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The continuum of spatial justice in Australia

  • 22 October 2020
There’s a revolution underway in Northcote over community access to the extensive, lush green grounds of the Northcote Golf Course. During Melbourne’s long period of lockdown, locals starting slipping through the fence to gain access to the beautiful grounds. In response, Darebin Council decided to temporarily open the golf course up to community access, in order to give locals more outdoor space in which to safely exercise. This week, as golfing resumes, locals are campaigning to maintain their access and ‘unlock’ the park for the enjoyment of everyone.

In response, a counter movement has been started to ‘Save Northcote Golf Course’. This (far smaller) group is calling for golf to remain ‘the primary function of NGC, with sensible solutions for community involvement’, arguing that ‘full public access across the course… would likely spell the end of golf at the site.’ Besides a desire to protect their priority right to play golf in these Council-owned parklands, these campaigners also claim that golf is the best way of protecting this green space, and that it would be likely to fall into disrepair if opened to the public.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, the Amalfi Beach Club are lobbying for Waverly Council to approve their proposal to cordon off a section of Bondi Beach for the exclusive use of private patrons. The Amalfi Beach Club claim their proposal will ‘help create jobs, support the local economy, diversify the use of the beach and provide a COVID-19 safe venue like no other for this summer’, but have received pushback from members of the community who argue that it is elitist and that ‘[t]he beach should stay open and accessible to all.’

It would be really easy to ‘both-sides’ these debates, but that would present a false equivalence. Surely, if we have learned anything from this year’s Lockdowns, we should have gained a far greater appreciation of the importance of community access to outdoor space — and, therefore, of spatial justice? Moreover, the tired ‘tragedy of the commons’ argument that underlies the claim that fencing off the golf course is necessary to ensure it is not neglected has been so thoroughly dismantled that it seems unnecessary to engage with any further. Instead, let’s delve a little further into the spatial justice argument.

Let’s start with the beach. Although the finer details of the law are a bit messy on this issue, beaches in Australia are Crown land and we do have