Not for the first time, the international gay travellers guide Spartacus has got it slightly skew. In the listing for Sydney, under Places to Swim, Tamarama rates highly. It’s an understandable error: Glamarama was a meeting point for Sydney’s A-gays for many, many years. But as any Sydney gay man in the know will tell you, these days, it’s all happening at North Bondi. Gay men flock there on weekdays and weekends alike -“ to sunbathe, to jog, to loll about in their gaggles of two and three and four, and, of course, to take to the water.
The trend is obvious, but when did it start?
The answer to that seems to depend on who you are, how often you go to the beach, and your level of contact with that amorphous crowd we call The Beautiful People. Some claim the move to North Bondi started two seasons ago; others say the trend has been building slowly over five years; still others reckon it all happened suddenly, last summer.
The habitues of North Bondi offer many reasons for the shift away from Tamarama.
Thirty-six-year-old Duncan, who says he comes down to the beach every sunny day of the season, says that North Bondi is simply a better place to swim.
For one thing, you can actually swim here, he says. Tamarama was closed most days in the summer because it was too dangerous to swim. When I come down here I always swim from north to south and back.
A bigger beach is good for other reasons, says Steven, who’s also 36.
For me, I enjoy coming down and running on the beach, but in terms of the gay shift, there tends to be a lot of transience, he explains. People go to one club for a period of time and then they move on, and I think that’s probably what’s happened with the beach as well. People look to something new after having done Tamarama for 10 years, or Boy Charlton, or Redleaf. This was just the next place.
While some might be tempted to think that the move to a larger, more open beach is somehow indicative of a break from a ghetto mentality, the reason for the shift could be a lot more banal. Twenty-eight-year-old Anderson lists some practical reasons for the move to North Bondi.
The water is better here, it’s a nicer place to swim. Tamarama’s pretty dangerous with the rip, he says. But it’s also hard to park in Tamarama and kind of hilly. It’s easier to find parking here in North Bondi and it’s a bit lengthy, so if you want to get away from people you can walk on a bit.
After a while, of course, a new in place like North Bondi starts to garner its own critical mass. Duncan explains.
I had been going to Tamarama for 10 years, but this is my third summer here [at North Bondi] he says. I heard word that everyone had started to migrate to North Bondi, so I started to migrate myself.
I think also Tamarama had become a bit back-packerish, he adds.
Steven says North Bondi attracts musclebound boys and gorgeous girls in addition to a gay crowd.
Lots more people are coming down here, and a lot more people feel intimidated about coming down as well, he says. I know a lot of friends who refuse to come down here because it’s just too intense.
When I was living here and I wanted to come down for a swim, I’d always try and sit around the periphery, he says. It was just a little bit too much to be in the middle of all the preening and all those bodies and muscles.
Others like it for exactly that reason.
At a time like Mardi Gras, there are always a lot more people around, Duncan says. It’s pretty much towel to towel.