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Late Night on Oxford St
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Sorry, but we told you so

Written by
Joel Meares

Two years ago, it wasn’t hard to predict what the lockout laws would do to Sydney, writes former Time Out Sydney editor Joel Meares 

When the government gave Sydney a bedtime, it was inevitable that the city would become sleepier. Businesses would turn their closed signs around earlier. Musicians would have to find new stages. And people would stay home – or crowd into Newtown. Back in 2014, as our knee-jerking leaders began to draw their lines around the city’s hotspots, Time Out joined the chorus of those who were banging their heads on their desks and asking, “How is this going to fix anything?” A few beefed-up, angry men had committed unspeakable crimes, mostly before 10pm, and the solution was to impose a lockout from 1.30am and call last drinks at 3am? Even by NSW government standards it was pretty misguided. But it was also what then-premier Barry O’Farrell – his own career soon to be ruined by alcohol, though not the kind you’d find at Candy’s Apartment – needed: grand and headline-grabbing enough to distract from considerations of bettering public transport and diversifying the city’s entertainment offerings. They had been dumped in the state’s overflowing too-hard basket. 

In April of that year, when I was editor of Time Out Sydney, we published a cover that showed the lights turned off at the intersection of William Street and Darlinghurst Road, a digital manipulation that banished the famous Coca-Cola sign behind a shadow. 

Time Out Sydney April 2014 'Lock out' cover

Time Out Sydney April 2014 'Lock out' cover

I moved to the US about a year after the lockout laws came into effect and had forgotten about them until this February when my Facebook and Instragram feeds blew up with images from the #KeepSydneyOpen rally. I was dismayed to see that what we had predicted – the dimming of Sydney’s nightlight – was coming to pass, but encouraged to see people were pushing back. 

"The fight to keep Sydney open, for me, and for many others, is about community."

The fight is not for more drinks and later nights. And it’s not just a fight against nanny state-ism or being a “global city” or government hypocrisy (though that’s part of it). The fight to keep Sydney open, for me, and for many others, is about community. About a community that wants more than to check out some safe music and have a slap on the pokies during respectable hours. It’s about maintaining city spaces where we can go and enjoy ourselves in ways not everyone approves of, and meet like-minded people when we do. 

Government has an obligation to keep the community safe, true: but it is also obliged to keep it interesting and engaged. On that front, it’s failing. 


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