Sydney, since its very beginning, has always been an ever-changing landscape. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the way certain suburbs fall in and out of favour. Back in the early 80s one of the daily papers conducted a survey of all metropolitan suburbs according to their desirability as a place to live and their social status. Largely industrial Zetland was then rated the least desirable although today it would be right up there with the list of groovy new precincts.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes in recent years has come in the Newtown area. In the 70s and early 80s, it was starting to lose its traditional, multi-ethnic working-class population to gradual gentrification but still retained a slightly sinister edge. King Street was more a place to avoid on a weekend night if you valued your own personal safety. There were a few nightclubs such as the infamous Talking Tables restaurant and a plethora of blood house hotels but nothing like the cosmopolitan buzz of today.
At the same time, a few suburbs away and Kings Cross was thriving with numerous music venues, strip clubs, night clubs and coffee shops. Lockout laws, changing tastes and the fickle movement of the party people and all that has turned around during the past decade. As one comedian joked “Why was Jesus seen downing shots in Newtown late on a Saturday night? Because he was sick of hanging around the Cross.” An offensive quip for many but one that did not disguise the truth.
Now comes news that the lockout laws are to be lifted in the Sydney CBD and the revitalisation of Sydney’s nightlife is finally underway. On top of that is “The Right To Play Live Music” bill, sponsored by the State Labor Party, which if passed will remove many of the restrictions placed on licenced venues in accommodating live music. The deckchairs are once again being rearranged and we could soon see yet another mass migration of the late-night drinking and binging brigade.
The Cross, of course, has not been so lucky in this reinvention of Sydney nightlife and live music, as the lockout laws will still apply there. That’s either a blessing for the many local residents who shudder at the thought of another wave of boozing hoons invading their hood or a crying shame for those who remember the halcyon days of KC in the 70s and 80s.
The common factor in all this is alcohol and what is now publicly enshrined as a god-given right to consume copious amounts until you are all but comatose – unlimited shots after midnight folks! Perhaps the curiously worded “Right To Play Live Music” bill might add a new dimension to the way Sydney operates as a nightlife culture and just where the hotspots are.
There’s a big attraction in having a large number of licensed venues all within walking distance in a specific area like King Street Newtown or sections of the Sydney CBD. Crowds attract crowds, it gives punters plenty of choice and it creates an atmospheric entertainment quarter. It also throws up a series of problems, like a whole bunch of inebriated people congregating in the one area, sometimes crawling from one venue to the other, after being evicted from the last for being too drunk.
Perhaps the answer is greater geographic diversification and the question is what Sydney suburb will be anointed as the next ‘party central’, following in the footsteps of the Sydney CBD, Newtown and Kings Cross. Maybe we need to rethink right outside the square and get the boozy, late-night culture as far away from affected residents as possible.
Would it be too crazy to nominate Cockatoo Island as the new night club precinct? Noise should not be a problem and ferries could easily transport punters to and from a kind of funky and very fashionable version of Alcatraz. There would be no lockout laws but the last ferry would run at 3.00am. Those wanting to binge through the night would have to pass a sobriety test in the morning before being allowed off the island, with free coffee and donuts on hand to speed up the process. Well, you might ridicule the idea but ask yourself – would you have bought a house in Zetland back in 1980? Anything is possible in this city!