I’ve never been to any kind of protest or rally in my life- even though I’m pretty socially/politically aware, I’m also kind of lazy when it comes to turning up at places with witty signs. But I happened to be in the city on the day that the Keep Sydney Open rally was on, so I tagged along, following the rally all the way to Hyde Park where the speeches and live performances were. Sadly, being 5’1″ and armed with nothing more than a Galaxy S6 with low battery, I didn’t get to capture as many witty signs and costumes as I’d have liked, but this was one of my favourites:
— Anita Senaratna (@anitasenaratna) February 21, 2016
The debate surrounding the lockout laws is a strange one in that it unites so many groups that rarely find common ground- young people on both sides of politics, business owners, musicians, DJs, libertarians…even obnoxious radio shock jocks like Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones. But my reasons for being against it go beyond just “I can’t stay out till 3am anymore”- which I haven’t even really done since I was 21 anyway.
I’ve been a King’s Cross resident since 2012, after Thomas Kelly but pre- Daniel Christie. I have a little shoebox studio directly in between two pubs, and opposite a backpacker hostel. I’ve seen some interesting things as you can probably imagine, and been subjected to more drunken One Direction singalongs outside my window at three in the morning than any person should have to endure. I’m also a freelance journalist who covers a lot of local news, and I’ve interviewed business owners, politicians and advocates on both sides of the debate. Even before the lockouts, King’s Cross venues were still subject to some pretty controversial restrictions– the lockouts ended up being the final nail in the coffin.
I picked King’s Cross not only because it was close to my work and to the city, but also because it was an interesting place with a colourful history- the razor gangs, Abe Saffron, Juanita Nielsen, Martin Sharp and the Yellow House…as Kenneth Slessor said, “you find this ugly, I find it lovely.”
I loved living somewhere that was home to artists, poets, actors, gangsters and general misfits (even if the property market’s changed that now) .I loved the feeling of knowing I could step outside at any hour (while awkwardly stepping over whoever was smoking on my doorstep and avoiding the broken glass and vomit), and there would always be something going on. Living in the Cross made me feel like there was something big happening and I was right in the middle of it.
Needless to say, it doesn’t feel like that anymore. While it’s nice being able to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s hard not to feel sad walking down Darlinghurst Road or Victoria Street and see nothing but empty streets and ‘for lease’ signs.
One of the saddest things is seeing the types of venues that survive compared to the ones that don’t. I can’t help noticing the venues that are still around and not fussed at all are the ones that have pokies and/or topless girls (O’Malley’s,Vegas Hotel, etc.), while places like Hugo’s and Jimmy Liks didn’t stand a chance. It’s particularly interesting when you look at which two big venues (which also happen to be casinos) are right at the edges of the lockout zone. Considering the fact that one of these casinos is probably the most violent venue in Sydney, it seems like it might be logical for it to be included in the lockout zone, if the goal really is to stop violence. Just a thought. If you haven’t already, I suggest you check out what Friendlyjordies has to say on the subject:
I get that Mike Baird is in in a difficult position. A lot of people out there (many of whom live in the suburbs/are over 40/haven’t been to the Cross in decades) support what he’s doing and let’s face it, 42% is a pretty impressive stat. It must be nice to be able to say that you’ve reduced a problem by 42%. I can understand why he’s not in a rush to dump the policy that did it, particularly if someone else died after the laws were lifted. But the trouble with that figure is that it doesn’t exactly tell the whole story, does it?
You know what else has dropped by 40% or over? Foot traffic to King’s Cross. Live music ticket sales. Profits of local bars ( on a side note, you know what the only two violent crimes are that haven’t dropped? Domestic violence and sexual assault- but that’s a whole other blog post). I’m not suggesting for a second that these things are more important than people’s safety, but how come other global cities don’t feel the need to introduce similar measures?
A couple of years ago, I went backpacking around Europe. The difference in attitude towards alcohol blew my mind- I remember going out with a friend of mine in London and saying “Oh my God, they actually treat you like adults over here”. In Dublin, my hostel had a vending machine with cans of Guinness in it. In Berlin and Budapest, I went on pub crawls and didn’t have to finish my drinks in a rush when we left a bar, because they let you take it in a plastic cup. I never felt unsafe, and I never saw any violence- everyone was relaxed and in a good mood. Other countries seem to be able to pull off the whole “having a non-violent nightlife” thing, so why can’t we?
And guess what? Assaults might not be happening as much, but trust me- violence is still happening and I’ve seen it.
Last December I saw two guys get into a drunken punch-up in the alleyway outside my apartment. At 4 pm. Earlier last year, I also saw a guy bleeding on my doorstep with a smashed beer bottle next to him, presumably glassed (although he told the police he “fell on his beer bottle”). My brother and I had to get him paper towels to mop up all the blood and stay with him until the ambulance arrived.
The lockout laws have made it harder for those types of situations to occur, which isn’t a bad thing. But the real problem here isn’t alcohol-it’s violence, and a certain type of male who sees violence as the only way to deal with things he doesn’t like.
The last speaker at the rally was Preatures lead singer Isabella Manfredi- I’m paraphrasing here but essentially what she said was that Keep Sydney Open wasn’t about prioritising getting drunk and going clubbing over people’s safety, despite what some more conservative commentators would have you believe. It’s about young people effectively being told that their culture, their spaces and their music don’t matter- and by extension, that they don’t matter. Music and culture are important creative outlets and if anything, they make people less violent.
Nobody is saying that we should just sit back and let assaults happen. But why not try things like street marshals, 24-hour public transport, or a night mayor in charge of the city’s late-night economy?
Even though I’ve only lived here a few years, I love King’s Cross and still do even after these laws killed it. And I would be prepared to endure more backpacker singalongs if it meant getting this area back to how it used to be.