Beach culture and missing beach beds: are Australian beaches really fair?

The past month has practically exposed me to some iconic European beaches, as many of my Australian mutuals have found themselves in the middle of their wild Mediterranean summer getaways. Likewise, I was dripping with sweat on the beaches of Goa and Mumbai, chomping on fried mackerel and sipping toddy at local beachside shacks. What is common between these summery images is the proximity to water: European beach bars and Goan shacks boast being close to the sea, with people sipping their drinks while relaxing on their beach beds . As a summer country that projects a distinct beach culture for tourists and residents alike, Australia seems oddly opposed to sea-level revelry. Why do beach kiosks, bars and restaurants premises are all one block from the shore?

Attempts to emulate European beach life on Australian shores are not unheard of. In 2020, controversy engulfed the proposal for the Amalfi Beach Club on Bondi Beach, which was widely opposed by Australian beachgoers (including the Italian diaspora) on the grounds that it would privatize an otherwise open public space. The plan to charge around $80 for a deckchair, cabana and umbrella, allowing visitors to enjoy a drink by the sea, was seen as a hazard to otherwise free Australian beaches.

Free public access to the coast without the obvious demarcation of public and private lands like on many European beaches is undoubtedly an enjoyable experience and essential to equitable access to our public spaces. However, the arguments that portray Australian beach culture as sacrosanct in terms of fairness are not as simple as they seem.

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A railway line directly linking western Sydney to the eastern beaches was proposed in the 1920s to reduce the inconvenience of road travel. According to the Australian Historical Railway Society, protest groups like Not in My Backyard and Save Bondi Beach Incorporated have raised concerns about issues such as overcrowding, rising crime rates and litter at their “shelter” if an influx of people from other neighborhoods was to occur. . In addition to people protesting in the streets, fuel lines leaking on the railroad tracks and beach access being closed, the state government has also withheld funds for the project’s completion. . A century later, an influx of locals to beaches violating COVID-19 social distancing rules has highlighted the stark divergence in beach accessibility among city residents.

What exactly is Australian beach culture? Is the absence of private beach clubs on the coast the only parameter of a truly fair beach?

While beach bars are only a singular aspect of the beach accessibility debate, the issue raises questions about the complexity of access and the apparent inviolability of areas for long-time residents. Residences around the oceans are an expensive real estate business, with beachfront owners typically gifted with generational wealth or ridiculously high-paying jobs to fulfill their oceanfront dream. This naturally makes the beaches a fascinating detour for those away from the areas, usually attracting large groups or families.

Most permits to build a beachside bar, install umbrellas, seating and catering services are granted on a trial basis, as in the case of Kurrawa Beach Club on the Gold Coast. Although many conventional images of beach culture or beach fun focus on drinking or hardcore clubbing, this is not always the case. Instead, beach clubs offer many opportunities for unique community experiences or tourist attractions.

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When I saw groups of middle-aged Lebanese women roasting corn on the cob in the middle of Brighton Le Sands beach, it evoked a feeling similar to watching vendors selling dry snacks and balloons on the mumbai beaches.

Matt Thistlethwaite, the federal ALP member for Kingsford Smith, tweeted in April 2021 saying exclusive areas on beaches encroached by businesses are not part of “our culture”.

Unfortunately, the obsession with keeping private companies away from Australian beaches is not creating a truly equitable culture. Instead, it camouflages the inequitable, classist and racialized history of access to our beaches.

Even if the politics of urban planning is not straightforward, the element of public enjoyment is intrinsic to a public space that brews a culture that is inclusive of people. Destinations like Phuket have created space demarcations separating places where vendors are allowed to sell umbrellas, mats and other water sports equipment, with other areas strictly reserved for beachgoers. While the overt demarcation of places risks increasing surveillance and policing in these spaces, leeway for businesses that flourish on the sand can foster open-air hospitality and a new kind of freedom. .

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