Quiet, with some defiance, as Bondi Beach succumbs to coronavirus closure
Never have the perennially crowded waters on Bondi Beach looked so inviting.
But on a glorious bright March day, a late-season spark of brilliance against the encroaching autumn, the golden sand and blue-green waters were, if not deserted, uncannily quiet.
Rangers carrying loud hailers marched up and down the beach in socks and shoes telling people the beach was closed and that swimmers, surfers and sun bakers must leave immediately. Entries to the beach were taped shut with red-and-white tape. Signs insisted “area closed until further notice”.
Most people were adherent. (Despite Australians’ cherished self-image as a band of rugged nonconformists, this is a country that, in fact, embraces obedience.)
But there were defiant cases, official entreaties politely ignored. Surfers slipped under barriers or jumped into the water from the rocks at the north or south end of the beach.
Bondi Beach, a pictorial shorthand for Australia, has become emblematic of the nation’s struggle to respond properly to the outbreak. The trajectory of Australia’s coronavirus curve mirrors Italy more than it does Singapore. More than 1,000 cases have been reported, and while the death toll remains low, at seven, there are fears this could escalate if the health system becomes strained.
“Social distancing” is a lexical addition to every conversation, but its practice is haphazard. Cafes and restaurants are still full. People still seek out the beach on a sunny day.
Too, there is an abiding resentment at the imposition on civil liberties that social distancing is, when such egregious official mistakes are made.
On the same day that Bondi Beach was ordered closed, the NSW government allowed 2,700 people to walk off a cruise ship in Sydney’s CBD which had reported more than 150 illnesses. At least five people from the Ruby Princess have since tested positive to Covid-19, some of whom boarded domestic flights home.
And walking south from Bondi reveals the practical difficulties of enforcing a lockout rule along a rocky, meandering coastline, beyond the philosophical challenge of keeping Australians from the beaches they regard as their inviolable birthright.