I moved north a few months back, to the unofficial capital of the lucky land, for the girl to chase down some contract work in the burgeoning infrastructure environment of NSW. I was in the peak of a post-MA slump, and was working maybe three times weekly, spending entirely too much time at the pub, and while making the most of the summer months, clearly needed a change. For the cash they were offering, what the hell? Travel tends to break me out of slumps, and my liver would love me for it.
I had little prior experience in Sydney, apart from a couple of short weeks at my sister’s house in Bondi back in 2012. It hadn’t left much of an impression – it was too big to learn quickly, the laughable housing insulation meant your winter was spent perpetually cold, and shit was crazy expensive. The harbour was pretty, and everyone raved about the bridge, but it presented an unwelcoming, brash, overtly posh facade to the casual observer, and I didn’t stick around to let these impressions get shifted.
Now, eight months in, it still hasn’t changed. My current home town is a lucrative spot, and there are career opportunities here, but that’s largely where the buck stops. Sydney is an average stop, at best.
It’s massive, nearly five million people stretched out among a sea of suburbs of terrace housing and Cold War-era high rises, all the way to Parramatta upriver, and driving here might be some of the worst in the western world. It’s cramped, aggressive, and utterly confusing – nothing seems to go anywhere purposeful, and it’s mired by half-baked construction projects and tolls. The bike lanes are inches wide, running alongside four-lane roads with parked cars, and you are given absolutely zero room. The gutters that you’re obliged to ride through are also chock full of wheel-catching drains and broken concrete. Meanwhile, you’re obliged to carry around your ID. While on a bicycle. You get a motorist-level fine if you don’t stop fully at a stop sign. Given the traffic here, you’d think there would be some more support for cycling, but they’d rather put you at intentional risk.
Part of the reason for this is the sensation that you’re living in the midst of a pitched class battle. There is zero quarter on offer for anyone starting out with little to their name, and those who would dare not to commute in their AMG Mercs are worthy of no consideration, bordering on disdain. It’s a town built for the elite, something that is reflected by its unbelievable real estate costs, some of the highest in the world. This rush for land, meanwhile, has had the effect of destroying any hint of historical architecture, bulldozed in favour of more and more saleable, modernistic, and horrendously priced units.
The rental culture, as we found out, is governed by a bidding system – the only of its kind in the country – and you are obliged to compete with your fellow bidders for the unit. Typically, an agent will advertise at a cost perhaps 25% south of the value of the unit, to draw a crowd on inspection day. Then, let the bids rain down. Twice, we won bids, only to have the agent simply organise another inspection in the hopes of attracting a higher-roller. We like our current spot just fine, but the coin its costing us would cover a beachfront in South America. And a weekly slab. And probably a lot more, and would have a working elevator and someone to chase loud methheads away.
Out east, the beaches are lovely. Accordingly, they’re packed on the nicer days and weekends, a solid forty minutes in the inevitable traffic, where you are then obliged to pay heinously for parking – if you can find it at all – or even more on the bus. Then you can burn to a crisp, or attempt to battle the aggressive young guns on the surf breaks. I hardly even bother any more. No amount of salt is worth the irritation. Down towards Royal National Park, you can pay $15 for entry and get some solitude, but its an all-day affair to get there, and the amount of release you gain by doing so is somewhat cancelled out by the commute.
But the night life seals it. A good indie music scene, some late-night dive haunts with music and cheap beer and food, is all that would be required to make the situation bearable. It would break up the torpor of the dull days, encourage the sight of a few more sunsets and bring people together in their hatred of the spot. And it’s a non-option. They’ve all fallen victim to knee-jerk, reactionary politics and the screams of the media here, and apart from a couple of widely-spread exceptions, pubs close at twelve midnight, liquor stores at ten. 12 midnight. In a modern country, there is a veritable curfew.
There is nowhere in the world that places such restrictions on its populace. By 1, Newtown, Darling Harbour, and King’s Cross are ghost towns, the windows dull and blank, a few listless cab drivers wandering around, more out of habit than a legitimate hope for fares. The so-called Lockout Laws came in to effect via the state’s legislature after a young man was killed by some idiot’s cheapshot on the sidewalk in the Cross. Truly, it was a tragic situation – the guy was only twenty or so – but they caught the guy and threw the book at him. Apparently, that wasn’t enough.
And did I mention that this occurred at roughly 9pm?
Conspiracy theories have abounded about the true reasoning for such a move, and regardless of the intention, the reality is that dozens of venues have subsequently shut down. In a real estate market as driven as this one – in fact, it’s one of few growth industries – this has become a natural method of encouraging these venues to close, to make way for more high-density housing, less socialising and noise, and ever-fewer low-skill jobs at these venues. But the situation is just so perfectly ‘Sydney’. A primal scream to the youth of the city, to the noisemakers, to the lower class and lower earners, that they are perfectly unwelcome.