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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December 2004, 00:33 GMT
Bondi booze ban upsets backpackers

By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

Backpackers are vowing to flout the Christmas Day alcohol ban imposed at Bondi beach.

The annual Christmas party on Australia's most famous stretch of sand attracts thousands of people.

If you're going to be drinking in the sun, you're going to get sunburned, get sick, make a lot of mess and if you dive in the water, you're likely to drown
Waverley Mayor Peter Moscatt

Last year 114 people had to be rescued from the surf by lifeguards. Many were drunk and the local council has had enough.

"It's pretty hard to keep control of 40,000 people that are drunk," said Waverley Mayor Peter Moscatt.

"When so much alcohol is consumed over a whole day in the sun, ooh, that's pretty dangerous," the mayor, a former lifeguard, added.

Police will patrol the beach and the adjoining parkland with security guards.

Alcohol will be available at an official council function at Bondi Pavilion, which lies on the promenade. But anyone who tries to carry beer, wine or spirits onto the beach will be turned away.

The ban marks the end of a long-standing tradition at Bondi.

In the past revellers brought fridges stacked with alcohol and ice, and Christmas trees were decorated with cans and bottles.

Now the festive season on this iconic arc of sand comes with a health warning.

"If you're going to be drinking in the sun, you're going to get sunburned, get sick, make a lot of mess and if you dive in the water, you're likely to drown," Peter Moscatt said.

Cold comfort

Many backpackers quizzed by the BBC at Bondi beach were not impressed at the alcohol restrictions.

"The ban comes as a bit of a surprise considering the Aussies' culture of beer drinking," said Stewart Vance, from Fort William in Scotland.

Bondi Beach
Bondi's massive Christmas beach party has achieved notoriety
"I've been looking forward to it [Christmas at Bondi] all year and this will spoil it," the 25-year-old tourist said dejectedly.

His partner Jacinta was asked if people would try to get around the restrictions.

"Of course they will," she said without hesitation. "As if people aren't going to put it [alcohol] in little bottles of soft drink. It won't be the same if they don't."

Most backpackers believe they are paying the price for the idiocy of a few hot-heads in the past.

Sean McKay, a 27-year-old accountant from Las Vegas, said the booze ban was "an unfortunate decision."

"There's always a way to get around it," he said. "Prohibition didn't work in the [United] States and it's not going to work out here."

Sabine Vonnahme, from Cologne, said people should be trusted to behave and enjoy themselves.

"If you drink not too much, it's okay," the 32-year-old German explained. "There are a lot of travellers coming here for Christmas and they want to have a special day, to party lots."

Hidden dangers

In the past Christmas Days at Bondi have been extremely ugly. A decade ago alcohol-fuelled disturbances rocked the fashionable beachside suburb.

There are a lot of travellers coming here for Christmas and they want to have a special day
Sabine Vonnahme

The authorities reacted to the violence by setting up special "booze cages" on the beach, where drinking could be supervised.

This year life-savers are looking forward to a calmer Christmas.

Bruce Hopkins, the head lifeguard for Waverley council, said dragging drunks from the ocean could be a dangerous business.

"When people are intoxicated it makes it difficult for us to get them back to the beach," he said.

"Coming from overseas they probably don't get the conditions that we get here, and don't realise the danger they can get into. I think they take it for granted," Mr Hopkins added.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper said the ban on booze was "the latest attempt to kill fun" in Australia's biggest city.

But the mayor, Peter Moscatt, has rejected accusations that he is a kill-joy.

"I'm certainly not a spoilsport," he said emphatically. "There is a huge safety issue here."


SEE ALSO:
Australian smokers face bar ban
13 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Sydney beach to stub out smokers
18 May 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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