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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Life on the edge for Caveman of Bondi
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Caveman of Bondi's "pad"
Jhyimy lives on a four-foot rock platform at the end of the beach

On the edge of Australia, atop a jagged cliff overlooking Sydney's most iconic beachscape, Jhyimy "Two Hats" Mhiyles occupies one of the most enviable pieces of real estate in the entire country.

"I call this place the house with no walls and no roof," says Jhyimy of his shanty-like dwelling, which offers stunning, panoramic views of the golden arc of Bondi.

"This is the front patio and the feeding table," he says, pointing to a rock platform covered, wing to flapping wing, with hungry seagulls.

"The birds come along and, for the sake of a little bit of bread, give me a canopy of wings. What more could you want?"

Currently, the question has special poignancy.

For what Jhyimy wants most of all is permission from the local council to stay in a space that he has occupied for near-on seven years and where he has assembled his ramshackle home.

Bondi beach
Jhyimy recites poems to passing Bondi tourists

To his fans, Jhyimy is the Caveman of Bondi, a rugged individualist who personifies Australia's pioneering spirit.

But to Waverley Council, his main detractor, Jhyimy is an unwelcome blot on the landscape, an unhygienic nuisance who needs to be evicted.

The council has received complaints over the years from a number of concerned residents, worried that Jhyimy's home is an eyesore and a health risk.

Soon, he could be forced to leave his beloved home and to pack up his paintings, comfy armchair, pots and open-air library of books.

Beach blessing...

The Caveman of Bondi looks much as you would expect Hollywood to cast him: as a crusty castaway of indeterminate age.

Caveman of Bondi
There was a mob of predators feeding off the tourist public. And I'm glad to say that's a thing of the past. I've discouraged them
Jhyimy Mhiyles

There is the thicket of unruly facial hair, which makes up his beard; there is the jagged set of teeth, which look much like a scale-model of the coastline he inhabits; and there are the Two Hats: today an Australian baseball cap and a swimming cap; he always wears two.

An old-style Aussie larrikin, he speaks with the verve, colour and lyricism of a 19th-Century prospector.

Poetry is both his gift to the people of Bondi and his means of survival. He recites his poems to passing tourists on the Bondi to Bronte cliff walk, much as a busker would rattle off a tune.

"I came to Sydney for the Olympics, to have a watch and to get some work. The only accommodation I could afford was a cliff edge that no-one else was using. It was a place of miscreants and people up to no sort of good after dark."

Far from bringing the neighbourhood down, Jhyimy claims he has improved it beyond all recognition. He casts himself as part vigilante, part one-man neighbourhood watch.

"With every second visitor who visited Bondi beach, there was a mob that would steal things and take a truckload of goods and valuables away at the end of every day of the year.

"Our visitors were spending all that money to come over to Australia, they'd go for a swim and then they find that their bags were nicked. There was a mob of predators feeding off the tourist public. And I'm glad to say that's a thing of the past. I've discouraged them."

Listening to Jhyimy, you get a sense that he should be in the pay of the council, perhaps even its "employee of the year", rather than being the target of its eviction process.

"When I arrived, there wasn't much lawful activity down here, and there weren't many families down here. Now it has totally changed. Now we have visitors and tourists coming from everywhere to see the birds getting fed. We've managed to discourage the undesirable elements."

...or bad example?

Unsurprisingly, Waverley Council does not quite see it that way.

It's not something we want to encourage. What's to stop an influx of backpackers coming to Bondi?
George Newhouse, mayor

"We're getting a lot of complaints from residents about the hygiene issue and the size of the camp and the smells and the general clutter," says Mayor George Newhouse.

"There's a fire risk, he's had an explosion of a gas cylinder."

The council says it has "worked tirelessly" to offer Jhyimy other accommodation, but he has stubbornly refused.

And it is worried that if Jhyimy stays, then others like him might flock to Bondi.

"It's not something we want to encourage," says Mayor Newhouse. "What's to stop an influx of backpackers coming to Bondi?"

In some ways, the struggle evokes the Australian comedy classic, The Castle, in a which a blue-collar family fights for its treasured home against a faceless bureaucracy determined to expand the neighbouring airport.

Jhyimy refutes the council's claims.

"My hygiene is a 100%. I warm up some water on the fire and have a bath or have a bath in the sea" - though he does admit that the theft of his facecloth has recently created problems on the fragrancy front.

"Couple of times I had my bag nicked and my face cloth stolen. In revenge, I'd go and visit people where the cloth went missing and wouldn't bathe for a couple of days so they could cop a whiff of it. But I've been brought up to keep myself intolerably clean and intolerably well dressed."

As for staying in council accommodation, he balks at the suggestion, and says suicide is a better option.

"If I was put in the situation where I had to be moved along, it would be so much easier to move to the side of the cliff and take one step to the left.

"I'm using four foot (1.2m) at the edge of a cliff at the end of the land. Now if I'm using up too much space doing that, then clearly there's a need for me to start breathing open air."




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