City News

NOISE, the Biggest Threat to Urban Health

This is not me after a bad haircut: it’s the psychological trauma of noise captured in Edvard Munch’s, The Scream (1893). Source: Andrew Woodhouse ex: Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893), Oslo Museum, Norway


President Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents’ Society


NOISE happens, as a social commentator has said in this illustrious journal before.

Do we want Noise Monitors with gagging powers prowling streets stifling the decibels of discussion? After all, all working cities produce occasional outbursts that aren’t broadcast quality. So if this city is not the place for you, move on. Move out, they declared.

However, noise affects our psychological and physical well being. It is a major public health issue. We need 7–9 hours’ sleep daily.

Work absenteeism costs the economy billions each year.  Sleep debt increases stress, anxiety, irritability, memory loss, accident rates, bi-polar disorder and heart attacks. It reduces immunity rates. Sleep for nurses, journalists, security, emergency and hospitality staff and others who keep the world rotating on its axis isn’t a privilege: it’s a right.

Enforced sleep loss is torture with a long history dating back to Roman times (tormentum vigilae, or waking torture). According to human rights groups it’s contrary to Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman treatment.’

Meanwhile, state government agencies, Sydney Council and others are negligent in not pro-actively monitoring and enforcing compliance with their own laws.

Leaf blowers outside apartment blocks in the inner city should be banned. Workers would benefit from some hard yakka and broom sweeping.

Doof-doof car stereos on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst are an assault on my ear lobes and musical senses. They don’t rock me.

The dozens of Navy workers’ motor bikes with modified exhausts in McDonald Lane, Potts Point, between 6:45 am and 7:30 am creating a race track for a short-cut to Garden Island should have their bikes confiscated under Offensive Noise laws.

Reversing garbage council trucks at 4:00am with their high-pitched beep-beep-beep-beep and broken bottle collections at 76 Elizabeth Bay Road drive me M-A-D.

Construction site jackhammers eight hours a day at 111 Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, the Omnia apartments development, are loud enough to reduce nearby cafe patronage by 60%. Dozens of complaints to council’s black hole call centre result in, guess what? Nothing, only council fibs that sound barriers are in place despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

Candy’s Bar and the World Bar in nearby Bayswater Road have had hundreds of noise complaints between them yet the Office of Liquor and Gaming, the NSW Environmental Noise Protection Authority and the Sydney Council are powerless, or do I mean negligent, to do anything to stop noise rattling double-glazing of residents’ bedrooms opposite at 1:45am.

In Kings Cross, that vortex of vice and drive-by shootings, klaxons from ambulance and police dealing with major street crime and drug overdoses are common.

Brain-piercing noise from fire engines roaring up and down local streets racing in tandem to extinguish burnt toast in backpackers’ hostels wastes money: 90% of call-outs are false alarms. Adopting the UK model of sending a drone on fast motor bike ahead to check the site status is deeply frowned upon from unions padding out their workload.

Meanwhile, long-suffering, mature-age residents near the Garden Island Navy site are entombed as the RAN industrial site expands down Cowper Wharf  Road alongside bedrooms. Dockside generators and ship repair work and megaphone calls such “showers are now ready” haunt their living rooms 24/7. They can’t invite friends for dinner the noise is so intrusive.

Noise complaints are rebuffed by Commander Andrew Fraser who says “it is not my responsibility and whingers “crave engagement”.

Well no they don’t. What they actually crave is a chance to put aside their sleeping pills and open sealed windows so enjoy some light and harbour-side breezeways.

Finger Wharf residents suffer the same arrogance, ignorance and negligence.

In high-rise areas like Pyrmont, Potts Point, the CBD and Kings Cross, Australia’s densest areas, the  RDR ratio (residents disturbance ratio) has reached 12/10 on my Edward Munch Scream Scale.

We’re living in a disturbia, not suburbia.

And don’t tell us to move out. We have inalienable rights to live in our chosen environment.

Actually, I can’t wait for Simon and Garfunkel’s forthcoming ‘superannuation’ tour to re-hear their haunting hit, Sounds of Silence and ‘People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share, And no one dared, disturb the sound of silence.’

Aah, the relief.