Bondi protests Olympics impact

May 17, 2000

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Bondi protests Olympics impact

BY MARINA CARMAN AND ALISTAIR DICKINSON

SYDNEY — Despite being described as a "sad turnout" of "rabble" in a vicious editorial in the Australian, a 200-strong action succeeded in delaying construction of the Olympics volleyball stadium on Bondi Beach on May 8.

After delaying the start of construction on May 1, protesters gathered again at Bondi early in the morning on May 8, when construction was supposed to begin. Protesters blocked bulldozers and some dug themselves into the sand.

Appeals were made to the workers, members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, to ban construction. A stop-work meeting, attended by CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson, while sympathetic, declined to impose a ban.

At 3pm police moved in, surrounded the protesters and forced them off the beach. Demonstrators were put into paddy wagons and transported to nearby suburbs where they were released.

One of the organising groups, Bondi Olympic Watch, has claimed the action as a victory, pointing to the publicity it generated. It has previously attracted rallies of over 1000 people and 12,000 have signed a petition against the stadium.

Campaigners oppose both the social and environmental consequences of the development. The stadium will divide the beach in two and seriously restrict public access for swimming, walking, and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Construction is also in violation of Aboriginal values and heritage, the beach being considered a sacred area by local people.

The stadium is likely to increase the pressure on rents, the growing number of evictions and public transport chaos. The Bondi Surf Life Saving Club has been temporarily closed, and community groups have been evicted from the Bondi pavilion.

It is feared that erosion may lead to safety problems for workers on the site and that changes to beach patterns caused by the stadium may affect public safety. A report from the Coastal Studies Unit at the University of Sydney warns that the structure may create a "topographical rip" off the beach which would endanger swimmers.

While an eight-metre "corridor" between the structure and the sea is being provided protesters claim that there is still a strong possibility that people could be slammed into the structure by waves and then swept out into the rip.

"They're prepared to risk lives and risk the Bondi beach environment for the sake of eight days of volleyball", said Stephen Uniacke, a construction lawyer involved in the campaign.

Other environmental concerns include the possibility that soil dredged up from below the sand will acidify when brought to the surface. As one demonstrator remarked, "Beach-goers will be lucky enough to get burnt on both sides in the future".

A $1 million compensation package negotiated between the local council and the Olympic Coordinating Authority may not even cover the costs of restoration.

Alana Kerr, a member of the Democratic Socialist Party and the Public Service Association, told Green Left Weekly, "The Australian's cheap attempt to marginalise the Bondi protesters shows that the establishment is worried about public anger at the Olympics".

The editorial stated, "In the lead-up to the Olympics, the whole of Sydney has been forced to accept inconvenience ... with little complaint".

Kerr responded, "This 'inconvenience' includes undermining access to public transport, public space and affordable accommodation; major environmental problems with numerous Olympics sites including Homebush Bay; increased police powers and restrictions on protest; and putting up with cuts to health and education while $20 million is added to the Olympics budget for a temporary stadium at Bondi."

Kerr believes that the public should be less complaint. "They want us all to put up and shut up, and hope that the business generated by the Olympics will benefit us. When has this 'trickle down' effect ever worked? The Olympics is about making money for sponsors and businesses, not benefiting ordinary Sydneysiders."

The campaign against the stadium will continue with a vigil at the site, where a constant police presence has remained since Monday; future rallies are also planned. For more information phone the Bondi Olympic Watch infoline on 9130 4696.

The newly established Eastern Sydney branch of the DSP is planning a forum on June 20 titled "Why the Olympics won't benefit Sydney". See calendar for details.

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