At the launch of the Night Time Industries Association on Wednesday night Greens MP Cate Faehrmann spoke in place of Jenny Leong – the member for Newtown. Her speech focussed on the Greens’ stance against the lockout laws as well as Leong’s work with the “Keep Newtown Weird” campaign.
In her speech, Faehrmann entertained the idea that through Leong’s work and the “Keep Newtown Weird” movement, Newtown and the surrounding areas of Sydney’s inner-west have remained relatively untouched and unaffected by the lockout laws. That idea is wrong.
Whilst Leong’s work over the past few years has definitely seen a community come together to push back against these laws and their effects, the reality is Newtown has been affected by these laws. We have seen venues and businesses closing, and an influx of punters from the city bringing dangerous behaviour with them.
Since moving to Australia in 2015 I have worked in bars and restaurants throughout Newtown, as well as worked as an event producer and DJ at various venues in the inner-west. I have seen the change in night life culture in my suburb, and I have experienced this change as a hospitality worker, performer, and punter. Faehrmann’s claim that our nightlife has remained relatively the same is uneducated and worrying.
Business owners, event producers, workers, and community members will all agree and tell you that this area has changed. Newtown may still be “weird” – something which Faehrmann chose to refer to in jest – focussing on the negative connotations of the word instead of the idea it represents individuality and a point of difference. But it is no longer safe for our weird and wonderful people to express themselves.
Just two weeks ago, GiRLTHING hosted their monthly party at The Imperial Hotel in Erskineville. The party which is focussed on creating a safe space for queer woman and non-binary people to enjoy themselves was filled with men in suits ogling these people making them feel unsafe with their comments and actions.
We ended up kicking 10 of them out for their behaviour. When one of Sydney’s most iconic queer spaces is no longer safe for those who need it – and is playing host to those that don’t want to respect the ideals behind the venue – you have to ask, ‘Why?’
I could recount the numerous times that I have been verbally abused on the street or at my work because of how I present myself and people’s aversion to that. I could list all the times someone has called me a “F****T” for being myself in a community I once felt safe in.
Four months ago, I was thrown against a wall and strangled by a man who I told could not smoke out the front of my work. This man had previously been at Holey Moley Golf Club next door. The police were called from across the road where they had been investigating another incident at the venue, the venue’s security did nothing.
For many business owners and community members Holey Moley represents everything that has changed in Newtown due to the lockout laws. Last year saw the closure of the Newtown Social Club – one of the most popular bars and live music venues in Newtown.
In its time it hosted acts from around the world, displaying the best local and international talent to people nearly every single night. It was where Dua Lipa played her first ever Australian show, it was where I saw Hollie Smith play “Bathe In The River” live.
Now Holey Moley stands in it’s place as a venue where customers get shit-faced and go on to cause trouble around the rest of King Street. After it first opened, many venues were refusing entry to customers wearing the golf club’s neon visors, now those responses have relaxed but the issues are still there and the dangerous and aggressive clientele are still there.
I don’t feel safe going out to most venues in this area on a Friday or Saturday night anymore. I no longer feel safe within my community on these nights. To have a Greens MP stand in front of me and tell me that Newtown has remained unchanged by the lockout laws was pretty eye-opening to me on Wednesday.
What should have been a night celebrating an exciting and smart new initiative to rebuild Sydney’s nightlife across the city ended with a sour taste in my mouth. I take pride in being a Newtowner, and I am not ashamed when people joke about “the bubble” that our community is.
My pride in Newtown will not change over the actions of others and the changes we have seen in our nightlife. However my safety in this suburb has changed, as has the safety of my friends who live, work, and perform here.
Whilst it is true Newtown has not seen the dramatic changes that areas in the city have due to these lockout laws, it has seen change. To deny that is to not look forward to the future and think about how we can fix it, which is exactly what the Night Time Industries Association is supposed to be about.
Watch: Amy Shark – “Adore” Live at the Newtown Social Club