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Is Sydney’s Nightlife On Life Support?

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You don’t have to be a sociologist to see and feel that the lockout laws have smothered something once bristling in Sydney. Our nightlife suddenly appears sick. It feels to be yearning for a resurgent blood-transfusion of local soul. I walk the streets of the city at night, and there is something surely amiss. The once ebullient feeling of Sydney’s nightlife suddenly feels muffled and controlled.
The nightlife of any place makes up a large chunk of its social fabric. It is the time and space where a city’s population often expresses itself most. It’s where a city relaxes, unwinds and let’s go whilst revelling in some of its raw instinct and spirit. The night is a communal time to experiment with personality. So to leash it up or to chain it down, is not without much sacrifice. After all, the midday white light of the ‘Yin’, has forever been entwined with the midnight black of the ‘Yang’.
Having lived overseas, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the nightlife of numerous different cities. When you juxtapose the night of the places you visit, the cultural differences between them can quickly be identified or felt. When you observe the locals enjoying their evenings — they’re often more relaxed, more open and more at ease with sharing their ​real​ selves with visitors.
And where there is diversity, there is also much consistency across the nightlives of the world. It’s the time when people meet, laugh, shop, share food, have fun and relax after a busy day working. It’s a place to observe others as well as to express yourself. A place to re-energise, let go and feel alive. It provides us with a place to “Dance first. Think later”. With a daily grind that is riddled with work, bills, commitments, obligations and convention — a healthy nightlife can often be an important societal unguent.
So if one of the world’s big cities – perhaps New York, Tokyo, Rio or Rome — were in some way to have their nightlifes weakened or watered down —  wouldn’t the international community be disappointed at that and see the cultural loss?
Why then are we in Sydney so complacent about this threat to our own nightlife? Why aren’t we more angry about its sanitisation? Why the hell aren’t we more sad?
Fifteen years ago, Sydney had one of the most exuberant nightlifes in the world. It seethed with energy. That night time culture was effervescent, sun-infused and excitingly awake. It better mirrored our local personality. Indeed, much of the success and charisma of the Sydney Olympics were driven by that same spirit. The after parties were legendary and the camaraderie on the streets at night, exultant. It was a local celebration of life and we were proud of the way we expressed ourselves to a curious world.
However today, where the inner-city energy once thrived, the same streets seem quiet and sedate. Where Oxford Street once teemed with weekend life, it is now peppered with ‘for lease’ signs. Where Crown Street was once a walking and bustling conduit, it now feels eerily toned down.
And this new nightlife, that is rapidly replacing the old, is bringing with it a culture of fear. I’m not talking about a fear of violence or of ‘king hits’. I’m talking about the fear of reprimand when your behaviour is nothing less than ‘obedient’. Suddenly, it’s all about rules, limits, keeping an eye on, self restraint and constant judgement.
Hoteliers these days are scared. They’re intimidated by the strict new laws and by the massive fines associated with breaking them. And all of this fear gets passed down through the chain. From the owner, to the bar manager, to the bar staff, to the bouncers, to the patrons.
Go into any bar in the city centre these days and it’s a little like walking into a government-sponsored mini-police state. It can feel like trying to relax with one of Orwell’s telescreens from 1984 sitting surreptitiously on the wall, watching your every move. Security staff often have the final say. They comb every movement, look in every eye, watch for the smallest signals of inebriation. How is a city meant to let go, express itself, have fun, perhaps even be a little crazy — underneath this blanket of paranoia?
Our need for the night is by no means new. Primitive man had the campfire where the tribe came together to share stories, to laugh and to eat. More than that though, it was the place where creative outfits and makeup were donned before dancing wildly to the deep beats of the community drum. The nighttime has always been a place of mysticism and bacchanal. A sacred place to set your raw soul free.
I think everyone understands the objectives of the new lockout laws. I don’t know if they have managed to improve the statistics on night-time violence. However, I am positive that they (and their ensuing culture) have managed to squeeze much of the life and energy out of the inner city at night time.
These laws feel to me a little like the ball that gets confiscated by the principal at school, because one little idiot kicked it out onto the road. It didn’t feel fair to everyone else then, and it doesn’t feel fair to everyone else now.
Good local government is not just about road-blocking problems with some hardcore laws. Good local government is also about understanding the personality of its constituents and creating ways that allow their unique charm to breathe and thrive. It feels to me that the lockout laws need more thought, dimension and creativity than the one we’ve all been slugged with. More maturity, tolerance and wisdom. There needs to be more community discussion, education in schools and hearty local debate.
Sydney people are not a moderate, sedate and quiet bunch. History tells us that we never have been. We’re hard working, energetic and still very much discovering who we are. We love life and we want to celebrate that.
It’s essential for us to have an expressive nightlife where we feel comfortable enough to stretch out. We should be very wary of anything that threatens that right or in anyway, dilutes it. And ultimately, if we are having to increasingly ‘Think first. Dance later’ — then surely there must be something that is worryingly wrong.
[box]Image source: City of Sydney’s Safe Space program website[/box]

28 responses to “Is Sydney’s Nightlife On Life Support?

  1. You are joking?
    The writer is so bone lazy that he doesn’t know if the lockout laws have dropped any violence?
    And you publish his other “findings”?
    Why? He’s obviously not interested in facts!
    Crap about police state, hoteliers living in fear! Please!!
    Are you guys such a bunch of recalcitrant drunks and druggies that you think this guys AHA friendly advice ought be considered seriously?

    1. People have every right to go out and have a drink and a dance if they feel inclined, and not have to worry about lock-outs/drink restrictions/constantly monitored for anti-social behaviour.
      Yes, alcohol fuelled violence has gone down. But the slight drop in that statistic does not justify the devastating economic impact the lock-outs have done to the majority of responsible licenced premises.
      Just as the Beastie Boys sang: “You gotta fight for your right to party!” Everyone, please contact Mike Baird and let him know that the lock-outs are unfair, unnecessary and ultimately, unproductive for Sydney.

      1. No, you’re correct. What is the loss of young innocent lives compared with the freedom to drink oneself into oblivion with thousands (up to 20,000 at any one time in KX on weekends)? Doesn’t compare. Mustn’t cramp anyone’s style for such an insignificant thing. KX was a train wreck destined to happen and it did.

    2. Violence has dropped in the ‘lock-out aws’ area…. but has increased in areas just outside (eg Newtown).
      So they haven’t solved anything, just moved the problem around!

        1. Actually yeah, it is better. The cross has more facilities equipped to handle any violence: local hospitals, ambulances, police are all nearby and by localising the issue it allows for faster action in an emergency rather than spreading out police forces.

          1. Totally uninformed comment. The sort of thing the wild-eyed Sen Leyonjhelm might uninformedly say. Many years ago some thought it was better contained. Clearly that was a wrong way-go back bad decision. The LAC in KX said years ago that they had realised it was not a good strategy.

    3. Of course the lock out laws have resulted in reduced violence. Take cars off the street at night and you’ll also see a drop in accidents at night. It’s not a coincidence but as you say, a fact. But at what cost? The lock out laws are a terrible injustice on the many responsible bar and club owners as well as the majority of the patrons who are not violent or unruly. It’s time to stop the nanny state.

    4. As a career Dj for the last 15 years, I can tell you its all over. Police everywhere, are intimidating. Even the suburban night club is dead. The scene is very much a police state.

    5. In the ten years prior to the introduction of these laws, assaults in public places had reduced by 1/3. ( is where this data was found)
      Per head of population, thats an even more significant drop.
      And yet, the high profile deaths of two young men led to policy by tabloid headline. Its crippled industry and destroyed culture, bringing in measures that would have prevented neither of those deaths, but introducing things like mandatory minimum sentencing and not dealing proactively, like teaching people not to fight or providing more safe passage home.
      These laws have cosmetically been successful to the tabloid headlines, but this article echoes and bemoans the very real loss that this city has faced, due to laws that were unnecessary even by the polices own statistics. But NSW politicians will never ever let facts get in the way of a good headline.

    6. You’re an idiot if you don’t believe the ‘violence’ has gone elsewhere and that police muddle down statistics to make look like the laws had been working. Congratulations you are in the 50 year old parent school with dumbass pitch forks and lynch mobs

  2. Great article and so true.
    Sydney is being forced into a straight jacket which will ghettoize it even more.
    Sniffer dogs, transport police, security guards at taxi ranks are all a sign of a fearful society and heavy handed government response.
    There are problems with the behaviour of some people and there are ways of understanding it and dealing with it that don’t require us all to lose our freedom and spontaneity.

  3. I don’t live in Sydney but have often visited for weekends of fun & frivolity. On my last visit I met with an old friend who’d also traveled from interstate to meet me at the opera house bar. We were there for an hour with our small cases on wheels tucked next to us. When it was time to leave we stood up to put out jackets on etc all the while chatting. Suddenly the burley security guard appears & reprimands me for ‘blocking the thoroughfare’. It wasn’t a busy night, there were no people whatsoever trying to get past me. I felt annoyed, controlled & bullied. When I told him I was merely putting my coat on & asked him whom I was blocking he was having none of it! He mumbled something about rules & told me to move on. Of course I asked the this a police state?! It was occupational health & safety on steroids. You’re right , we need to look at the inherent problems with our drinking culture at large, not slap a bandaid over the issue with rules & law enforcement. Sydney ( & indeed Australia) are being stifled by ill thought out simplistic rules that suffocate everything you describe in your article. When I read that Tyler Brule from Monocle was told he couldn’t sip a glass of wine come sunset at his stall at a recent Sydney festival I nodded to myself. I bet the same thing would not happen to him in Rome or Berlin. Ok rant over.

  4. It is a good article, but the fact it is being written now and asking “why aren’t we more angry” seems amiss. Ask anyone who works in the industry and they will tell you we have been angry since before the laws were even introduced. That is when the hospitality industry banded together in backlash and tried to prevent this even happening, with little to no support from the broader community. We could all see this happening, yet despite our best efforts were powerless to stop it. Why weren’t you angry a year and a half ago. Now the broader public realises what a catastrophically stupid idea it was, and now they have nothing to do at night, they are all starting to wonder, how could we let this happen?
    The industry is now just holding its breath until the review in February, where hopefully the laws will be scrapped, and not all of the venues will have closed down.

    1. Yes, another bit of misinformation. Yes, plenty of anger. Never any shortage of that. That is where we started. But it is inappropriate. Why would the “broader community” want to support a deadly recipe!

  5. The way Australian’s behave on the grog is the main reason this has happened. Violence rates and assaults have plummeted in the areas of lockouts and escalated in the areas where they have longer hours as late night drinkers move waterholes.Sporting venues can no longer sell full strength alcohol as the hoi polloi find the need to drink themselves into a stupor and then act accordingly. Go to an Ashes test in England or other sporting events in Europe and there is full strength beer available all day. We simply cannot be trusted to imbibe to a level of self restraint. Culturally we like to be macho, challenge authority, have a larrikin streak and have an undercurrent of oneupmanship. When all these factors are mixed with alcohol it is a recipe for chaos.

    1. Define Australian. If your definition is any idiot who can get citizenship or is born here, then yes. They couldn’t care less about the way they act on grog or drugs.
      Some of us however see it as our nationality, and take pride in the fact our families were born and live here.
      Anti-social behaviour has become too socially acceptable here.
      Intoxicated or not, your responsible for your own actions. You want to have fun? Go ahead, but don’t be an inconsiderate jerk and ruin it for anybody else, or cost them grief in the process. Any weak man can lose control, it takes strength to keep it.

  6. There would not be appropriate space to reply adequately to all the holey logic and
    misconceptions in the very indulgent and rambling article “Is Sydney’s nightlife on life
    support?” (1/9/15). To say the least, it is insensitively titled, given that two young men died after truly being on life support following coward punches. And by the way, “King hits” has long ceased to be regarded as the appropriate term. Furthermore, the title is also incorrect. Rather than being terminally ill, Sydney’s nightlife in Kings Cross & CBD is merely in alcohol rehab. And its prognosis gets better all the time.
    While the author states he does not know “if they (the new measures) have managed to improve the statistics of night-time violence”, everyone else does. They have.
    The article is riddled with clichéd throw-away lines and, worse, flowery phrases and vague sociological references and inaccuracies. The overdue regulations were initiated by the previous state Liberal government; nothing to do with local government.
    Despite the author’s professed worldliness and extensive travels, perhaps he needs to get out more generally. In particular he needs to better acquaint himself with what has been happening in Sydney; how we got to here. All the elements which he claims define an ideal night time economy were to be found in oversupply and with devastating results.
    And if “hoteliers are scared” it is only due to loss of undeserved dollars to which they were never entitled. None complained then about unfairness to other districts while they enjoyed for so many years a virtual monopoly.
    If people really need to get drunk, hang loose, and experiment – as the author points out
    there are numerous pubs and clubs where they can still do this or you may do it in your own home without disturbing, distressing or or violating the rights of those who have different ideas about what a fun night out is.
    Helen Crossing,
    2011 Residents Association.

    1. Helen, those young men were attacked at 9PM and 10PM, yet are constantly cited by you local NIMBYs as justifying late-night lockouts. Your cynical politicking insults their memories. You ignore that violence had declined about 37% BEFORE the lockouts, and that when the Riot Squad was in town for a few months during the former ‘bikie wars’, violence in Kings Cross reduced to “nearly zero” according to the then Police Commander at a community meeting. Your kind don’t in fact care that much about the violence as you are not affected by it. It’s just a handy moral panic to promulgate in support of your desire to live in a quiet, dead suburb. You also ignore the hundreds and hundreds of jobs lost, mostly from young people who have no hope of affording property in your area.

      1. To focus on the actual time of the events is myopic. The whole of KX was much greater than the sum of its parts. Virtually unlimited/ over-extended trading hours were clearly part of the problem and certainly the attraction for too many. A no-holds-bard; check all personal and social responsibility at the Coke sign – and let ‘er rip. That was how it was branded in anyone’s mind. Clearly, the unifocal measure (which does not address all the issues; just the beginning!) has had an impact. Besides, I’ll bet many patrons simply decided it just too bloody dangerous a place to venture for a night out. The jobs losses?! Alcohol is never going to go away – I hope! You can sell it anywhere, anytime. Don’t need it concentrated in one postage-stamp. So the alcohol sales are just more equitably and fairly spread out. Hardly fair for KX hoteliers to have a monopoly. Not that they complained – like they are now about alleged loss of income to which they thought they were entitled. COMMUNITY/NEIGHBOURHOOD. Finally, there is no shame in wanting and expecting the same level of amenity which you might enjoy wherever you live. Alternatively, you could promote a KX mark II in your neighbourhood.

      2. Michael, You lived on a very quiet street in the KX area yet complained a great deal when suddenly traffic began to increase on it. Now you have moved to Newcastle for the quiet life. I think you should just stay quiet yourself.

    2. Hi Helen,
      “Author” here.
      First of all, this is an opinion piece. At no time do I profess to bring any facts to the table. In fact, I’m quite transparent about that. But I see you haven’t brought any facts to the table either – so I guess we’re both on the same page there. Being an opinion piece, there certainly is some flowery and indulgent language in there – but hey! Perhaps you can blame my English teacher for that one.
      Also being an opinion piece, I can only share my opinion – right? I don’t profess to be ‘worldly’, just that I’ve been to a few cities at night. The key thing is though, is that if my opinion resonates with other young readers, or strikes a chord – than my gut tells me that I’m not the only one feeling like this. I can only share my observances – readers always have the right to take those, or to leave those.
      Any connections between ‘life support’ title and those families impacted by the violence is purely semantic. I hadn’t made the connection, until you pointed it out.
      I have friends who are hoteliers, and I hear what they say first hand. The fear of fines, I’m afraid, is a very real thing. They are also intimidated. Also, if you read back over my article, not once do I mention the words “get drunk, hang loose, and experiment”. They’re your words not mine. However they are revealing as to how young Australians are perceived. These words do lean towards the misconception that Aussies who want to have fun and ‘stretch out’ are looking to ‘right themselves off’. Maybe they are? But this is why I’m asking for more education and more dimension to the way we approach this subject. The Italians have a term called ‘non si fa’ or – ‘it’s not the done thing’ – for those who get legless. The French drink in moderation, but they also drink in their teens. Who’s to say that Aussie’s can’t get better at that, and still be trusted? Isn’t that at least one area that should be discussed, debated or talked about?
      As for the term ‘coward punch’, I refuse to ever use such a ridiculous term. It comes from the same ‘nanny state’ school where these one-dimensional laws were created. It sounds like a term you’d use in a preschool, not a term you’d expect a professional adult in his or her twenties to take seriously. It comes from the same ‘tone of voice’ that is fuelling much of this problem. A refusal to be mature-minded about a subject that is far from trivial. A refusal to talk and treat young people like adults. To trust them.
      No one wants violence on our streets. This article is not advocating that. The theme of the piece is about more balance, for at the moment – there certainly isn’t an ounce.

      1. Coward Punch is the perfect term for it. Only a coward attacks an unaware victim from behind. It’s a gutless weak act, nanny state or not.
        Michael – the time of the attacks doesn’t matter, the laws were brought in to make people think about what they are doing, and letting their mates do. Think the laws bad now? Wait until they really get sick of the behaviour, and decide to do even more about it.

    3. I’m from Newcastle. We’ve had lock out laws for years here. They have virtually destroyed the live music industry. Twenty years ago you could go and see live music in Newcastle 7 nights a week. Today you could walk down Hunter street naked at 1am Sunday morning and there would be no-one there to see you. Local pubs now survive on gambling revenue and devote more and more space to Pokies and the TAB. I’m not sure this is the result they were looking for.

  7. Unfortunately our drinking culture of getting shitfaced , stoned and totalled is part of our having a big night out in Australua . Overseas European American and Asian countries don’t have this problem to that extent so as long as the above mentioned problems in OZ remain , the alcohol / drug fuelled violence will continue .

  8. Some factual things—-
    1. Since 2005 – 50% of the nightclubs in Britain have closed permanently. As far as my research has been able to ascertain their was no knee-jerk legislation introduced in Britain as a result of moral panic to change the drinking regime. There is something else at work on a world wide scale which is seeing the end of the 24 hour drinking culture and the loss of jobs which it supported.
    2. Alcohol-fuelled violence is not a uniquely Aussie thing.

  9. Sydney is following the wonderful lead of Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City- a boring, dull, provincial , nanny state.
    Like the Benny Benassi song- “New York is Boring”
    Perhaps Benny can update this song to “Sydney is boring – too”
    Here’s a poem of mine that reflects the mentality of Sydney’s “wonderful” folks-
    I live in a land
    Where the people are mean
    Mentally dirty and very unclean
    They are common and dull
    Primitive and crude
    They see it as a national pastime
    To be provincial and rude

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