Saying Goodbye to Sydney

Lets face it, Sydney is going to the (sniffer) dogs, and it’s only going to get worse.

On one side of the world we’ve got Boris Johnson announcing a six-month investigation into how to protect and manage London’s vital night time economy, and New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, easing laws on drinking and urination on the street to “help safely prevent unnecessary jail time for low-level offences”, and allow “the NYPD to devote its resources to investigating serious crimes”.

And in Sydney, well where do you even start?

Perhaps the new ‘anti-protest’ legislation which removes the public’s right to protest peacefully? Or the recently proposed bill which will allow Senior Police Officers to ban people from public places without a judge’s approval? Or the largely unregulated foreign investment in our property market? Or the state doing everything they can to discourage people from riding bicycles, and fixing the atrocious traffic situation? Or public transport prices? Or sniffer dogs at public pools and Police horses inside Bondi pubs?

And. Of course. The Lockout Laws. Thank the Lord… Mayor for finally breaking her silence with The City Of Sydney’s own ‘Callinan Review’ submission on lockout laws.

“It was a sledgehammer when what we needed was a well-researched, evidence based, flexible response using transport, planning, licensing and police.”

Richard Cooke’s excellent Monthly Essay titled ‘The Boomer Supremacy’, had many memorable quotes, but one in particular struck a chord with me, “The lockout laws are not the closure of a few pubs because of drunken violence. They are final confirmation of who the country is run by, and who it is run for.”

The Keep Sydney Open petition was started over 2 years ago, as a direct response to the lockout laws. A year and an half and 20,000 signatures later the petition gained real legs and a loud voice. That year and a half allowed the community to reflect on the laws, decide what it had, or had not, done for our amazing city, and then react. What the vast majority have seen is shady dealings by the State Government and a total decimation of Sydney’s culture, closures of countless bars, restaurants, live music venues, not to mention the small business surrounding them – all fuelled by the night time economy.

Six months ago at a dinner with my parents, I got pretty vocal about how the new laws had adversely affected the city, and the liberties once enjoyed by young people. We’d been at my cousin’s 21st in Hunters Hill a week earlier, as the festivities began to wind up I asked the partygoers where they were off to next. ‘No where’ they answered, looking slightly confused, ‘we’re all just going home’, ‘there’s no where to go.’ Only a couple of years earlier, there’d be 80-100 kids packed onto a beat up party bus headed from Hunters Hill, Gordon or the Northern Beaches en route to the Cross – half to go out and enjoy more of the night, the other half looking for easier access to public transport to get home. Of course I was arguing that, like my generation, they should be able to go out and enjoy their evenings, but I was telling my parents to look at the bigger picture.

Six months on, following the thoughts of Matt Barrie, the blissfully ignorant Mike Baird, and the various rallies to Keep Sydney Open, it appears that people are beginning to listen, including some of the Baby Boomers Cooke refers to so well in his essay. It was interesting only a few weeks ago, sitting with my parents and a handful of their best friends at the tail end of their own night around 2.30am (scandal) to see how their attitudes had changed, following closures of institutions like Jimmy Liks, and closer to home, my own friend’s bar The Passage. I felt like that was the clincher for my folks, realising that one of their son’s oldest friends, the first of his friends to start his own business and take a risk, had been forced to close his incident free bar because of a crippling night time economy.

This concept of Baby Boomers is what it really boils down to. The generation that makes the decisions, who decides what’s best for us. But it’s a generation so out of touch, it’s laughable. The generation with no uni debt, who got their drivers license with a trip around the block and bank loans with a lunch and a handshake. The generation that has leveraged themselves to the nines to buy their third, fourth and fifth investment property (and done well from them just because they happened to be in Sydney at the time of considerable growth). They describe us as a generation in crisis. They think Gen Y is entitled, lazy, materialistic and promiscuous. But yet we’re the first generation that will be poorer than the previous. The generation that’s trying to make the streets of Sydney safe for their children. The generation that won’t accept pill testing because only idiots take drugs – consider yourself an idiot then.

The irony of the situation is, there won’t be any streets to keep us safe from if we continue down this path. Mike Baird’s daughter’s children won’t be able to work in a bar whilst at Uni, because there won’t be any bars left. They won’t learn the skills of customer service, communication and management whilst working in a restaurant, because we’ll no longer attract homegrown talent, or top international chefs required to run such a restaurant. It won’t just be our night time economy in dire straits, it will be our national economy.

Recently Atlassian Co-Founder Mike Cannon-Brookes commented on Australia’s high cost of living as the biggest hurdle when trying to attract highly educated senior staff to our country. Specifically, he mentions Australian housing, education and transport as the top contributing factors. If senior staff, on senior salaries can’t afford to live in this country, how on earth are junior staff on junior salaries meant to?

I have a friend who is on a great salary, ‘top 1%’ they call it, and his parents have agreed to give him a considerable amount of money to purchase his first home, and he’s still stressing about the cost to enter the market and maintain his mortgage. Let’s think about all the Australians who aren’t in the top 1%, and whose parents aren’t in the position to stake their child a quick $250k for their first home. They’re probably the same kids starring down the barrel of a $30-40k HECS debt which they’re getting charged interest on.

What I loved in the same Mike Cannon-Brookes article was this line, “Junior staff out of the US or the UK were not so hard to attract because they were young, single and adventurous.” What do young, single and adventurous people like doing?

Going out.

So what on earth is going to attract that type of person to Sydney once the powers that be have obliterated ‘going out’ as we formerly knew it. And what’s incentivising our newly skilled uni students to stay in our city, faced with such a high cost of living, the realisation that there’s a very good chance they might not ever own their own home, and the fact they enjoy a Talisker 57° North without a splash of Coke in the city after dinner with friends.

What concerns me is that the situation is past the point of no return. People are so disheartened by the lockout laws, that there’s barely a drive to go out anymore. I catch up with friends in New York on a Wednesday night and they’ll be out with me until 3am, before putting a fresh suit on and returning to work at 8am the following morning. Even the mention of a mid week drink in Sydney is enough to silence an entire room. ‘He said what?’, ‘an alcoholic beverage?’, ‘Tuesday?’, ‘Tuesday isn’t a weekend?’ Said opposing parties eat clean all week, go to the gym daily, then once the weekend arrives, go out and absolutely destroy themselves, but no longer at bars and clubs benefiting local businesses, at people’s houses or private warehouse parties, where they can do as they please – sip straight liquor, do shots, come and go, listen to loud music by artists who don’t want to visit our city anymore, and avoid overbearing police and security personnel who are looking for any reason possible to confront you. It’s like Footloose on crack – except we’re also being controlled by a man of faith.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in some of the world’s best cities, New York, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Manchester and London, but it was my time in Osaka just last week that made me realise how grim Sydney’s situation has become. I was walking around Dōtonbori, a vibrant restaurant, bar and retail area of the city, an area that defines Osaka’s culture and identity, at 8.30pm on Sunday night, and two things crossed my mind. The first, I couldn’t believe how many people were out. Retail shops were full, restaurants were teeming, buskers were performing, people were riding bicycles (with no helmets), the streets were alive, and it was like this until I returned to my hotel at 11pm (minus the shops which shut at 9pm). The second, that I couldn’t compare Dōtonbori to anything we had in Sydney anymore. In a city with twice the population of Osaka, I can’t think of any area that I’d describe as the epicentre of Sydney’s culture anymore.

At the end of the day, I’m just a Sydney sider, with an opinion, watching the city that has brought me so much joy, turn to shit. I do however have this faint hope that we can save it. And it starts by taking your scathing chat about Mike Baird, Andrew Scipione and James Packer to that local bar you haven’t tried yet. By heading out for more midweek dinners at small bars and restaurants, and buying some drinks at said establishments, instead of buying dinner from Woolworths and wine from BWS. Boycott the Casino, all of them. Buy your party booze from independent bottle shops – but for god’s sake make sure you do it before 9.50pm! I don’t think we’ll ever replicate the glory days of Oxford St or Kings Cross, but if we don’t try, they’ll win; Baird, Packer, the Baby Boomers and the foreign investors.

Only Sydney can save Sydney now.

The ‘Callinan Review’ into lockout laws closes today (April 4), you can have your say by emailing  [email protected]. Check out Keep Sydney Open for a submission template.


James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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