Opening the new North Bondi Surf Club club house
North Bondi Surf Club President Grant McMah, NSW Sports Minister Gabrielle Upton, Waverley Mayor, Sally Betts, and all the members and supporters of North Bondi Surf Club here today.
Thank you for giving me the great honour of opening this new clubhouse.
When I was a very small boy, little more than a toddler, my father Bruce started bringing me to this club in the mornings when he came down for a swim. All of my most vivid childhood memories of my father are here or with his surf club friends jogging to Bronte and back or around Centennial Park. Many of his friends and contemporaries from those days are here today including the unsinkable Charlie Christensen himself – 93 years old we have just learned.
That got me thinking. I thought you were as old as God when we first met, Charlie, but doing a quick calculation I realise that you were barely 40 – so you haven’t aged at all in my eyes!
So much of the best of Australia can be found in this surf club. Service to others patrolling the beach and saving lives. Physical fitness. But above all an easy egalitarianism - the Supreme Court judge, the billionaire, the neurologist and the garboligist, the police and the most intensively policed – all look the same in their sluggos, let alone in the showers.
The old surf club was fit to be condemned by the time it was demolished, and for those who miss the Liver Brick Brutalism school of architecture there is always the council’s toilet block next door to remind us of what we have lost!
My father always lamented the contrast between the natural beauty of Bondi and the generally drab nature of the buildings that surrounded it – but I often wondered how any building could compete with this beach – the light, the sand, the clouds and the great waves, blue and green rolling into the golden beach.
But look at this. For the first time, mankind has built something at Bondi which is not just inspired by the beauty of this place, but worthy of it; that does not just echo the light and the waves but speaks to them. Like the Sydney Opera House this building is not just in a place it is part of the place, not an intruder or an addition but as though it had grown here as natural as a rock or a shell or the waves themselves.
The Club’s Building Committee – Grant McMah, Ben Griffiths, Mark Cotter, Peter Zieme, Peter Strachan, Peter Carter and Peter Colqhoun could have chosen a very practical, functional, conventional design but they were so imbued with the romance of this place that they chose Neil Durbach and his team to design this jewel.
Now jewels are not cheap. And this one is no exception. $7 million all up and that again is a story of great persistence. As we all know, and I won’t labour the point, John Howard’s large grant in 2007 of $1.7 million was cancelled by his successor. Most clubs would have dropped the project. But this one did not – of the $7 million only $1.7 million came from Governments - $750,000 from Waverley Council, $450,000 from the State Government and $500,000 from the new Coalition Federal Government, pledged by me and Tony Abbott shortly after Tony had finished the city to surf.
The rest – $5.3 million more than 75% of the total funding came from private donations.
And as far as private donations are concerned, while about $1.8 million came in large licks of $100,000 or more – the Wally Weekes members - the balance came in smaller gifts and the proceeds of the Club’s own savings over the years.
So while we thank Governments for their support – and given the public service lifesaving offers keeping this beach safe, that support is appropriate, nonetheless this club is not the product of a government grant – it has been paid for by the generosity both in time and money of its members and its supporters.
Many of you played a vital role in raising the funds, but I must single out Ben Griffiths who led the fundraising campaign both by example and by relentless persistence. As I said to him at the very outset, you will never offend someone by asking them for a lot of money. Because at the very least they will be flattered that you think they have it!
No rhetorical or emotional tool has been overlooked by Ben and to such great effect! He has pleaded, he has bullied, he has wept, he has cajoled. Those who gave him money so that he would go away were sorely disappointed – he came back for more.
And while today is all about this building and those who made it happen, we mustn’t forget that the last season in which the club was located in the sheds and shipping containers next door was one of our best. More bronzes, more awards than ever – one of the greatest seasons.
Well done all the members but especially Education Director Debbie Midwinter and Scott D’Amours captain and director of lifesaving.
Finally can I say how wonderful it is to be here with my wife Lucy only a few days after our daughter Daisy, and her North Bondi active member husband James Brown, have had their first child and future North Bondi nipper, Jack Turnbull-Brown. I have closely examined my first grandson and I can report that he has very large feet which augurs well for the surf races.
Congratulations to all the members and now I look forward to joining Charlie Christensen in officially opening this magnificent new club house.