Bondi revellers have to dry up

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The Independent Online
After the worst year in its history, Bondi beach has gone on to full alert to head off another Christmas of violence. In recent years the beach has been taken over on Christmas Day by thousands of British backpackers for whom turkey, plum pudding and champagne by the surf has become something of an irresistible cultural ritual.

Last year the mix of sun, sand and alcohol proved a disaster and riot police were called in on Christmas night to control crowds throwing stones and bottles. Several police were injured and dozens of rioters were arrested.

In September, Bondi's reputation was further tarnished when Brian Hagland, 28, a British tourist, was killed near the beach. A man has beencharged with the killing.

This Christmas, at the prompting of Bondi residents, the New South Wales government and Waverley council, which covers the area, hired twoevents- organisers to "reclaim" the beach. Tomorrow, alcohol and cars will be banned from most of the beach zone, celebrities will entertain crowds and, for the equivalent of pounds 5, backpackers will receive one alcoholic drink, a barbecue lunch and a phone card to ring home.

Last year 20,000 people packed Bondi beach on Christmas Day, planting their national flags in the sand. Trouble began when hot-rod car enthusiasts invaded the beach front and taunted revellers in an atmosphere already electric with alcohol and expectation.

"Most of those who come to Bondi for Christmas, the backpackers and tourists, are the orphans of the city," said Rikki McDonald, a psychologist and co-organiser of the reclaim Bondi event. Last year she and her partner transformed another riot-torn beach, at Byron Bay, into a safe Christmas haven. She has a strategy to do the same thing at Bondi: "We'll move people around, keep them excited and turn them out at the end of the night when their energy is dissipated."

Will it work? "Alcohol, testosterone and boredom are not a good mix. It's all a matter of giving them something to do," said Ms McDonald.