How Sydney Got Locked Out by Politics, Casinos, and Billion Dollar Bullshit

Somehow good intentions and big money have shaped a city few of us are proud of.

By Jed Smith


There’s so many stink lines coming off this thing it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s go back to the start, when two young men were randomly attacked and killed in the early evening of a night in Kings Cross. The “one-punch” deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, both 18, both killed before 10:30 PM, resulted in Sydney getting some of the most draconian drinking laws in the country.

The laws were announced and passed within 21 days, leaving little time for coherent opposition, civil or otherwise. Not that anyone was bothered. Sydney had never had much of a formal nightlife. We’d suffered under ham-fisted licensing regulation right up until 2008, which placed prohibitively high costs on gaining the right to serve alcohol, all but eliminating the proliferation of small bars and a diverse night time culture.

Whereas Melbourne turned out in force to protest the proposed laws for their city, Sydney just didn’t. In truth, this may have been because they seemed justified. The Cross had long been a bloodbath and something had to change. Remember the time star footballer Jarryd Hayne was shot at by bikies out the front of Kings Cross McDonald’s following an earlier scuffle at a pub? Or the time the loyal patrons of a kebab store stood in the blood of a Polynesian man whose throat had been slit from behind by a rival gang member? In any case, I remember the time I almost killed a kid from the housos who kicked my friend in the face.

The reasons for the violence were painfully obvious. For as long as I had been alive it was the only street in an entire city of five million where a gay-fearing man could get a drink after midnight (the other option being Oxford St). So many colours and creeds, travelling all the way from far-flung suburbia, housing estates, north shore mansions, beaches, football clubs and bikie clubs to sink piss, eat pingaz and smoke ice. The potential for disaster was obvious, and that was before you considered trying to get home. As you might know, trains stopped at midnight resulting in 45-minute waits for taxis, which often gave way to brawling.

Few people felt the desire to stand up for the Cross. The violence was shocking, to the extent that nearby St Vincent’s hospital was specially equipped to deal with the head traumas that would so reliably fill up their emergency department on weekends. Lockout laws were supposed to solve all this by preventing the service of alcohol after 3 AM, lock patrons out of pubs and clubs after 1:30 AM, and end the sale of booze from bottle shops at 10.

Things got complicated when the lockout laws coincided with plans for the biggest casino-and-apartment complex in the city’s history, belonging to billionaire and mid-morning brawler James Packer. The complex, called Barangaroo, was to be built a stone’s throw from Kings Cross and yet it was inexplicably given immunity from the lockout laws. So too was the nearby Star Casino in Pyrmont, not ten minutes away by taxi, and currently the home of the highest rates of violence in the city.

Inner-city Sydney, which takes in Kings Cross, and runs from the southern side of the harbour foreshore as far south as Redfern, as far east as Bondi, and Marrickville in the west, has been subject to unprecedented property investment over the past five years. Much of it is foreign, along with plenty coming from homegrown millionaires. Yet it is within this same region that the entire city’s culture and nightlife are contained. And obviously when it comes to investment vs. culture, there’s no confusion over which the authorities favour.

“It’s all to do with planning. The councils and governments have made so much money from converting every available commercial and industrial space into apartments, because it is the highest yield per square meter,” says Dave Abram, owner of Freda’s in Chippendale.

“But cities need to have night districts and commercial districts all through. Melbourne has done this very successfully. They have active social spaces all through their city that run late into the night. It spreads the crowds out and gives people the option to avoid the dickheads at the known late night spots, say like the Cross in Sydney or the Casino.”

Continue reading over at Vice. 

Published by Jed Smith

Journalist with 15 years experience across every major news outlet in Australia.

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