By Alexander Lewis
Newtown used to be a hipster haven, a diverse sanctuary for the weird. But according to many in the community, thugs who once frequented ‘The Cross’ have moved in and marred the town’s very fabric.
Fingers were pointed at lockout laws on Monday night as residents, revellers and businesspeople assembled at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre for a public meeting hosted by Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong.
While statistics released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) in April revealed no increase of non-domestic violence related assaults in the area, the community has said the inner west suburb has increasingly become a theatre for violence.
Some attendees suggested that the BOSCAR statistics do not reflect anecdotal evidence because victims of intimidation in Newtown did not consider the incidents “serious enough” to report to police.
“What constitutes something reportable?” a long-bearded audience member said.
“I’m a six foot guy and I got hollered down at Oporto one night. Someone from out of town just walked up to me [and said] ‘what the f*ck’ is this?’ What do you do in this situation? Do you report it?” he said.
“I’ve felt intimidated as well, and I’m a big guy. There are people who come out here who are just antagonistic and looking for a fight.”
Transwoman Stephanie McCarthy, who was allegedly bashed at a Newtown pub in June, said to the assembly that rainbow posters plastered on venues are merely window dressing and that real change can only come from within the community.
“There’s a certain pub across the road that has a big poster now that says ‘Inclusivity: we welcome everyone.’ This is the pub that didn’t even call me an ambulance,” Ms McCarthy said.
“So you can point fingers at the powers all you want, but it’s up to us. It’s up to where we spend our money. It’s up to who or what we accept in our community.”
“We will get the community we deserve if we don’t do something about it.”
Long time locals in the audience said they felt threatened by atmospheric changes in Newtown’s nightlife.
One resident named Dale said the energetic change in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights was appalling.
“Today marks the 30th year of my arrival in Newtown. I know every nook and cranny of this place,” the 56-year-old woman said.
“I no longer feel safe either and I’ve walked these streets at any hour of the day and night for thirty years and I’ve felt historically safe.”
Ms Leong said she had also felt intimidated walking down the streets of Newtown at night.
“I have found myself being kept up at night by people that I wish would stop yelling or vomiting on my street,” Ms Leong said.
“I’ve also, to be frank, felt intimidated by the way that police have behaved in our community.”
Inspector Michael Dykes from Newtown Local Area Command said it was true that there were a lot more people going to Newtown.
“Our level of violence wouldn’t necessarily suggest that we’ve had a similar sort of increase in violence to what we’ve had in patrons,” Insp Dykes said.
City of Sydney Greens Councillor Irene Doutney said the changes threatening Newtown had already destroyed the atmosphere of Kings Cross.
“When I was a kid, all the suburbanites used to come up to The Cross to see the queers and the strange people. That’s been cleansed, and I don’t want to see that happening to Newtown. It’s a fabulous place, it is diverse, it is unique and you need to protect it.”
“There seems to be a movement away from the queer space, and this I think is really concerning. I’m looking at things changing at The Imperial. This is what happened in ‘The Cross’.”
Abusive bouncers at Newtown venues were also accused of damaging the area’s friendly vibes.
“I often see [bouncers] as being the cause of a lot of problems rather than the solution to them,” an audience member said to rapturous applause.
“These people actually just aren’t really on the same wavelength as … a lot of the people that go there,” he said.
President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association of Sydney, Lyle Davis, told the audience that he had noticed a change in the way Indigenous people were being treated by security in Newtown.
“Back in the day … I could walk up and down this street, I could walk into any pub,” Mr Davis said.
“A week or so ago, I got abused by a Maori or Tongan or Samoan bouncer outside the pub. I got locked out. And that person was punching me in the chest, punching me out into the middle of the road to get me run over.”
Reclaim the Streets activist Chris Lego said, “I think that security in pubs around here need to be reminded that they work in hospitality.”