In a suburb known for its version of Australian glitz and hipness, the Bondi hoarders’ fame stands apart for all the wrong reasons.
They are a reminder that behind sunny Australian facades there lies a darker space where people who’ve fallen through the cracks reside.
The Bobolas family – Mary and daughters Elena and Liana – are no ordinary residents. For more than two decades they have been engaged in an ongoing battle with the local Waverley Council and nearby neighbours.
At issue is the extraordinary amount of junk at their property, just an eight-minute stroll from Bondi Beach.
In a suburb of skyrocketing property prices, the Boonara Avenue house, bought for A$25,000 (£13,400; $18,500) in 1970, has long been piled high with the family’s collected items.
Plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, children’s toys, car hubcabs, milk crates, mattresses, assorted rubbish, even old surfboards – you name it.
Dream home with a catch
Since about 1990, the council has been attempting to cajole, coerce and compel the family to clean their dilapidated residence.
Various court orders and decrees have been issued to force a clean up. On around 15 occasions council workers, sometimes equipped with Bobcats and mechanical excavators, have been mobilised to tackle head-high piles of junk ,to the clear displeasure of the Bobolas family.
On every occasion, sometimes after only a few days of relative cleanliness, the rubbish has begun to pile up again
Such cleaning operations don’t come cheap. The family has been billed as much as $350,000 for clean up costs over the years, which includes legal fees as the Bobolas’ have fought for their right to hoard.
But it’s a bill that the council is intent on recouping. On three occasions it has sought orders to have the house forcibly sold and the money recovered. However, on each occasion the family has been able to stave off proceedings and hang on to the house at the last minute.
The first attempt was in February last year, where a bill for $180,000 was covered just prior to sale. On the second occasion, a procedural legal technicality saw the auction again cancelled.
Another attempt sale was scheduled to take place on June 9. The advertisement for the pending auction said the property was “positioned in one of the suburb’s most conveniently located streets” and gave potential buyers “the amazing opportunity to build your dream home (subject to council approval)”.
But there was a catch. The new owner would be responsible for removing the Bobolas family from what is presumably their existing dream property.
Plastic bags of cash
Just 50 minutes before the auction was to begin, the family applied for a stay of proceedings. The next day an extraordinary scene played out in a Sydney court when the family arrived with plastic bags they said contained enough money to cover the currently outstanding clean up costs and legal fees – about A$177,000 in cash.
Mary, Liana and Elena told Magistrate Joanne Keogh the money had been provided by friends to help them keep the house. Whilst Magistrate Keogh was sympathetic to their situation, she said there was still “some peril as to whether the debt will be paid” and dismissed a further stay on the grounds that she didn’t believe the family truly had the means to pay the sum owed.
Those familiar with the story weren’t surprised by this turn of events. The hoarder house is an ongoing saga that’s a source of irritation, bemusement and yet some sympathy in the Bondi community.
Formerly a largely working class area, Bondi has become red-hot property in the past 30 years, with dingy houses and flats which once housed local families selling for a fortune.
While many older residents have sold up and taken the cash, for some their property may be all the wealth they have – and they remain intent on holding onto that.
‘Clearly some issues’
“Old Bondi had all sorts of people in it, all kinds of characters,” one Boonara Ave resident, who asked that his name be withheld, said. “Years ago they probably would just be another of the eccentrics in the area, but Bondi has changed and they really obviously stick out now.
“It’s really quite an amazing situation to be happening in the heart of modern Bondi. You have to feel sorry for their direct neighbours because the place has just been a nightmare for years.
“But on the other hand, you have to feel sorry to some extent for the family because there are clearly some issues going on there.”
For its part, Waverley Council insists that the core of the matter is a health issue, with all the junk attracting pests and vermin.
But underlying this is a genuine concern for the Bobolas family; the council, as it has done on numerous occasions, is offering the women professional support.
Walking past the house, there is considerably less garbage piled up than at previous peaks. But the Sheriff’s Office will almost certainly press ahead with attempts to sell the house, which is expected to fetch around A$2m.
It seems that the hipster haven of Bondi has no room left for the Bobolas family’s version of genuine eccentricity.
Adam Gibson is a journalist and author who was born and bred in Bondi. He has published three books of poetry about Bondi, including Bondi Poems.