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Image 1 for Depraved Paradise: Perth’s $100m surf park and Western Australia’s gutted soul

Artist’s rendering of Aventuur’s Perth Surf Park.

Depraved Paradise: Perth’s $100m surf park and Western Australia’s gutted soul

8 April 23

This take on Perth’s pond is from the crew at Crikey - self described as: “An independent Australian source for news, investigations, analysis and opinion focusing on politics, media, economics, health, international affairs”. They’ve never pulled punches on any topic (cue Lachlan Murdoch's defamation lawsuit for calling him out) - anyway, here’s Crikey’s Patrick Marlborough’s opinion piece on the Perth Surf Park:

The state's new Perth Surf Park, developed by Aventuur, is a decadent sign of a post-boom government wholly bereft of imagination.

Is it worth it? 
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday.
It’s just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children…

— Elvis Costello, “Shipbuilding”

If there’s one lesson from Western Australia’s mining boom, it’s that money can buy you everything — except an imagination. 

A decade and a half of hyper-accelerated growth, wealth and corruption has left Perth with a bounty of riches but a dearth of ideas. As fun as it is to expand highways into infinity to keep pace with our comically improbable suburban sprawl (Perth is now the longest city on earth, hilariously), the average punter starts to wonder where all the money is ending up, and why it feels like elsewhere. 

At the height of the boom’s hazy peak, the Colin Barnett government distracted from its growing economic disparity by building a few public works, most notably Yagan Square and Elizabeth Quay, locally known as “Betty’s Jetty”. These two quasi-desolate nowhere zones have come to embody the boom’s failures and the lack of inspiration from those who managed it: one a pain to access, the other a grim slog through the worst of Perth’s urban decay and poverty, as if designed by an architect with a fetish for on-the-nose metaphors. 

These projects succeed solely as perfect encapsulations of the gap between the boom’s promise and the stark reality of living among it if you missed the gravy train — or were thrown into its furnace to keep the engine running. Costly monuments to broken promises and fumbled opportunities: unkempt graveyards with empty mausoleums engraved with the names of contractors, consultants and con artists of a golden yesteryear that’s remembered like a fever dream. 

The boom created a unique greed that necessitated a unique stupidity: one now indelibly linked to the state’s identity, function and future, lurking in every jetski, SUV and unpayable mortgage. 

Nothing has embodied this stupidity like the $100 million Perth Surf Park as proposed by Aventuur, the “leading developer and operator of integrated surf park developments”. According to its website, its team combines “deep surf park expertise, investment rigour and passion to drive exceptional outcomes”.

But what might pass as exceptional elsewhere seems more like the rule here.

The park is set to be the largest in the southern hemisphere, with 150-metre-long waves and the potential for something called “beast mode” surf, the beasts from which might compensate for the black cockatoo habitat that will be destroyed in the park’s construction. 

Perth has been hankering for a surf park for a while. Aventuur was announced as the developer for this park in 2021, after beating competitor URBNSURF — which built the Melbourne wave pool — for the contract. URBNSURF had planned to build a $30 million surf pool on parkland in the relatively well-to-do riverside suburb Alfred Cove way back in 2019, but was scuttled by intense opposition from the community. 

Aventuur’s park will be built in the not-as-well-to-do inland suburb of Jandakot, for the tubular sum of $100 million. The park would take up 5.78 hectares, could require up to 5.26 hectares of native vegetation to be cleared, and 3.15 hectares of Banksia Woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain — a state-listed priority ecological community and habitat of said endangered cocky. 

The environmental consultants Aventuur hired found that ripping up the banksias in which the cockatoos forage could pose a risk to the threatened species. But last July a federal environmental assessment determined that the risk was insignificant and that the project did not need assessment. 

WA’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) came to the same conclusion, even though submissions made during a public comment period overwhelmingly urged otherwise. Only 150 of the 1096 submissions pushed for no assessment, but there’ll be no assessment all the same. The EPA said “the vegetation is of low to moderate foraging habitat for black cockatoos”. So that’s that.  

But beyond the environmental impact, what’s also striking about the Perth Surf Park is its fundamental silliness, a continuation of a silliness that’s dictated Perth’s progress for almost two decades now. Y’see, Perth with money is a little like a mule with a spinning wheel: sure, we know how we got it, but danged if we know how to use it. 

There is something mordantly comical about building a wave park in a place globally renowned for its pristine beaches and choice surfing spots. Of course, not everyone can access said beaches, such as those in our far-flung satellite suburbs, a reflection of the idiocy of our urban planning, the underfunding of public transport and public spaces, and the steady erosion of community and culture via the vast alien mindstate spawned by the atomisation of people sprawled across the state like butter over too much bread. 

A wave pool at the arse end of the earth is a fitting folly to kick off the boom’s next era, which exists somewhere between a nang’s headrush and a meth comedown. The burnout from the unshakable churn of the mining industry and the Remora businesses (and governments) that live off its scraps is embedded into the very operation of the city and the state, a kind of bone-tired wariness that’s meant to carry us beyond a finish line that’s always being moved back — no backdowns, no break rooms.  

The privatisation of this land’s true untouchable beauty, and the relief it offers — our coke-white sands and blue-green ocean — is a perversely gnarly way to admit you’re out of ideas. But such is life when you’re a champagne cork swirling in the current of an ever-tumultuous rip. 

It’s too late to bail from this big kahuna, and what’s a waste-of-space surf park to a place that’s learnt to love being dunked over and over? 

You learn to like drinking seawater when you’re thirsty enough, after all. 




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