Montefiore: Riverbank renewal or how I learned to stop worrying and love the beach

A government agency with a reputation for its land deals has come up with a bold and gritty activity concept for Adelaide’s river bank. Apparently it has the potential to elevate our city into one of the planet’s ‘world-class destinations’.

Sir Monty’s daily exercise routine has allowed him to wallow in contemplative old age when many of his club colleagues have graduated as the richest tenants of West Terrace Cemetery. Not for nothing does he use his club’s stairs instead of the elevator.

Outside, when summer’s restless breezes caress the plane trees of North Terrace, beach access has been the only deficit, given the city’s distance from coastal waters — until now. A new event within walking distance had him exploring fashion catalogues for a full-body swimsuit, only to discover that even Amazon will not oblige, such is the low demand.

His excitement derives from a proposal by Renewal SA (formerly the Land Management Corporation) whose creative talent recently proposed a dynamic leisure idea. Their novel ‘non-immersive’ concept is to be applied to Torrens Lake water-edge activities at Pinky Flat, where once colonial tipplers lay about, etching the site’s name into SA history as a place honouring red-nosed imbibers.

This ‘non-immersive’ phenomenon kicks off this month, for eight weeks — a concept there where up to 1000 people daily are to be enticed to an imitation  beach featuring 405 tonnes of ‘bunker sand’, but with one major restriction — a strict prohibition on swimming. This zany concept – attend a beach but never swim — highlights the crazy brave ideas that get approved behind this agency’s beige façade.

Perhaps anticipating a tourism influx linked to the Adelaide Oval Ashes Test at the same time, the Adelaide Park Lands Authority (APLA) in October fast-tracked the procedure and Town Hall got caught up in the panic. APLA began public consultation well before the matter came up for resolution, an inverse procedure that normally seeks ‘in principle’ approval before other triggers are pulled. Similarly, long before either APLA or Town Hall had considered anything, Renewal SA had already called for expressions of interest. The timing was very tight.

One of the Authority’s many ‘objectives of the activation’ is to “challenge perceptions that the River Torrens is unusable as a water destination”. This is curious, given that school rowing, Popeye cruises, gondolas and paddleboats have been plying lake waters for as long as Sir Monty can remember. The Authority also claimed that it would “showcase the Adelaide Riverbank as a world-class destination”. This boast might prompt The New York Times to fly in a correspondent.

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The site of Adelaide’s newest beach?

“It is proposed that the temporary project will consist of three distinct areas including a general sanded play area, live music, a section to cater for more formalised games/activity such as volleyball, beach cricket, swing-ball tennis, beach soccer, life-saving skills, yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi and low-impact child-friendly water play-based activities,” the Authority boasted as the paper frenzy peaked. Up to 1000 beachcombers simultaneously pursuing these activities might be tempting bait for a Times photographer too, but apparently a sand prefect is going to segment activities by days and if visitors turn up when there’s beach soccer, that would be their lot, even if they preferred to master life-saving skills — without getting into the water of course, because swimming is banned.

“The recreational area will be complemented with atmospheric lighting to create an inviting, fun and relaxed space with fresh food and beverage stalls to enhance the visitor’s experience,” an Authority agenda pledged. No budget was revealed, suggesting that Renewal SA’s cash tin remains bottomless, notwithstanding a 2015–16 operating loss of $10.3m. (The financials for 2016–17 remained unavailable five months after the conclusion of the financial year; moreover, a search in the Park Land Authority papers for an urban beach cost/benefit analysis found no result. These things happen when election fever reigns.) Some of the secret budget will pay folk described as sand cleaners. On New Year’s Eve, the site will be covered to “reduce any risk of dangerous items entering the sand.” Given these tasks, perhaps a more accurate description of the operator would have been the Sand Management Corporation.

The concept has a timely interface with history, given Pinky Flat’s past. The noon to 11pm liquor licence for up to 500 hipsters alludes to the days when Pinky Flat forebears pondered the crippling cost of cheap port while gazing dizzily up at the stars. It also throws interesting light on Tourism SA marketing plans, given that a fondness for a tipple in Adelaide’s park lands is not usually one of the department’s favourite brands, especially given a recent ‘dry area’ determination that forbids park lands drinking after 8pm elsewhere.

Anyway, most tourists will be unaware of the contradiction. Perhaps, Sir Monty mused, for modesty’s sake the picket-fenced drinkers’ enclosure could be suitably draped with the equivalent of that full-body swimsuit material, to obscure the imagery, should a Times photographer start snapping. The demand might even see Amazon restock its catalogue. Just as long as the garment would be ‘non-immersive’.

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