If you are visiting Sydney (Australia) from another country at Christmas time, and especially if you are a backpacker, it has become a tradition to spend Christmas Day celebrating on Bondi Beach. I can’t work out exactly when this first became a popular destination for Christmas tourists, but by the 1980’s there were numbers like 20,000 international visitors enjoying a summer Christmas Day at the beach.
For years, backpackers and Bondi Beach on Christmas Day were synonymous. The beach was transformed into a drunken party scene, as those from colder climes lived out their fantasy of spending Christmas on the beach under a scorching sun.
A similar Bondi Beach Christmas Day happened annually until 1995 when a “riot” occurred. Media reports called the affray a “riot” and here is a description of what occurred according to a Waverly Council document.Aggressive drunken revellers mar Christmas Day on Bondi Beach. Lifeguards report being overwhelmed with 146 surf rescues, mainly due to drunken people entering the surf. The trouble begins in the late afternoon when cool weather moves approximately 20,000 backpackers off the beach and onto Queen Elizabeth Drive blocking the road. Aggressive young people (described as ‘male youths from the Western suburbs’) arrive in cars and clash with backpackers. Violence erupted and police attempts to move the crowd saw it turn on them, throwing bottles and trashing police cars. The event was described across the Sydney media as a ‘riot’. In the clean up Council removed 30 tonnes of litter at a cost of $20,000. For weeks afterwards broken glass was reported in the sand.
In 1996, for the FIRST time, Bondi Beach on Christmas Day was declared an alcohol free zone. Waverly Council, in an attempt to maintain a spirit of goodwill to tourists, and to encourage a more family oriented scene on the beach enforces the ban on alcohol,. However, a party of food, drinks and entertainment is organised in the beach Pavilion for most of the day for about 3,000 people, while the rest enjoy a more peaceful Christmas on the beach outside. So my contention is- the idyllic Bondi Beach Christmas Day, so popular now with young and old alike, FIRST occurred in 1996 with the banning of alcohol on the beach. What is it really like?
"We absolutely love it," says Natalie William, a 23-year-old backpacker from London ( Christmas 2016)
She is busy frolicking on the beach, showing off her full Santa body suit, hat and beard, as we talk about Christmas Day on the other side of the world.
"Normally, I'd just be at home and it would be cold, probably raining. This is so much better."
But she has to admit, not being able to drink on the beach was a slight disappointment.
While I have never spent Christmas Day at Bondi Beach, I guess 40,000 people can't be wrong!