Bondi Cavemen's view looking dim

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2007, 12:00am


In a city obsessed with property prices and harbour views, Jhyimy Mhiyles enjoys a million-dollar outlook over world-renowned Bondi beach without paying a cent.

But his days of gazing over the powdery white sands of Australia's most famous strand could be numbered.

Mr Mhiyles, nicknamed the Bondi Caveman, has been told by the local council to abandon the cliff-top ledge he has called home for the past seven years on the grounds that he is illegally occupying public land. Waverley Council also says it has received complaints about the hygiene of his makeshift camp and has concerns about his safety.

Council rangers say the open fires and gas stoves he cooks on are a hazard to the surrounding vegetation.

His cliff-top home is a tangled nest of scrounged cooking pots, battered picture frames and odd bits of furniture. It is overlooked by sleek apartments and up-market villas that sell for A$1 million (HK$6.32 million) or more.

'They should leave him alone,' said Aurelie Peyre, 26, a tourist from the French territory of New Caledonia. 'This is his way of life. It's a great lookout.'

But other passersby were not so tolerant. 'Where does he wash? Where does he go to the toilet? It's not very hygienic,' said John Owsiany, 87, a Polish-born pensioner. 'I think it's time he moved on.'

Locals, incensed by what they see as the council's heavy-handed tactics, have organised an online petition calling for Mr Mhiyles to be left alone. They have hailed him as a modern-day 'Jolly Swagman', a reference to Waltzing Matilda, and have set up an online petition, calling Mr Mhiyles 'a national treasure' and 'a legend'., was launched only a week ago but the website has already attracted nearly 350 signatures.

'If he has gone this long unnoticed, why make the change now? If he has been warned about the risks - then you have nothing to worry about,' wrote one petitioner.

Another said: 'Let him be. He is so much more polite than most of humanity. As for hygiene, has the council looked at the back streets of Bondi lately?'

Mr Mhiyles, an orphan who declines to give his age but has been homeless for years, spends his time sunning himself in a battered armchair, writing poetry and hand-feeding the local seagulls. Whales and dolphins sometimes pass beneath his cliff-top home.

His camp, protected from the elements by a rock ledge and a tarpaulin, is clearly visible from the coastal path that links Bondi with Bronte and Coogee and is trodden by thousands of power walkers, joggers and tourists each day.

'It was rather abrupt after seven years to be told you've got two weeks to pack up and get out,' he said recently.

'Any time Australia, or the establishment, is so particularly threatened by one man living quietly, then we are not the same Australia we thought we were.'

The council says it is working to persuade Mr Mhiyles to move into a shelter for homeless men. Earlier this month staff hand-delivered a letter asking him to 'cease occupation of public land'.

'We've not yet issued him with any formal orders and we'd prefer not to do so,' a spokeswoman for the mayor said yesterday. 'The council is trying to manage a complicated situation in a common-sense way.'

In a city where soaring property values leave many wondering if they will ever be able to afford their own home, Mr Mhiyles' struggle to retain his little patch of real estate seems to have struck a nerve.