The home for art where surf and city meet

A hub for art and community alike, the restored Bondi Pavilion is readying to open its doors once more.

For almost a century, the Bondi Pavilion has played a unique role as both an arts centre and community hub, a place for culture and connection set against the stunning vistas of Bondi Beach.

‘It’s a place where the city and surf meet, where cultures and ideas come to life,’ said Tanya Goldberg, Executive Manager, Arts, Culture and Events at Waverley Council, of the newly restored Bondi Pavilion.

‘It’s a well-travelled link between the bustle of Campbell Parade and the beach, and is itself a meeting and gathering place; somewhere to enjoy a show at the theatre, new art in the gallery or to just step onto the balcony and take in one of the greatest views in the world,’ said Goldberg.

Constructed in the 1920s, on a site utilised by the Bidjigal, Birrabirragal and Gadigal people for millennia, Bondi Pavilion’s many colonnades and spaces fluidly connect it to both land and sea. It’s this sense of connection – both to place and to people – that strikes Goldberg as being so significant about the Pavilion.

‘When I first started at Waverley [Council] … someone in the Arts and Culture team showed me a photo from a recent exhibition in the gallery. It was this guy standing with his massive surfboard, and with his wetsuit down around his waist, in front of this incredible piece of art. It was the best expression of the Pav’s unique brand of community and connection.

‘He was standing in the gallery, holding his surfboard by his side, looking up in awe at this artwork, having this genuinely moving experience. It was just such a great photo. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s special, you don’t get that when you go to any other gallery.”

‘For me, that’s something that’s really beautiful about the Pavilion – it really does integrate arts and culture with daily community life,’ said Goldberg.

Now boasting a suite of upgraded facilities, from music studios and a community radio station through to the much-loved gallery, theatre and pottery facilities, Bondi Pavilion is preparing to reopen its doors to the world, ensuring it’s a place where important memories will continue to be formed.

A creative housewarming

In the lead-up to the Pavilion’s reopening on Wednesday 21 September, a mix of artists – both individuals and collectives, from across a range of creative disciplines – have been selected for a new Waverley residency initiative, the Housewarming Program.

Working across Bondi Pavilion’s many creative spaces (including the theatre, gallery and studios) for between one and two weeks, the Housewarming Program aims to fill the Pavilion’s spaces both old and new with contemporary and engaging art and ideas.

‘It was important to us with the Housewarming Program that it brings the focus to the artists – that they and their creative development should be the first thing in the Pavilion, as a statement that its future really puts “artists first,”’ said Goldberg.

‘We want to continue to foster creative development and professional development opportunities for artists too, and the Housewarming Program is the first demonstration of that.’

Bondi Pavilion in all its glory. Image supplied.

Equally important is the idea that every corner of the Pavilion offers community access to art and creativity.

‘For example, seeing theatre or dance not just in the theatre but in the colonnades of the courtyard and in the atrium, so inviting artists to make themselves at home in all of the nooks and crannies is part of that approach as well.’

For tens of thousands of years, Bondi and its surrounds were home to the Bidjigal, Birrabirragal and Gadigal people; indeed, the very name ‘Bondi’ comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘water breaking over rocks’ or ‘noise of water breaking over rocks’. More recently, the Pavilion was a place for ballroom dancing, then later, independent theatre and live music.

That rich history is embodied in the new interactive digital exhibition, The Bondi Story Room, but will also form part of the Bondi Pavilion’s cultural fabric in years to come.

‘The Pavilion’s got a great theatre tradition – it was the early home of Tamarama Rock Surfers, who had a huge impact on the Sydney indie scene. It’s had a great music tradition, with an incredible song writing program called Bondi WAVE which has supported the likes of Ben Lee and many other great artists; and of course, the gallery and pottery studio have a great tradition as well.

‘Our plan is to keep growing that with more community participatory work, more workshops, talks and ideas events, and finding ways for those things to connect and intersect with each other as well.

‘It’s really exciting for the Pav to be a place where artists won’t just imagine new work but bring it to life,’ Goldberg concluded.

Learn more about the restored and revitalised Bondi Pavilion and its numerous arts programs.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts