It’s Saturday night at Australia’s hippest beach but there are no hipsters to be seen at North Bondi RSL. The empty ocean shines like shiny black ink just 50 metres away but up here at the R’y it’s cover band central, the band crankin’ up the good times.
Oh the regulars are here, propping up the newly-renovated bar at the club, aka Tobruk House, aka The Rats, but there are no muscle-men nor bronze-gilded women, lips trouting and boobs boob-jobbing at their seams; there are no bearded dudes smashing the avo or girls ’gramming their taut exemplified bodies, via yoga and/or kombucha, to the world.
It’s a southerly-busted windy-cool night and the legendary Grant Turnbull is here, 88 years old and the bloke who taught me swimming at Bondi Baths way back before the war (just after the Vietnam War and well before the First Gulf War). Ally Brompton is here, she went to our school up the road, and she and the girls are having a good ol’ catch up and cutting loose on the dance floor when the Get Rich Band plays the right song. There’s John, the manager, or at least I think he’s the manager; he looks and seems like the manager, but maybe he’s just on the RSL committee. He’s always here anyway and he’s always up for a chat.
A group of young local surfers have also found their way in tonight, but they won’t last long. They have that look in their eye that suggests they’re destined for brighter city lights, warming up with a few relatively cheap beers and seemingly enjoying going to the bathroom in pairs.
This is an Australian scene straight out of a thousand RSLs or country clubs or bowling clubs across the land. The chicken parma is in the shape of Australia and the band know that the chords to the near entirety of ‘April Sun in Cuba’ are Asus4 to A and repeat and repeat.
The image of Bondi is one of glitz and glamour, a place where people come to be seen, where masses of Z-list wannabes flock on the weekend, not realising that the true hipsters have long ago moved on to Gordon’s Bay. Bondi Rescue, Bondi Vet, Bondi Sunscreen, Bondi Bottled Water… I even saw an ad today for ‘Bondi Protein’, featuring three fluro clad young women, white-teethed and glowing, heartily enjoying a product that some genius thinks will sell. And it probably will.
But the salt-blasted reality is somewhat different; the old weathered remnants of what was known locally as Scum Valley still often win out. The Bondi Golf and Diggers club further up the hill is a prime example, where a schooner will set you back 5 bucks and you’d be well-advised not to muck around near the snooker tables when the snooker comp is on. These places are populated by the mostly unseen core of an older version of Bondi. Remnant members of families who have been here for decades, keeping their heads down, not wanting to be noticed amid a newer crowd who seem to only actually wish to be noticed.
Meanwhile, tonight at the R’y, where I have been coming to drink since the age of 15 (no ID checks back then), there’s barely anyone under 30, aside from the bar staff, and the band has returned from their break. The opening notes of ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ ring out and they’re like a siren song, the audience simply helpless to resist putting down their glasses of white wine and schooners of beer and their ears dragging them up onto the dance floor, subsequently pulling some massive dance moves.
And it strikes me – these are the moves the absent hipsters would kill to be able to appropriate and take the piss out of. But they ain’t here tonight, and they ain’t likely to be coming next week either.