In a turn of events that made partygoers and fun-enjoyers alike have an excited twitch, earlier this month it was announced that there had been some considerable chat amongst Sydney policy-makers suggesting that the city’s notorious Lockout Laws could be scrapped as soon as the end of the year. As reported by 9News, Deputy Premier John Barilaro, with the support of eight cabinet members, is allegedly pushing for 1.30am lockouts to be lifted in Sydney’s CBD altogether, in line with the completion of Transport NSW’s Light Rail project. The proposition does not include any kind of change to the Kings Cross precinct.
My first experience with Kings Cross came two weeks after my eighteenth birthday, where I visited the precinct to do my first shift at a nightclub I’d end up working at for about four years, through the period when the lockouts came into effect. At that point Kings Cross to me felt like some kind of drug-riddled and dirty adult Disneyland – gross, glamorous and exciting in equal measure. I soon became pretty used to leaving work between 4-7am and going out for a staffie at the Goldfish or Dive Bar in the basement of Kings Cross Hotel, emerging exhausted and giggling when the Potts Point fit crowd were well into their morning jogs.
I remember sitting in a staff meeting when we were told that we might have to stop using glassware at the bar with a manager whom, shaking his head, said it would be a huge issue for the business and our venue’s aesthetic. The fact that we thought that change could be devastating for us seems darkly hilarious to me now as I go for a walk and take some snaps of my old hangouts.
[Image: Just opposite the famous Coca-Cola sign, this is what Goldfish bar looks like now, a shady basement for an obnoxiously-shaped Woolworths and a new apartment complex.]
As Glenda Kwek writes in her SMH article, ‘Passion and Violence: the birth of Kings Cross’, ‘strip clubs, night clubs, prostitution and drug trade’ have always characterised Kings Cross, a home to the poor and the wealthy, a meeting place for subcultures of all types and a place where authors were inspired (this same article just caused me to discover Louis Nowra’s book titled In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars: A Literacy Adventure through Kings Cross and I feel like that sounds fucking great). It’s obviously problematic to overly romanticise Kings Cross as some troubled wonderland, I don’t need to remind anyone that it’s often been a place of death, violence and tragedy. But despite a varied history and a troubled reputation, does this mean that we should simply accept losing such a significant historical place to gentrification and development?
[Image: The old Beach Haus is now a pop-up restaurant.]
According to Time Out Australia’s Managing Director Michael Rodrigues, 176 venues have closed their doors since the lockout laws came into effect, and it’s clear that a decent slab of those were based in the Kings Cross area. Indeed, Kings Cross Liquor Accord chief executive Doug Grand told the Daily Telegraph that of the original 35 ‘high risk’ venues named by the Department of Liquor and Gaming when the laws were introduced, more than 50 per cent have now closed. Anyone who has visited the area in the past few years on a Friday or Saturday night would recognise the situation as totally devastating to bars and nightclubs. Big businesses unsurprisingly seem to be going ok though, with the arrival of the aforementioned Woolworths Metro and new apartment blocks rising rapidly before our eyes. Kings Cross’ surviving rugged elements now seem extremely out of place. Nathan Jolly of The Industry Observer describes the situation best as he writes, “killing the nightlife from this area kills local trade, and those long-term lease holders that were blocking development are forced out of business; venues, cafes, and takeaways that rely upon a thriving nighttime economy quickly shut down, and high-rise buildings in multi-million dollar locations are build, sold, and begin to decimate the life of the area.”
Sydney has been an increasingly uninhabitable place for young people over the last decade and in my mid twenties I’m definitely feeling the brunt of this, but I’m glad that I had the chance to work and play in the time bracket that the lockouts now shadow. I wondered how a person who turned 18 after the lockouts had come into effect feels about the pre-lockout world and Kings Cross.
“It was frustrating to watch our government implement policy that was clearly going to be both destructive and ineffective without the voting power to do anything about it,” says Isa, a DJ and FBi Radio presenter who turned 18 just one year after the lockout laws were put in place. “It felt a bit like watching someone throw your meal in the bin before you’d had a chance to take a bite.”
“Hearing friends refer to 2-4am slots as peak times to play, stories of venue hopping until 6am, seeing pictures of the sheer number of people out and about stings both as a punter and as someone who wants to make their living in nightlife.”
[Image: Known for a long time as the Bank Hotel, this venue wore many hats throughout the Lockout law period, finally closing after living it’s final iteration as Zoo Project.]
As two people who both love music and nightlife, it’s clear our experience of Kings Cross is vastly different, and I appreciate it when she says, “I think the Cross can be difficult to get people out to partially because of lock outs, partially because of inadequate public transport, and partially because the dejection that ‘it’s not what it used to be’.” This last point alone must deter a lot of post-Lockout-ers and yet I can’t help but find myself thinking it (and, let’s face it, often saying it to young people) a shitload.
Because it in reality, Kings Cross just ISN’T what it used to be. Which leads me to ask two questions; the first being – why the hell not just lift the lockout laws on the Kings Cross precinct as well? If the thinking behind John Barilaro’s reform is to support businesses that have been smashed by the laws and see some kind of return to inner-city nightlife, why not extend it to those still operating in all neighbouring precincts? To have a city that re-opens all nightlife precincts apart from one seems not only extremely dismissive of the businesses still operating in Kings Cross but also confusing to visitors of Sydney and increasingly incongruous with a cultural landscape. At this point, with so many closed businesses now bought out by major developments which will no doubt continue to thrive, Kings Cross is incredibly unlikely to return to its former environment – why not extend an olive branch to the last few nightlife businesses who can get people in the door and pay the rent?
My second question is, if the lockouts on the rest of the city are lifted and remain on Kings Cross, what will it look like after five more lockout-bound years? Will it come to resemble a Waterloo-style high-rise haven? Will there be any venues remaining that don’t cater to wealthy professionals only? Will there be any place at all for low-income earners or subcultural outsiders? Will there be any resemblance to the strange, scary and exciting place it was just one decade before?
Writer’s Note: Thanks to Isa for her input on this article and a reminder to all to support the remaining businesses in the Kings Cross precinct that are doing great things despite a supremely crappy situation, “The Cross definitely still has a place in Sydney’s nightlife – The World Bar are putting on consistently strong line ups and the Kings Cross Hotel is an awesome one-night festival kind of venue.”
To find other places around the city where you can support the businesses who support awesome nightlife, check out Isa’s recommendations; “Faster by Caitlin Medcalf (a 160+bpm bonanza) is running out of the Oxford Art Factory Gallery, Freda’s in Chippendale have amazing midweek art/music events like Between Two Worlds, Tokyo Singsong in Newtown is home to
Irregular Fit, Makes Sense, CHC, and more. I’m keen to check out Extra Spicy as well, and they’re everywhere from Candy’s Apartment in the Cross to Civic Underground in the CBD. Lots of cool stuff is happening out West too. Even though locks out are making it harder to draw a crowd, Sydney still has something interesting happening in just about every corner.”