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Look what they done to our Scarbs, Ma ...

By Rolan Stein - posted Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Cottesloe has the reputation of being Perth’s best beach. I’ve never understood this. It’s crowded as a bastard in summer, parking is a nightmare, the shore is shoulder-to-shoulder tourists and byootiful people, and there’s not much of a body wave. And the main drag is too upmarket.

Take Indiana Restaurant …

Pricey and pretentious. Actually, worse than pretentious - grandiose. And so ostentatious it has imposed itself as a Cottesloe beachfront landmark impossible to ignore.

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The Blue Duck’s OK, I guess. It has become a bit of an institution at Cott and offers a great elevated seaside view to sip a coffee over - but it’s a yuppie mecca, as is the entire area.

A real beachfront main drag is about greasy burgers-n-chips, ice-creams, soft drinks. Not calamari @ $30 a go, or wedges with aioli. Not aproned wait staff with silly Neighbours accents. You don’t want airs and graces at yer beach food-n-drink joints. You want no-bullshit with character, with perhaps a hint of brusqueness, like you get at Peters By The Sea, at Scarborough.

Peters By The Sea is a site of heroism. This story might or might not be apocryphal - that’s not something I care to investigate - but it goes like this:

When Alan Bond erected Observation City (OK, call me immature and I’ll answer, but really, the bloke was a rampant sky rooter), his vision was to push over the entire beachfront strip and replace the row of hamburger joints, pool and games dens that had defined Scarbs for generations with a Surfer’s Paradise-style battery of high-rise phalluses. Bond offered the shop owners big bucks to move out, and one by one, they succumbed … but Peters By The Sea refused to sell. While Peters remained, the development Bond had in mind could not go ahead. Rumours went around that he had upped his buying price to silly levels - millions - but Peters was not for sale, and wouldn’t be bought out at any price. Eventually, Bond had to abandon his grand vision. Peters By The Sea has taken on mythical significance for me ever since. It represents something quintessentially Scarbs.

Scarbs has always been my Perth beach of choice (well, Brighton, actually … which is right next door). The sand is clean and white and the beaches broad, stretching into the distance north and south. The sea bottom slopes away gradually, so most days you can wade out to the break and stand shoulder deep, waiting for a wave. Scarbs and Brighton have the best and most consistent summer body waves on the metro coast (which is not much of a boast). And when the swell is up, there’s enough mongrel in the surf to keep things interesting.

The same could be said of the human environment. New arrivals won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but anyone who’s been here longer than five minutes - make that 20 years - will recall Scarbs as a working class suburb with some rough edges and a beachfront youth culture that always had a bit of an unruly side to it. Those with some Scarbs history will recall the parties in the Stanley Street and Drabble Road areas. And the notorious Scarborough Hotel Sunday sessions. Drunken pizza queues afterwards. The ubiquitous screech of tyres, one step ahead of the law. Even today, hoons haunt the carparks, taunting the cops with their doughnuts and burnouts. It’s almost as if the delinquent ghosts of decades past are calling to them, urging them to preserve the traditions that have made Scarbs what it is. Or was …

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Things have changed in recent years. Scarborough the suburb is now priced out of the reach of average incomes. Lux units and big double-storey houses have sprung up like toadstools. Peters By The Sea has had a makeover or two, but they’re still serving up their 60s style burgers twixt toast, not buns. The rest of the strip is upmarket and pricey.

Oldtimers might take some consolation in the constancy of nature - the sand and sea is still as it always has been, surely? Well, no. The hordes of Poms and South Africans that have taken over the northern coastal corridor of Perth have changed the personality of the summer beaches of Scarborough and Brighton - and not for the better.

On a good beach day, the carparks fill up fast from Brighton north. If you roll up later than 9.30am, you’re relegated to one of the shitty beaches to the south between Brighton and Floreat, where access to the sea is a hot walk through dunes, and the waves suck themselves full of sand before rearing up and dumping flat-splat on the shore.

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First published in The Boomtown Rap on December 16, 2008. This article has been judged as one of the Best Blogs 2008 run in collaboration with Club Troppo. If you have a blog post you would like to nominate please send it to submissions@onlineopinion.com.au.



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About the Author

Rolan Stein is a Perth-based writer who shrouds himself in mystery. Asked for biographical details, he points like a mute to his blog, The Boomtown Rap, which he describes thus: "wide-ranging, acerbic, uneven and somewhat schizoid ... but leavened by wit, I hope. That's my blog and that's me."

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