Three days have passed since the now infamous ‘Coogee Beachside Rave‘ revved up and wound down, leaving in its wake a thick slimy layer of beer bottles, plastic bags, plastic cups, broken glass, urine, vomit and ‘nangs’ (nitrous oxide whipped cream canisters). The sand was left whiffy with alcohol, soft drink, mushy food, disintegrating beer cartons and I estimate, at least 50,000 empty glass beer bottles, a good 10% broken.
Two days have passed since I went out there at night to see what I could do to help clean up the mess. I collected 18 bags of bottles from the beach, and two fishermen and a partygoer helped me with 2 more. Not too shabby an effort – it helped clear half the beach and it got to the news.
Who’d have thought that the act of not putting your rubbish in the bin can be so explosive! The resulting chaos was disgusting, and horrifying for me as an eco-campaigner. The aftermath on social media between drunken partygoers, fuming locals and those in shock all over Australia bubbled up a shitstorm of vitriol, abuse, name calling, racism and other horridness that we really don’t need, over and above the abuse the natural environment has endured these past few days.
What we need instead of ignorance and blame, is a plan.
That’s where this post comes in. I’m in an interesting position in amongst this mess, pun intended. I’ve talked to lots of people the past few days… representatives of some main characters in this drama.
I’ve spoken to the DJ, the partygoers, the backpackers. I’ve sat with the locals, environmental groups and news reporters. I’ve witnessed the council cleanup crew in the dead of night. I spoke to their on-site manager in person, standing there in amongst the garbage at 1am on Boxing Day. I’ve watched (and know) the Surf Life Saving Club governor on the news, and have followed the Randwick City Council’s actions closely.
Here’s what I have learnt since, from actually chatting to, and observing, these stakeholders.
I’ll explain their viewpoints, and my thoughts on how it can be fixed. You’ll see that this issue isn’t black and white. We can’t just sweep this under the rug, so I hope to open the discussion for solutions that hopefully are more effective than the straight-out alcohol ban that has been introduced this week.
Player 1: The Council
Randwick City Council is the caretaker of Coogee Beach. They’re a pretty slick operation most days of the year. Their garbage collection crew is large enough for the whole area and they’ve shown a lot of initiative when it comes to dealing with issues and improving public areas.
They provide a beach clean most days with a beach cleaning truck. Its dragnet attachment sifts the sand, collecting litter early in the morning. We all benefit from the clean beach and are more than happy to pay our rates to keep this amazing beach, amazing. The parks and surrounding areas are dotted with some bins (for everyday use and volumes) and they’re emptied often. It is well known by Council and locals that the current quantity can struggle during weekends in Summer and for every public holiday celebration.
Today, Council has instilled a total ban on alcohol for the rest of summer as a reaction to the litter caked on the park and beach. Mayor Noel D’Souza’s media statement is here.
Viewpoint: “We already set out an alcohol restriction (between 12pm and 4pm) to try to mitigate any risks of a blowout like this, but that still didn’t work so we’re tightening it 100%. The public outrage has been phenomenal, and we want to protect our locals, as is our duty. It’s disappointing to take a strong stance but we need our community to feel safe when visiting Coogee”
This all makes sense, but it is a blanket, and some would say, a knee-jerk reaction. It affords no nuance to the solution, no innovation or creative thinking, no investigation into other possibilities. It slaps the wrist of visitors and locals indiscriminately. It doesn’t allow adults to prove that they can #adult, and doesn’t discipline adults who have acted like pigs.
Most importantly, in my opinion, slapping on a total ban doesn’t allow the community or the council to explore the social and cultural structures within which something like this can occur, so it can be mitigated to never happen again. They fixed the symptom, not the disease.
It is a quick fix that has already backfired…because the locals can’t enjoy a vino now, either! I think this reaction can be better massaged into a more effective solution, as I’ll go into, below.
Player 2: The DJ
My post on Facebook was tagged by a mate, with the name of one of his mates. It turns out he was the DJ that put the music on that day. So I wrote him on Messenger.
As he wrote me, he didn’t ‘put a party on’. It was not an event organised by him. There was no money changing hands, no compiling of a DJ list or set lists, no release of invitations…it was just him getting his decks down to the park and, with good intentions, gifting the park with tunes. I liked this idea, it has a ‘Burning Man gifting’ air about it. For those unaware, the Burning Man Festival is an 80,000 people strong, very respectful, ‘leave no trace’ festival in the desert in Nevada. It has run sustainably and respectfully for around 25 years.
Now, I don’t know how this correlated with FB event invites going around to ‘go party at Coogee’, but I believe that he, 100%, didn’t know it would be this massive, and was utterly devastated at the result of all the litter.
He was bullied, harassed and insulted the entire next day, and it’s likely continuing right now. I went into messaging him with a heap of curiosity and hoping not to argue to a douchebag, and I was rewarded with a decent local bloke who was in deep regret about creating an atmosphere that bore that kind of destruction.
Viewpoint: “I’m not the one representative of the tens of thousands of people who brought down their own rubbish and didn’t take it away. I wanted to provide a free music session – a gift – something small to make everyone’s day a bit better. I didn’t know I would cause all this trouble, and now that it has, I feel terrible”
Let’s leave the guy alone. He is not everyone’s mum. Everyone was old enough to drink so they should be responsible enough to chuck bottles in the bin too.
Next time, let’s hope for more of a Burner party than a typical festival party, with a clean up session integrated into the party. Council can learn about MOOPing too!
Player 3: The Council Cleanup Crew Manager
This chat was the biggest eye-opener for me. This man and his crew are silent eco-warriors, no overstatement. But since they work under the cover of night, no one knows just how hard they work. When’s the last time you spent hours with an on-duty garbo? Try it sometime 🙂
That night I saw it first hand. I trotted down to the park to check out if there was a crew cleaning up. There they were approx 20 men, each with 4 bins on quick rotation, bending, picking up, stabbing rubbish with collection sticks, working their way through a football field-sized garbage pile a half a metre thick. Trucks lined up in a quick-fire relay, back and forth from the park to the tip/recycling centre.
They had been there since around 6pm and worked all night and the next day. Remember, this is Christmas evening, family time, and here these men were, away from families, working on one of the lowest status jobs so we can all enjoy the high status of public spaces with pristine cleanliness.
They were concerned for my safety down on the beach, collecting rubbish; they checked up on me regularly and helped me with bags.
The manager was, not surprisingly, stressed. He had to manage this carnage, the time frames, the workers shifts, and contain the clouds of flying plastic garbage whipping up the main streets. They were there for HOURS in the park and were busting a gut to pick up enough rubbish to reveal grass, at 9pm.
When I arrived and chatted with him, he told me about another logistical issue he had to sort out. The beach cleaning truck would be coming in the morning, but it would likely break many of the thousands of glass bottles on the beach. A safety nightmare.
The bottles all have to be hand picked out of the sand. I’m trying to figure out if we have the manpower to do that.
This sentence, spoken with a tone of deep concern, was the impetus for my collection on the beach.
Viewpoint: We worry about your safety. We don’t want to involve the public, we do our job because it needs to be done. Even though it was Christmas night, we had a large crew, doing their very best to fix the issue swiftly. We are proud of our jobs and try our best. We worked until it was clean again.
There have been so many negative things said about the council crew. “They should have more people, they should’ve done more through the day, they didn’t leave the bins out, fuck em, we pay them to clean” but Christ, did you SEE the mess!? How do you think it all disappeared overnight? It wasn’t Santa or Jesus!
It was Christmas day too – nobody should have to spend time away from their families for that long a time because they’re cleaning up other people’s mess. I think they’re due credit and respect for acting as quickly as they did.
The only thing that could’ve improved the whole situation was a risk assessment or contingency plan that erred on the side of caution, so the shock of it all was minimised. These strategies are actioned months beforehand by Council, not by the guys on the ground that night.
Player 4: The Backpacker/Traveller/Reveller
I spoke to the revellers and walked through the party between 12 and 2pm. I checked it all out, had a dance, sung ‘All I want for Christmas Is You!’ with the best of them, and kept an eye on the rising rubbish levels. I chatted to sunburnt, tipsy dancers and saw my fair share of flashed boobs! But I digress…
From what I witnessed, and from the stories they told me, the majority of the revellers were visitors, mostly from the UK, Ireland, and Europe. I don’t know if they were all backpackers, cashed up glampers, business trippers, whatever….they were in large majority, young visitors to the country. I spoke to fruit pickers, hospitality folk and those on their last smidge of a well-timed visa to soak in an Australian Summer before heading back to the 5 degrees and rain of home. I’m glad everyone had fun and were relatively well behaved with each other.
I mention their mother countries not to cause a xenophobic ‘anti-tourist’ war. The vitriol, hate, ‘those people’-ing and name-calling have been more toxic than any garbage could ever be. The blaming, high-horsing and ‘patriotism on steroids’ I’ve read on FB was so aggressive, I wanted to shrivel up, pack my swag and go camping in the middle of nowhere. Tourism is an important part of our beaches economy and I’d say the 606,000 backpackers (minus the ones who left their trash!) that graced our shores this year are pretty damn great.
There is no righteousness in my words. None at all intended. At times I felt shame for Australians, we stooped too low; but many times the visitors did too. I was called a ‘retard’ by an Irishman, who told an Asian Australian that she was a cunt and came on a ‘banana boat’, told to get a life and that I’m a fucking idiot from other visitors, and worse. Not the nicest of encounters, to be sure, to be sure… 😉
I just write this to shine a light on the obvious – there is a lack of education of visitors towards our expectations and standards of cleanliness. Moving past the argy-bargy, the fact is, this isn’t acceptable, but they don’t know that. They lack the wisdom of our culture and attitude towards clean spaces…or they do have it but don’t think it applies here.
When you’re a backpacker, and your priorities are:
- Having fun
- Having no responsibility (the definition of a holiday amiright)
- Getting as much sunshine as possible (why else take a 22-hour flight?)
- Getting loose – drunk or high, or both (helps most with 1 and 2)
- Being independent and having total freedom
- Seeing as much of this country as possible and moving on fast, after finding out how bloody big Australia is!
…it is pretty clear that a priority for maintaining cleanliness of the host country is absent entirely. At no point in the ‘arrival-holiday-departure’ cycle is the importance of individual responsibility for rubbish expressly shared with visitors. Sure, it may be screened as a boring little ad on the airplane’s TV, but not much more than that. That’s why it blows their minds watching us collect OTHER PEOPLE’S RUBBISH. Like we’re all mad, or stupid!
It also holds a mirror to what we’ve had instilled in us. Aussies have had upbringings where if you’re told to ‘Do the Right Thing’, we know exactly what that right thing is. We, culturally, have ‘pick up after yourself, especially in public‘ drilled into us from birth via successful environmental and social campaigns. It’s important to us. It’s a priority. How wonderful is that!
*edit: I’ve been educated that the UK has a similar campaign! So, I don’t know what to make of that…the rules are the same, but they seem to fly out the window when you’re overseas. And yes, I include some Aussies in that too…everybody take a breath and calm down.
That rave was a moment in time where worlds and cultures literally collided in a really visceral sense. It was a steaming pile that screamed, “We don’t know your ways, or we do but they don’t apply here!”
Viewpoint: I’m here for fun! I travelled half way around the world to get away from it all, ok. I don’t even realise what my actions cause, let alone all the others there. From what I heard, they come after to clean it all up anyway. Plus there weren’t any bins free! The bottles are heavy and I’m kicking on to a party…I’m not lugging my rubbish all over the eastern suburbs to be able to throw it away. I’m drunk, sunburnt and tired…and you expect me to carry heavy bottles? Fuck. that.
I see the solution here is threefold:
Education on arrival and throughout the holiday: Let’s just put it straight to them – Don’t anger the locals. Don’t bring shame upon your country’s people. Don’t leave rubbish behind. Everybody collects their own and if the bin is full, you pop it in your car or bag and dispose of it at home. There are fines. There is jail time. There are no alcohol zones. Don’t ‘take the piss’ in timed alcohol zones. No glass bottles on beaches or in public spaces with kids and barefoot crowds – FFS that one is obvious! You cannot, must not, will not, dirty our home. Show some respect.
A Cultural shift around drinking: This one’s harder, read: #2 in the list above, but it’s the critical piece of the puzzle. Why is everyone getting SO fucking sloshed?
Can’t stand up sloshed.
Sexual assault sloshed.
Not give a shit about the rest of humanity sloshed.
Swimming/drowning in the shore dump sloshed.
Falling asleep on a half-inflated plastic Santa on the beach, naked, with a towel on your shoulders and lap sloshed? (This was the guy I walked around for hours as I did my beach cleanup at 2am. I hope you’re ok dude!)
What’s wrong in your life where you want to lose that amount of self-control any fucking day? In the sun too! Ouch. Rookie mistakes guys. I hope it teaches you a bit of a lesson, even if we can’t…
Being effective hosts: When expectations are not made clear, via the use of ‘sticks’ (force), education or ‘carrots’ (encouragement), we will continue to be trapped in a cycle of shock, disappointment and rage, a cycle created by our own inaction and impotence. We need to influence them like we have been influenced. Let’s share our clean beach culture, not blast their ignorance…no matter how great that might make you feel 😉
Player 5: The Locals
The locals have risen in a mighty wave of disgust, shock and anger. And so they should. It’s a reaction to the insane and unprecedented rubbish on the Coogee grass and sand.
Now, they are all feeling one more thing – the sting of an indiscriminate slap on all their wrists, without even a sip of the alcohol or the rhythm of the DJ’s beats to numb the pain.
The total alcohol ban affects the locals too, so family gatherings at the beach will now be reduced down to nanny-ish no-alcohol zones. Even 80-year-old Grandpa isn’t allowed a single end-of-year port. Mum and Dad can’t cheer by drinking anything their kids can’t drink. Lovers can’t celebrate an anniversary with a champers. No. No. NO, says D’Souza. All in the naughty corner right now.
I hope that the anger subsides and the intelligence, calm and logic simmers to the top, fast. This is a crowd that is very easygoing until there’s a violation of their values and freedoms. This has now happened and we’re all highly uncomfortable with the tar we’re all now brushed with.
The locals treasure the park and the beach. It’s a special place, a place of community and a haven to gather with friends and family, pump tunes, laze about, have picnics, have a celebratory wine or beer and relax. Countless locals (and visitors!) use the barbeques, bring their musical instruments, exercise, acroyoga, tightwire walk, dog walk, and muck around every day. It’s a busy, happy place.
While not all locals do the right thing, at the very least there’s a constant high level of basic respect for clean land, air and water, so rubbish is managed well.
Viewpoint: “We live here. It’s our home. We pay rates and we treasure this part of Sydney. We are FUMING that such disrespect has been paid to our backyard. It’s the backpackers/tourists/others fault. They should pay. They should’ve picked up their rubbish. They drink too much.
I’m scared for my safety and my children’s safety. I’m angry that I feel scared walking my kids to the park. It’s the council’s fault. They should have more bins around. I pay rates so I expect it to always be clean, and cleaned by someone else.
I’m disappointed that the total alcohol ban has been put in place. It’s so frustrating because locals are being punished for something they didn’t do. The majority are being punished for a potent, destructive few. Kick out the backpackers and return the place to locals”
In a nutshell, there’s a fierce pride in the environment, a high value on freedom, safety, relaxation and an expectation of perfect levels of public services in return for rates paid. These attributes can be used for good (calm, kindness, earning respect, and a strong sense of community, both local and broader) or they can flip to entitlement, anger and righteousness to the exclusion of all others. Let’s go with the former.
I think the only things that were in the locals control that could’ve improved the situation, were:
- an earlier and loud, but controlled, factual and calm complaint from the locals before it got to that stage, and more importantly…
- a proactive, cooperative chipping in to help clean up. The party hours and Christmas Day were no time to hold white rage and nationalist pride. They were the time to act, MINIMISE and resolve the issue. Lead by example.
The party came as a shock to everyone, though, and few came outside to check on their backyard. Few knew the problem until it was too late. Again, it’s Christmas day so that time is spent with family.
I’m saddened that many had to furiously action solutions to the party fallout, like the lifesavers that had to use resuscitation equipment approx 10 times to save drunkards from drowning.
So, where to from here? Some suggestions:
As I said earlier, what we need is education, and a plan. A clever one. A holistic one.
A combination of the following would really make an impactful, positive change.
Get Tricky with the rules
Rules can be more nuanced than “NO ALCOHOL FOR THE WHOLE OF SUMMER” *shakes finger in face*. Talk about black and white!
- no alcohol in glass containers?
- No beer cases?
- Maximum 6 pack per 2 people?
- No alcohol for large groups of adults?
- Designated areas for alcohol and alcohol-free zones?
- High fines for littering single-use plastic and glass bottles?
- Confiscating alcohol for the whole group if a breath test is over 0.05, for example?
- Must consume food with alcohol?
- Equal alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks/water being brought in and consumed?
- Fines for littering or moving away from your litter?
Some might sound silly, but they’re a brainstorm, and a brainstorm always brings innovation to the table. there are no wrong ideas at the first stage, so let’s all throw some around.
An improved cleaning strategy
- Erring on the side of caution – overmanage and over-expect, then tame down the rosters, and action plans as the day wears on. early marks for cleaning crews are much more fun than a call at midnight to come in for emergency cleans.
- An oddball solution – The locals from near the beach and park all bringing their bins down to Coogee beach to be filled and used on NYE and Australia Day. Ha!
- More rostered cleaning crew. Double or triple it. A problem shared is … a crew that gets to sleep.
- Bins on the beach! This is so important because if we can count on people to be anything, it’s lazy.
- More bins. We now know there were 15 tonnes of rubbish. That’s 6-10 skip bins. That is not hard to plonk on Coogee and collect that night. 5 on the beach. 5 on the parklands. Done! That was simple.
- Specifically, more RECYCLING BINS. The effort to correct dispose of a recyclable item is the exact same effort as throwing something in the bin, but the long-term effects of that act are HUGE. Please Council, more recycling bins everywhere.
- Trickle Cleaning – my personal favourite idea. Council cleaning crew wander through the crowds, ask how revellers are going, have a laugh and ask for their help. With a wheelie bin in hand, they can have the party people throw their rubbish away in a convenient bin that is bright right up to them. They could even have a particular rubbish type to collect eg. glass, plastic, food or paper.
- Handing out a white council bag, or bin, per large group of people.
- Educating every Coogee visitor on MOOP. Material Out Of Place. A Burning Man principle that should be enacted everywhere. It is leaving no trace, and calling on everyone, at the same time, to collect all litter from their area, and dispose of it all at the same time. The lifeguards can call this out on the PA!
Education, sticks and carrots
- Calling an emergency meeting of all backpacker hostel managers, hotel managers and tourist accommodation and outlaying a ‘strong stance’ educational campaign. The campaign should widely inform all visitors on the expectations Australia has of all its citizens and visitors when it comes to the natural environment. (edit: I am not saying that they should be responsible for the travellers, just brought on board as ‘front line educators’)
- Significant fines.
- Confiscating passport or visa (edit: not sure this is legal! Legal eagles, please advise)
- Jail time for large environmental offences. It works in Singapore, just saying.
- Confiscation of alcohol if littering or inebriation occurs.
- Time-outs – back of paddy wagons for those too drunk to look after person or place.
- 10c for bottle and can returns, at the bottle shop, NOT at a central recycling location.
- Freebies for those who do the right thing.
- Acknowledgement and respect given for those doing the right thing.
Getting cool, sharing the burden, and communicating
There was an FB event doing the rounds. It was, obviously, shared amongst the backpacker community and it spread from there.
Get into it, Council!: Council and the public need to open up a dialogue on these events. Let the council know that there’ll be a party that could get quite large. Council, get in there and put your ears to the ground. Don;t stop a party – manage a party. Employ someone who’ll know the beating pulse of the place. Don’t be surprised again! Score the invite and listen in on the planning. #eventsareoftenhashtagged #justaheadsup
Community’s Face: Police and council workers, you are more than welcome to jump in earlier and change the dynamic of a public event, without force, before it gets out of control. You did a great job but know that you’ve got our support to wander around and tell people in a friendly way to take 5 minutes to clean their shit up. You’re our face to them, teach them about how this community operates, please!
Dancing Sardines: Alcohol bans on particular beaches push revellers to the beaches with fewer, or no restrictions. This squeezes more madness into a smaller space. It is no surprise that every person under 30 came to Coogee – why wouldn’t you if there was that much fun!? Communicate between LAC’s and focus on where the most trouble will likely start – where there’s alcohol and massive crowds. If the crowd is there, crowd control should be there…and the cleanliness is as important as the peace. Both breed respect for place and person.
You’ve read this far, so thank you. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions too. Please, no racism, prejudice, anger or hate here guys. You can do better than that. Aim high.
Peace out, and Merry Christmas! x