Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
New culprits in Kings Cross are musicians and oestrogen
Any Friday or Saturday night you see them in the train, youths of both genders sucking liquor from soft-drink bottles, ramping up the bravado, tossing bro-talk across the aisles, heading for the Cross. You see them in the street, boys on the prowl, girls in booby tops and heels so high that, even sober, they can barely walk, clutching six-packs and a bottle of wine.
Much has been said about the mix of liquor, binge-culture and young testosterone that spurts ”alcohol-fuelled violence” into Sydney’s night sky. The city and the state are at loggerheads over solutions and there are some surprising arguments on both sides. Something that’s not looked at much is the subtler, perhaps scarier mix of liquor, binge-culture and young oestrogen.
The alcohol is not to share. That’s per person. They may come for the clubs but these kids don’t have the money – or, often, the years – to drink there, certainly not all night. So mostly it’s BYO from paper bags on the street, getting legless until 1 or 2am, then moving into the clubs where a round can be eked out until dawn, when the first train leaves.
Small-hours crowds of 5000 to 6000 an hour regularly jam Kings Cross streets, with at least as many again licensed to drink indoors, all within Australia’s most populous precinct. Hardly surprising there’s trouble before bedtime.
But what is it about Australians? Other cities – we’ve all been there – have all-night bars and clubs and what violence does occur stays in the closet. (I’m drawing heavily on my Bond and Bourne-type movie experience here.) From the street, it’s just part of a lively city nightlife.
But in Sydney, the minute you allow all-night trading in hope of exactly that, blokes start braining each other in public and glassing innocent bystanders.
Is it, as many aver, our inherited Anglo-Irish hooliganism? Was Richard Nixon right, that “virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks”? Is it a persistent version of the convict stain, a 2010 take on the 6 o’clock swill? If so, it’s a stain that’s spread far into our other tribes and ethnicities.
Or is it generational? Some sort of Fight Club syndrome, kids who have grown up flabby, under-supplied with war, want or discipline, needing some opposition in their lives? Over-feminised boys needing something to hit?
Whatever the cause, the political responses are intriguing. The city council, strongly backed by the Australian Medical Association, the Police Association and the NSW Nurses Association, spent years developing and refining a plan that, by imposing ”reviewable conditions”, made 24-hour liquor trading a privilege, not a right.
It sounds obvious, put like that. Of the city’s 4000 non-domestic violent assaults each year, 60 per cent are alcohol-related. City research shows 90 per cent of the worst of these are in the Cross, with up to 80 incidents an hour of fights, arguments, shouting and verbal abuse. Police talk of having teeth knocked and fearing going to work (though frankly this seems a tad pathetic).
This month and without warning, the Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, overruled the city’s plan. Kelly prefers to send in the cops, tackling the violence after the fact, rather than preventively. He called the council’s proposed restrictions – including possible 2am lockouts and banning the serving of ”shots” after midnight – an “inappropriate use of planning powers [that] had caused uncertainty in the community”.
But who, cabinet aside, was upset by the council’s proposal? The drinkers, sure. Big alcohol, to whom the state traditionally caves in. And, more surprisingly, musicians.
This is a classic unforeseen consequence. Musicians designed, and have greatly benefited from, the small-bar licensing changes that have led several dozen funky city venues to start up in the past year. This was huge, revitalising Sydney’s small-music scene in a way many thought impossible.
But these successes, resented (say the musos) by over-zealous city building inspectors who foresaw every restaurant morphing into a nightclub, were already being eroded by a ”three strikes and you’re out” noise regimen. Understandably, the musos feared the proposed liquor restrictions would increase venue owners’ reluctance to employ them. Thus formed the bizarre alliance between the musicians and the hotel lobby, who became co-claquers at the minister’s muscle-flexing.
Equally strange is girls’ part in this late-night social cauldron.
The Melbourne researcher Paul Agius has found steadily increasing numbers of sexual partners among young Aussies, including school kids. Despite a growing awareness of STDs, there’s no increase in safe-sex practice (which hovers about 51 per cent) and – surprise – a huge surge in infections, with cases of chlamydia in 20- to 29-year-olds doubling between 2004 and 2008. As well, Australia’s teen pregnancy rate is among the highest in the developed world.
Of course, this is not all down to binge-drinking in the Cross. But when you look at those girls, with their high heels and their six-pack premixes, there’s an evident mis-match between the confidence-reducing effects of oestrogen (which is why male-female seduction generally involves heaped-on compliments, and why labial surgery is booming) and modern expectations that girls behave as casual sexual predators; that they behave, in fact, like boys.
Is this the role of alcohol, to enable sexual behaviours that girls would otherwise eschew? A well-known US study at Michigan State University found that 74 per cent of sexually active female students would not have had sex if they had not been drinking at the time. Women in male-dominated professions are also known to drink more than in traditionally female areas.
And although recent cases of female bashing and car-jackings have been much publicised, studies also show that whereas in men alcohol increases thoughts of power, in women it intensifies ideation of intimacy. Which only restates what we all already know. Off-their-face girls don’t generally do violence. They do sex. Join the dots.
CARTOON BY EDD ARAGON