenged her to sell her car. "She should be setting the example," said Ms Gibson, who is currently carless, but last owned a Mazda 121.

Residents have accused the council of discriminating against families. Parking rangers, meanwhile, are to be given electronic gadgets enabling them to issue a ticket every 20 to 30 seconds, instead of every five to 10 minutes as when writing them out by hand.

Australian tennis ace, Lleyton Hewitt, was spotted in the Sydney Opera House last weekwith new fiancée, Bec Cartwright, a soap star.

The bad-tempered Hewitt appears to have mellowed since announcing his engagement. The couple met while he was on the rebound from Kim Clijsters, the Belgian tennis player who jilted him shortly before their wedding, and have posed for various women's magazines, one of which reportedly paid £83,000.

Last week, however, according to gossip columns, he reverted to the Lleyton that Australians love to loathe. He reportedly called one photographer a "fucking smartarse" and told him: "If you want your camera in one piece, you'd better leave now." One tabloid wondered what had become of the reborn "Lovely Lleyton".