It’s Midnight in Sydney and There’s Nowhere to Go

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It’s Midnight in Sydney and There’s Nowhere to Go

Anger at the city's lockout laws seems to be hitting critical mass. We visited Newtown on Friday to gauge this sense of frustration.
February 15, 2016, 12:49am

No fighting in Newtown, just loitering. All photos by the author.

Anger at Sydney's lockout laws seems to have hit a new high mark this week. Maybe bar closures have hit critical mass, or maybe it was Premier Mike Baird's hotly disputed Facebook post. Whatever the case #CasinoMike is trending hard for all the wrong reasons and the anger is palpable.

To capture some of this sentiment we hit the streets of Newtown on Friday night. There we met some of those who didn't make the bouncer's cut, or found themselves on the wrong side of lockout. No one would defend violence of course, but then no one felt lockouts were the answer.

Beth (right) and Emmah

I found Beth and Emmah walking past the silent Newtown Hotel just after midnight. They were the only pedestrians in either direction. "We're part of the lockout new-wavers," Emmah said glumly. "We were 17 when the laws came in so it's all we've ever known. I get the gist of it, I agree with the idea of making everything safer but I don't agree with the execution—it's fucking horrible."

Beth said that she approved of Premier Mike Baird's aspirations, but lockout laws didn't produce enough results to validate their cultural cost. "They won't change mass behaviour," she said. "I recently saw a knife fight at a 14-year-old's house party."

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I asked Beth what an alternate solution looked like and she mentioned the Red Frogs, which are a Christian organisation helping teens get home on Schoolies. It's a "proactive approach," she said. "They give you red frogs, water, and phone chargers."

Hugo (left) and his friend James

By 1 AM the committed Oxford Street crowd prepared to batten down the hatches for the 1:30 AM lockout, while the more adventurous made their way to the casino. Just joking. They went to Newtown where bouncers only close the door on the truly fuck­eyed, and the drunk can roll around on the pavement with relative impunity. Among the crowds who had fled was Hugo. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes from what he said was a malfunctioning contact lens.

Hugo had just been refused entry to Kelly's and was keen to vent. "I tell you man, we went out to Cargo Bar, got to the door just at 1:30 AM. Not allowed in. Sure we could have done better, got there earlier, but it was a matter of a few minutes."

Hugo said he doesn't blame the bouncers, just the legislation and the negative portrayal of Sydney's drinkers. "People leave places shivering and dishevelled with bad vibes," he said. "We feel like vagrants, loitering like we're menaces."

Theo and Edward (from left) on King Street.

It was 2:30 AM and taxis vomited crowds of lockout victims onto the pavement outside the Marlborough Hotel. The bouncers smiled, checked IDs, and waved almost everybody through. But as quickly as one group was welcomed in, another was turfed out.

"We always get rejected," Edward said. "Sneakers, shorts, the wrong brands. They're trying to weed out trouble makers."

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Edward and his mates were wandering down King Street, jaws clenched, tossing up whether they should throw it in or push on to Kelly's. "We met a German girl in Marlborough's, she couldn't believe it man," Edward's friend, Theo, said. "In Europe they don't start clubbing until almost midnight, you do that here and you've missed it."

Theo asked me to include a photo of his crew in front of a toppled street sign in the article. "It's like, Sydney's nightlife is turning down, or something," he said proudly. I saw his analogy, but it obviously hadn't occurred to him that it was this behaviour that got us lockouts.

At 3 AM the night was getting old and the crowds were thinning. A trio of Spanish tourists wrestled each other into the street, paused to take a selfie, and then crawled back to the sidewalk. Ubers descended fast, carrying the ejected back into the suburbs.

Zac (left), Matt, and pies

Chairs started going up on tables, the grim reality-inducing houselights switched on and only one place was left peaking: Newtown Pies.

"I used to live here two years ago," Zac said. "It's changed heaps, everything is off-limits. Sydney catered to whatever your subculture was, like hip ­hop or punk. Everyone had their own place. Now that's all gone."

Zac and Matt were refused from the Marlborough and they told me Newtown is slowly losing ground as the lockout agenda infects the wider city. "We're all being made an example of. You think lockouts and you think of violence. But a huge amount of people are being punished for the actions of the few."

"It's just not democratic."