Manly is home: Mike Baird surfing at North Curl Curl. Photo: Nick MoirThe sun blazed brightly above Manly Beach, as well it might over this paved playground of bronzed surfers, beach bums and low-rating breakfast TV shows.
Home now, too, of the most powerful politicians in state and nation: Premier and Prime Minister, and soon a prince as well. The eye of the political maelstrom has suddenly focused on this pristine stretch of Sydney. It’s the hot chip in a flock of seagulls.
A short stroll joins Tony Abbott’s Manly electorate office to that of new NSW Premier Mike Baird. On a shop counter on Wednesday was a leaflet boasting a “premier’s message” from Barry O’Farrell – a sign of how fortunes ebb and flow.
The new Premier and the Prime Minister are members of nearby Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club, an ominous tiding for those sick of seeing politicians in Speedos. Mr Baird once barrelled over Mr Abbott on a wave. And on Friday, the beach was due to host the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, during a surf life-saving demonstration.
Former premier Kristina Keneally once dubbed Mr Baird “the Fresh Wave from Manly”. Now the suburb is full of top conservatives.
Further afield, Sydney’s north has emerged as the gridlocked epicentre of state and national politics. On the lower north shore are new Deputy Liberal leader Gladys Berejiklian (MP for Willoughby) and federal Treasurer Joe Hockey (North Sydney). By the sea sit Mr Baird (Manly) and Mr Abbott (Warringah). Further north is the siren song of federal Speaker Brownyn Bishop (Mackellar).
“We not only have a Bishop and an Abbott living on the peninsula but a Prime Minister and a Premier as well,” crowed resident Robert Hinds, 80. “We’re very honoured.”
As Mr Baird was anointed, Manly local Emma Clymer, 34, pushed a pram along the promenade. “I guess it’s good because it brings the community together,” she said. “It would be exciting for Manly if they would improve the parking.” Manly had other problems, she said – too many bargain shops, too many surf shops, too many tourists. And now, perhaps, too many politicians?
The latest census shows Manly as home to apartment dwellers, Scots and South Africans. A relatively godless area (despite Mr Baird’s Christian soul) of well-paid public transport users and new political leaders.
“It’s got a good balance of lifestyle and beaches,” said local photographer Murray Fraser, 35. He cheered Mr Baird’s appointment (“Good on ya, Mike! Bloody legend”), but admitted being “a bit of a swinger”. “I think the last two elections I voted Greens,” he said.
On Manly’s emergence to state and national prominence, he was nonplussed. “I like Mike, but I don’t think it really makes any difference to Manly. It’s surprising, though. It’s a big country – you’d think it would be a bit more spread out.”