Munro has been in Lennox for decades, runs a local business, dedicated to surf. And he knew that having the WSL at that time would cause chaos. There is zero infrastructure. Parking is already at a premium – and it’s surprising there aren’t more accidents. Mike “Spider” Heesom, a retired scientist and local environmental activist, says: “It was the lack of consultation by some of the councillors.”
There had been zero consultation with locals. Even councillors on Ballina Shire were surprised. So the community did its thing. On the last Thursday in January, news leaked about the mayor’s plans. A few days later it was all over. Keith Williams, one of the councillors who opposed the WSL, said by the time the council held an extraordinary meeting to consider the proposal, it was dead in the surf. Only two voted for it.
This is lightning-speed people power. A community worked fast to defeat pragmatism and greed – a lesson in local activism defeating big business.
University of Melbourne urban geographer Ellen van Holstein says the size of the task made the result possible. It had all the necessary elements of successful social action: a stable social structure and a tight-knit community group. (That can translate to being exclusionary, try catching the perfect wave if you aren’t a local.) But the phone trees, the Facebook groups, all those blocks build the action. Those are the kinds of actions that make community members feel connected plus give a shared responsibility for the outcome.
The fastest community action on record. Maybe Don Munro has never picked up a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals but he has definitely picked up all the tactics – especially the one that says “go outside the expertise of the enemy”. This is a guy who has been seeing off attempts to commercialise Lennox’s awesome break for near 40 years.
He needs to come and give the folks in Mosman a few tips, heroically fighting Big Shop. The story so far: Woolworths wants to build a new supermarket on one of Sydney’s busiest shopping strips, Military Road. Locals already have a perfectly good supermarket. The strip itself looks like it has barely felt the impact from the COVID collapse and the fancy kitchenware shop is doing a complete upgrade.
In the afternoon, the cafes are full, shops are busy and there is a traffic jam from Mosman Junction to the top of Bradleys Head Road. The only way another supermarket could fit into the mix would be if the sole means of transport were helicopters.
But just like Lennox, it has its own brand of community organisers, now gearing up for another fight. Meet the Mosman Village Community Group’s John Wakefield, the accidental activist. He’s in his late 50s with primary school-age kids and is determined to protect Mosman, to keep it the way it was when he was a lad. On the surface, Wakefield looks like a traditional Mosman guy, was part of the Property Council of Australia, started part of the CoreLogic business. But he and his colleagues in the community group are all utterly opposed to the Woolworths development.
“It’s horrendous . . . Woolworths should understand it is not in its interest of their brand to damage goodwill. It will put intense pressure on limited public transport,” Wakefield said.
Which, returning to Alinsky, is all about picking the target, freezing it, personalising it, and polarising it. At least one local businessman tells me Woolies says it is in it for the long haul, 20 years if need be.
That’s a long fight but locals are determined. Back in Lennox, they didn’t have to wait that long.
Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.
Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.