Friday, March 04, 2016

“Will Sydneysiders Soon Have To Declare Themselves Cultural Refugees?”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently tweeted, “Lockout laws. Compulsory IDs for cyclists. Next they'll be handing out floaties at Bondi beach.”

So will Melbourne set up camps to accept a flow of cyclists, musicians, hospitality workers and, essentially, anyone from Sydney who thinks there's more to life than driving an SUV from your suburban home to your 9-5 job, getting an early alcohol-free night, and then going a little crazy at the casino on the weekend? This appears to be the Sydney that Casino-Mike Baird wants to make, and he's succeeding.

First they brought in the restrictive anti-entertainment laws. Want to go to a private party? Tough, bottlo closed at 10pm. Want to go out to dinner after a show? Tough, bottlo closed at 10pm. I'll just get a kebab on King Street then? Nope, can't even do that. Want to see a band? Nope, all the venues have been shut down because of restrictive licensing laws. Want to ride your bike safely through the city? Get ready for ridiculous anti-cycling fines, or risk your life in streets where Casino-Mike has ripped up the bike lanes. Anyone who has ridden a bike in Sydney knows that, due to the dire lake of cycling infrastructure, one has to pop onto the footpath in various places for fear of being an easy target for the killer machines that have hijacked our highways. But do that now and you could get a fine equivalent to many people’s weekly pay-cheque! And riding on roads of the inner-west will only get more precarious if the travesty that is WestConnex waddles in. Essentially, safe cycling is now illegal in Sydney. Likewise wanting a bottle of wine with your dinner after 10pm. Likewise taking a drink to a private party. Likewise wanting to run, or work in, a live music venue.

Casino-Mike Baird is killing Sydney, and for people like me Melbourne begins to look like the only safe haven. Writer-performer, and former Simon Townsend's Wonderworld reporter, Wednesday Kennedy used the term 'Cultural Refugee' to describe why she felt the need to leave Australia during John Howard’s Prime Ministerial reign. The idea that one's cultural values were not only disrespected, but actually trampled upon, to the point where one's home becomes unliveable. I don't want to belittle those who are refugees in fear of their lives. I am not in that category - I can stay alive in Sydney, as long as I don't try and express or experience my culture. Nonetheless I'm beginning to feel like a cultural refugee. I can't ride my bike, I can't see a band, I can't even buy a bottle of plonk FFS! And of course, as someone who has often supplemented my meagre artistic and writing income by climbing over to the business side of the bar on occasion, my chances of work diminish with every venue that shuts down, seemingly daily.

What can I do? Will the Victorian government welcome us as we stream across the Albury-Wodonga border towards the promise of cultural freedom in Melbourne? Premier Andrews seems to understand our fears. Or do we just need to fly out of Oz altogether?

I don't want to leave Sydney - I have a life here, and furthermore a really good, rare deal on my flat, but when the sirens begin to wail, and you know the Casino barons’ brown-shirts are on the streets baying for miscreants like you, and you're stuck, unable to move for fear of fines or just having every option shut down in front of you, what can you do?