Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Beach Upgrade: A Tragi-Comedy in Two Parts


SETTING: an office in a local government administration building, late on a summer's day in 2012. The air feels hot and heavy and a mass of dark thunder clouds are seething ominously through the window. A man in his fifties with silver temples is seated at a large desk, reading a letter.

(Enter THWAITES, a young administrative officer, looking nervous): "Excuse me, sir?"
BOSS, sternly: "Yes, Thwaites, what is it?"
THWAITES: "It's the community, sir. They're not happy."
BOSS: "What, again? Well, you know the policy. Give them a call in nine days. They'll have simmered down by then."
THWAITES: "I don't know if that will work this time, sir. They seem awfully, er, het up."
BOSS: "What do you mean, they're 'het up'?"
THWAITES: "It's this beach upgrade, sir. They're saying they don't like it."
(Glances at BOSS's darkening expression, and swallows nervously.)  "Especially the tarmac, sir. They say it's too hot to sit on and they want the grass back instead. And they really don't like the dust bowl."
BOSS, voice rising with temper: "You know we don't use the d-b words in this building, officer!"
THWAITES: "S-sorry, sir. I mean, the heritage inspired surface next to the tarmac. Sir."

(Noise of someone running, off stage. A moment later another young officer, WILBERFORCE, bursts into the room waving a sheaf of papers.)

WILBERFORCE, jubilant: "Eureka!"
BOSS: "This had better be good, Wilberforce."
WILBERFORCE, beaming and breathless: "It's all here, sir - it's all their fault - it turns out we did consult the community about the beach upgrade."
BOSS: "Are you certain, Wilberforce? If it's true, it could be the answer we need... but what kind of consultation did we do?"
WILBERFORCE: "The usual kind, sir. We put it on our website for a month in 2004."
BOSS: "Is that all?"
WILBERFORCE, shuffling through the papers: "Nooo... it says here we also sent an email to 'key stakeholder groups' for comment."
BOSS, beginning to look excited: "And none of the comments explicitly said they wanted grass instead of tarmac?"
WILBERFORCE: "No, sir, not one."
BOSS: "Or a dust bo... heritage inspired surface?"
WILBERFORCE, smugly: "No one specifically ruled that out either, sir."
BOSS, rising from his executive chair and punching the air: "By God, Wilberforce, you've done it! That's practically a mandate!"
THWAITES, inching out of the room: "I'll go and prepare the media release, shall I sir?"
BOSS: "No, Thwaites. You're on pavement scraping duty until further notice. Report to Refuse to collect your spatula. Wilberforce, you draft the media release."
(THWAITES looks crestfallen, while WILBERFORCE glows with pride.) BOTH: "Yes, sir."
BOSS, to WILBERFORCE: "Keep up the good work, son. You're one to watch."


SETTING: a mild-mannered urban planner and occasional blogger is relaxing on a couch in a slightly messy apartment, reading on an iPad. Suddenly, his posture becomes tense. A frown wrinkles his handsome brow.

MILD-MANNERED BLOGGER: "Oh no... this media release is so full of spin it might increase the speed of the Earth's rotation. If it's not decoded immediately, it could spell the end of the world!" (He stands up, casting off his spectacles and ripping open his shirt to reveal shiny lycra. Incredibly, he looks even more handsome.) "This is a job for.... Captain Translator!"

Stage lights dim and then illuminate a new SETTING: a dashing superhero, CAPTAIN TRANSLATOR, is furiously scanning a sheaf of paper, which is projected for the audience on a screen behind him. It is a media release relating to a beach upgrade.

CAPTAIN TRANSLATOR (muttering): "This is a particularly bad case. I'll have to employ emergency procedures and zone in on the worst affected areas if I'm to finish in time and save the world. For the original text in full, visit"

In fast motion: the CAPTAIN extracts a bottle of white-out from his 'belt of translation' and a black fineliner. Gradually, the audience can see the original text disappearing and being replaced by the CAPTAIN's translation on the screen behind him.

MEDIA RELEASE: “There has...been some recent community feedback regarding certain aspects of the site works and we have listened to this feedback and adjusted some plans in response to this."

The CAPTAIN's translation: Everyone hated the tarmac and the dust bowl, and sent us some really rude emails. Usually we just ignore them, but boy were there a lot!

MEDIA RELEASE: “The heritage conservation aspect was something that was identified as the highest priority for the future of the precinct in the public engagement process carried out prior to the adoption of the master plan. Our design plans therefore reflect the views made by the public and other stakeholders in their written submissions."

The CAPTAIN's translation: It's all your fault, you wallies. Especially the dust bowl and the tarmac. We asked you what you wanted, and you said you wanted heritage. Everyone knows it was really, really dusty in the olden days. And there was no fancy grass, oh no - just dust, and sometimes tarmac.

MEDIA RELEASE: Stage two works commenced on 30 January following the ISAF Sailing World Championships and Fremantle’s Australia Day celebrations, which were focused on Bathers Beach.

The CAPTAIN's translation: We haven't finished the upgrade yet. Maybe you won't hate it quite as much when it's finished? At least stop sending us the emails until it's done.

MEDIA RELEASE: The project is proceeding in accordance with the contractual obligations already in place involving the architect and builder selected and commissioned through a public tendering process.

The CAPTAIN's translation: Some of those whiney emails you sent us kind of made sense. We tried to reason with the builder and asked if we could make a few changes, but he sent us away with a flea in our ear. You know what builders are like.

MEDIA RELEASE: The City has also looked into budget and design implications of replacing more of the hard surface in front of the Kidogo Art Institute with grass and trees (as opposed to the original plan which involved immediately sealing the surface to stop dust and extending with grass and trees later).  The City is currently assessing the cost of additional trees, but it is likely that at least three additional trees will be planted in the grassed area.

The CAPTAIN's translation: You guys have been such cry-babies about the whole dust bowl thing that we looked into putting in some grass and trees to shut you up. Unfortunately, we've already blown our budget and can only afford three extra trees. Maybe four. But probably three.

MEDIA RELEASE: Council, at its 27 April 2004 meeting, resolved to release the draft plan for four weeks community comment, with a report on submissions to be brought back to council for consideration before the plan was presented for final adoption.

The draft concept plan and the report were placed on the City’s website and on the display board in the town hall administration centre’s arcade in accordance with the City’s community consultation policy. Copies of the plan were also sent to all precincts and major stakeholders.

The CAPTAIN's translation: Waaay back in 2004 (that's right, almost eight years ago!) we stuck a draft plan on a single notice board and on the website and sent some emails around, which is the bare minimum we can do without getting into trouble. We didn't go down to the site and consult with the actual users because it's a long walk, plus most of those people are backpackers and can't vote.

Not one of the responses we got back said no to the dust bowl.

So suck it up, cupcakes - we told you it was all your fault!

The CAPTAIN mops his manly brow and sits back in his chair. "Phew, that was a close call! At least the world is safe again...for now."

DISCLAIMER: As my wife will attest, I'm not normally inclined to flippancy when it comes to placemaking. However, I've just had a look at the City of Fremantle's update on the Old Port Project at Bathers Beach, and there's something about officialese that never fails to bring out my inner ten year old. Obviously the characters and the scene depicted are fictional.


  1. You don't do sarcasm well. You come across as a defeated counci candidate who hasn't quite got over it yet. You seem to be hanging around with the wrong crowd, that's not helping you either.

  2. Another nasty anonymous blogger without the goolies to identify themselves. Funny about that. I wonder if they are part of the cast or crew? Most bloggers wouldn't bother with this sad stuff unless they are clever or add some value. This one's is neither. Anyway Great funny story Michael. We will have a new actor on the scene shortly, lets hope she or he has some skills that gets the job done "Right", the first time and not waste $2 million because they know better than everyone else. Not just at Bathers Beach but Fremantle period. You summed it up beautifully with wit and humour. Why should the residents who pay the rates and live in the area effected have to put up with substandard performances. The quicker we get rid of the bad actors, the better. Rob