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Kings Cross: now just a memory for tired old ravers in their 40s

February 11, 2016
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Vibrant nightlife mercilessly shut down by the government

It was 7am and I was staring down a midweek hangover when, like many people do at that time, I checked Facebook on my iPhone. There, posted by a failed electronic musician I used to hang out with before he moved to Berlin in the early 2000s, was Matt Barrie’s incendiary internet rant complaining about the Sydney lock-out laws.

Why, I wondered, does this haggard old ecstasy enthusiast on the other side of the world give a shit? Doesn’t he have an underground bodypaint performance to attend?

“This is what I’ve been saying for ages,” wrote my friend, by way of introducing Barrie’s 8,300-word LinkedIn screed. He’s the kind of Facebook person who posts articles from unheard-of current affairs blogs praising Vladimir Putin’s tough stand against “imperialist Obama”, explaining the government’s secret agenda to control the media, and calling for the immediate overthrow of the International Monetary Fund.

This insufferable acquaintance, who is 42 and has never had a job, also enjoys opportunities to voice his contempt for the country he turned his back on a decade and a half ago. “Ha ha in Sydney this isn’t even seen as a joke,” he once noted, atop a link to the Bondi Hipsters’ breakout YouTube hit “The Life Organic”.

So it was entirely within the character of this one-time associate of mine, who began balding in the late 1990s and whose Facebook profile is him wearing a beanie in summer next to a remnant of the Berlin Wall, to post the Barrie piece.

Why I clicked on it is another question. Procrastinating getting up? After about 600 words, by which time the author had successfully made his point several times, I stopped reading. For fun, I considered commenting, “I still think this could have been longer”, but I refrained due to my aversion to conversing on Facebook with people I don’t like. I didn’t think about the article again.

Not for a few hours, anyway. By mid-morning, the Barrie piece had achieved top billing on and the websites of The Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and, this is not an exaggeration, The Australian Financial Review. A week on, The AFR has published no fewer than 10 articles about the essay.

The premier, Mike Baird, who was installed two months after the lock-out laws went live, went on Facebook defending the policy: numbers of people may be down, he argued, but so is violent crime, etc, etc. But the post quickly became bombarded with furious comments, many of which contained the word “draconian”. Breathing new life into the story, the Herald reported that an ABC producer named Tyson Koh had started a protest movement called “Keep Sydney Open”.

Most annoying for me, it has taken over my Facebook feed entirely, as if that website can detect my refusal to agree with Barrie’s argument and has determined to keep waving it in front of my face until I do.

But I won’t, ever.

The fact is that in the years before the lock-out laws took effect, Kings Cross was a horrifying, hateful, physically threatening pit of Hell. Most Sydney grown ups have happy memories of drug and alcohol-fuelled nights out at the Cross but, in reality, by the time the lock-out laws came in, the days when the Cross could possibly accommodate those memories were long gone.

For those of us old enough to remember, Kings Cross was not much to get excited about 15 years ago. It was always home to a handful of lovable all-night dive bars where you could finish up the evening, but throughout the nineties the real foot traffic was two suburbs away on Oxford St.

In the early 2000s, the volume of human fuckwittery on Oxford St was becoming stifling, and exciting new non-shitty venues started appearing at the Cross. Hugos Bar (no apostrophe) began serving $20 cocktails, which at that time didn’t seem like a ridiculous form of humiliation. Jimmy Lik’s offered posh Thai food, along with $20 cocktails.

The young and fashionable, who weren’t referred to as hipsters yet, began migrating across. There was a sense of excitement about this new scene, notwithstanding that it was very similar to the previous scene but in a slightly different location.

And then? The fuckwittery followed. Heaps of it. It was all the fuckwittery of Oxford St, which stretches on for kilometres, squashed into a 200-metre stretch of road. Added to that was a fresh battalion of fuckwittery, lured by the excitement of the new.

In these years, I lived in a neighbouring suburb and had to walk through this daily. From Thursday to Saturday, after about 9pm, it became a sea of sweating, screaming, punching, kicking, bodies. Thousands and thousands of them. Groups of 10, 15, 20 young men would roam, wasted, searching for violence. Groups of young women would look on, also wasted, barely dressed, lost. There was vomit everywhere.

Police officers, wise to the prospect that they were targets, would arm themselves in riot gear and walk through the throng, six apiece, reassuring us all with their presence.

Have you ever seen the main drag of the Gold Coast in Schoolies Week? I can tell you that Kings Cross circa 2013 was just like it but more drunk and more violent, all year round. As a resident trying to get home, your only option was to pause on the edge of the melee and deep-breathe yourself into a calm, out-of-body haze before stepping quickly through it with your head down.

Kings Cross has a wonderful seedy history, but “vibrant nightlife” and “foot traffic” were nowhere near the place for years before the lock-out laws came along.

It’s sad that Jimmy Lik’s and Hugos are dead, but the truth is they were long dead already. Fuckwits killed them, not the government.

At a glance, it might seem like Matt Barrie, a successful entrepreneur with a $250 million business, has nothing in common with my drug-addled, unbearable old party friend in Berlin.

Except for one thing: they’re both guys in their 40s pining for a place that exists only in their memories.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Anthony permalink
    February 12, 2016 8:44 am

    Rampant fuckwittery used to be curtailed by bouncers who would flog the shit out of the fuckwits, When bouncers got regulated fuckwits flourished. Also now your average fuckwit is built like a bouncer, and that doesn’t help.

    • March 5, 2016 6:22 pm

      Beautiful summary.

    • March 5, 2016 7:03 pm

      Early 1990s, I was talking to a fella in a tutorial. We were sorta friends, but he came from ultra-rich stock so we never quite hit it off. He was talking about how he got punched out by a bouncer [in Northbridge, the Perth equivalent of Kings Cross].

      And he finished the tale with pretty much “yeah, but I deserved it.”

      I know that’s a REEEALLY fine line to walk, but I wish Australia had a bit more of that attitude.

  2. BeckySue permalink
    February 25, 2016 12:42 pm

    Fabulous article. Best thing I have read. So much hype, hyperbole and lies and nonsense in the mainstream media about the Lockouts and other measures. All puppets of the liquor lobby!

  3. March 27, 2017 6:08 pm

    Crikey! Was Kings Cross still going in 2000! Signs of incipient “death by trendy real estate ” were already well and truly in place by 1975! It was where the kids from the northern suburbs used to go to pretend they were getting their rocks off by 1970!

  4. Derail permalink
    August 28, 2017 7:13 pm

    Getting old sucks, but I suppose it beats the alternative:D my best memories here in the states is of the All Good festival way back in the hills of West Virginia. The first few years It was great. Every camp representative of their city and people strolling around with various Party Goods. Deadheads Rastas Rednecks peace love dope moonshine and marijuana but it kept getting bigger every year until if you didn’t come early yer two miles from the stage and then you couldn’t take chairs or coolers to the stage then security patting you down to get to the stage the last one was a cop fest with 1 in 80 people getting arrested 😦 RIP All Good

  5. Dr D permalink
    January 14, 2018 10:22 pm

    Okay , the cross went downhill during the 90s, but it was “avant-garde” during the 1960s. Many of my relatives lived in Sydney at this time and the cross was a good break from the dull,conformist,provincial Australia of the bourgeois suburbia.Did you know they even banned and shut down American-Jewish comic great Lenny Bruce here-around 1962-so much for R & R for the Yankee GIs!
    Anyway,Premier Baird is a total T**d!
    Thanks Premier Baird for turning our beloved naughty red-light district into another boring,dull,suburban s**thole!
    RIP Kings Cross – say the “rosary” & “kaddish” prayers for this once great,but edgy vibrant place because it will be now gone forever-the 1990s wasn’t the only period of the cross,the glory days of the 1960s & 70s were alot better than the later stages when the “Bogan Westies” wrecked the place-Premier Baird had the opportunity to bring the cross back to it’s more classy & safer days of the 1950s & 60s-but his “lock-out laws” totally destroyed this!!
    Ahh well-That’s Life!

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