Arts & Entertainment

Naked City: Welcome to the Hotel Melancholia

A few years ago, during a wet and chilly Sydney winter, a group of homeless men took refuge in a vacant space under the Domain Car Park, opposite St John Young’s Crescent. As the nights got colder and the rain set in their numbers swelled with up to a dozen or more men sheltering there each night.

Out of sight from passers-by and no threat to local residents, they remained there for two or three weeks. At one stage they attracted the attention of a Channel 9 reporter who supposedly joined them, bedding down for the night to highlight the plight of those sleeping rough. Then, one day it all suddenly ended when the police or Council rangers cleaned them out and the entire area was fenced off at a cost of many thousands of dollars.

Ironically this is the same exact spot where the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust want to build an $80 million, 150 room, five-star hotel designed to cater for cashed up overseas tourists – all part of a controversial master plan to upgrade the entire area. At first it just sounds like the history of Sydney all over again, where the big bucks bulldoze anything in their way, but does it have to be that way?

Why not bump the room numbers up to 300 and set half of them aside for the homeless, especially during the icy winter months. The State Government could offer generous tax concessions to the developers and the hotel owners to make at least half their capacity available to the genuinely homeless for a token amount of two or three dollars a night.

Sounds like a ridiculous idea? Well, take a look at what happens in some international cities like Istanbul in Turkey where the homeless are regularly rounded up by buses in winter and offered free accommodation in hotel rooms that would normally remain unoccupied during the offseason months.

Homeless men have been sleeping rough around this area for decades and surely during that time have established some territorial rights. The mix of the dispossessed and the down-and-out with wealthy Chinese and Korean visitors would make for an interesting social experiment. We see no reason why tourists would not embrace the cosmopolitan mix.

THE HIT LIST:  James Cotton is one of the last surviving members of the classic Chicago blues scene of the ‘50s and ‘60s, synonymous with names like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Spann, to name just a few. In Australia for the Byron Bay Bluesfest he plays his first ever Sydney show at The Basement on Wednesday April 23 along with his own band. Regarded as one of the greatest blues harpists of all time, this is a show not to be missed.

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