By ALLISON HORE
Interview with Waverley Mayor Paula Masselos
As much of Bondi reopens for business, City Hub spoke to Mayor of Waverley, Paula Masselos, about what’s in store for the iconic beach and its surrounds in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Waverley, and neighbouring Woollahra, were considered NSW “hotspots” early in the pandemic. But the emergence of new cases has slowed, largely as a result of widespread social distancing measures. According to NSW Health there were only 6 locally-acquired COVID-19 cases over the month of May in the South Eastern Sydney health district, which includes the Waverley council area.
Ms. Masselos said that working together with neighbouring councils was crucial in controlling the spread, and that she will continue to work with them moving forward.
“The other thing I have done is set up a regular weekly meeting with the 4 mayors – Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick and Bayside – to try and coordinate as much as we can,” she explained.
Ms. Masselos said the “swim and go” corridors introduced by the council to reduce the number of people on the beaches after the sand was closed in March were “very popular”. Up to 1500 people per hour used the corridors to get to the water.
As of May 15, the beaches in Waverly were reopened, but the fencing was kept in place to ensure the beach can easily be closed if the number of people on them exceeds the state government mandated 500. Ms. Masselos said the next step in reopening the beach will be looking to see when the fencing will be removed.
“We’ve been working very closely with the police and the department of health, and we’re making sure we’re doing the best thing for our community, given that we were a hot spot,” she said.
While efforts to contain the outbreak in the area have been largely successful, the road to a COVID-free Eastern suburbs isn’t over yet. In late May when schools across the state reopened, cases were discovered in Waverley College and Moriah College, private schools in the Eastern suburbs located just two kilometres apart from each other. The discovery of these cases forced the schools to be “almost completely evacuated.”
“We’re no longer a hot spot but we still have had a huge number of cases,” Ms. Masselos said. “It’s all about people doing the right thing and for the most part people are, so I am hoping that over the next few months we’ll see an easing of these restrictions. Of course, the big test will be when it comes back into Spring and Summer.”
According to Destination NSW, Bondi Beach attracts almost 3 million unique visitors each year, with around 1.8 million overseas visitors. Around a third of international visitors to Bondi are backpackers. With so many tourists visiting each day, Bondi and surrounds face extra challenges in the wake of coronavirus.
Australia’s borders are closed for the foreseeable future, with no set date for reopening. For businesses in Bondi that typically rely on the tourist dollar, local foot traffic has never been more important. Ms. Masselos said Waverley Council has been working hard and introduced measures such as a reduction in rates and rent to help keep local businesses afloat.
“I’ve been really keen to encourage as many people as possible in our community to keep it local and shop local.”
Ms. Masselos said the response from the community in supporting local businesses has been “fantastic.” The council has partnered with the Bondi and Districts Chamber of Commerce to produce a directory of local businesses to help customers “keep it local”.
The council is also pressing forward with planned updates on the Bondi Pavilion, which Ms. Masselos described as an “Australian icon.” She said that the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t slowed down or delayed the planned refurbishment of the beachside icon.
“The thing that will be important is that when we’ve got people working on the building that they observe the public health requirements in terms of keeping safe, but I am sure the contractors are right across all of that,” she explained. “The head contractor is just now being appointed and I know that the community is really excited.”
Activist Jack Mundey, whose green bans saved many iconic Sydney buildings in the 1970s, spent his later years campaigning for the preservation of the Pavilion for the people. On May 20 the Construction, Forestry Mining and Engineering union (CFMEU) made the historic decision to lift a green ban on work on the pavilion after they were convinced the building would be left in community hands.
The NSW heritage-listed art deco building has stood on Bondi’s foreshore since the late 1920s. The restoration of the building is due to begin in June and Ms. Masselos said it will preserve the building’s iconic facade and be more than just a “superficial” face lift.
“We’re actually going to do a good job on it, it won’t just be a lick of paint. We’ll be doing a whole lot of fabulous things in there, galleries, community radio studios, improved venues and amenities, a theatre and a larger pottery space, and we’re keeping the aboriginal mosaics on the floor,” she said.
“It’s marking the end of an era and the beginning of an exciting new future. So, it’s a real win for everyone and it’s staying in the hands of the community.”
Even as restrictions ease and Bondi life slowly returns to “business as usual”, Ms. Masselos urged locals to keep up social distancing and hygiene practices and encourages them to get tested “even if [they] have mild symptoms.”
“Go and get tested, because it’s this testing which will determine just how quickly some of these restrictions will be lifted,” she said.
A drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic located at the Bondi Beach car park at Park Drive North is open from 9am to 4pm every day. Testing is recommended for all who have a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath and meet the testing criteria on the NSW Health website.
Public playgrounds, outdoor gyms and outdoor sporting courts have now been reopened to the public. The ocean pools at Bondi and Bronte are also open again, with a maximum of 10 people allowed at each.