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Take a walk with me

I want you to take a walk with me.

It’s a beautiful, warm Saturday night, and all is right with the world. I’m walking home to my home in Kings Cross after a dinner in Paddington. It’s around 2am – so it’s really Sunday morning now.

As I turn off Oxford St into Darlinghurst Road at the Church, heading toward the Cross, I immediately hear the sound of smashing glass.

I walk on and see a group of about 7 or 8 well-dressed young men and women aged in their early twenties I’d guess – the girls in flashy high heels, the boys in designer jeans – screaming while they smash empty liquor bottles on the Pink Triangle Memorial in Green Park, opposite St Vincent’s Hospital.

It’s disturbing, but it doubly disturbs me that they are just 10 metres from St Vincent’s Hospice where ill and dying people are trying to rest. I can’t do anything about it. I walk on.

I’m now opposite the Jewish Museum on Darlinghurst Rd, and I pass a young man, again well dressed, sitting by himself in the gutter. He’s holding his head in his hands while he vomits violently onto his lap, down his pants, and onto his shoes. He seems strangely unconcerned by this. As the spew runs into the gutter, I walk on.

There’s another young man, again very well dressed, about 20 feet away and walking toward me, talking into his mobile. He’s put a lot of effort into his appearance, probably out to attract the attention of the girls, or the guys, who knows.

As he gets closer I realise he’s not speaking into his mobile – he’s clutching his hand to his face, and blood is streaming out between his fingers, down his shirt, onto his pants. I can’t tell if it’s from a wound to his eye, his nose, his mouth, or all of them. I’m chilled. I keep walking.

I’m now opposite St Johns Church on Darlinghurst Rd, and there are groups of young men and women who are literally throwing themselves on the bonnets of moving taxis, already occupied; they are screaming “Take me to Bondi”, “Take me to Newtown”, another “Take me to Bankstown…”.

One young man, drunk, hardly able to remain upright, positions himself in front of a moving taxi and falls on its bonnet, refusing to move, shouting, “This is how you get a cab!” He yells to the cabs passengers to get out so he can have the taxi, but his friends drag him away, and the taxi driver with his passengers speeds off in apparent fear. I walk on.

By now I’m at the William St overpass and I can look up Darlinghurst Rd into the belly of Kings Cross as it winds up towards the El Alamein fountain.

The scene is one of a solid unmoving phalanx of metal and glass as cars sit bumper-to-bumper, jammed on the street, hands on their horns, while revellers push their way off the crowded footpaths and onto the roadway.

In the middle of the traffic jam, about opposite the Council Library, sits a police rescue van, lights flashing and siren wailing, but all to no avail because it’s not going anywhere – it can’t move forward or back, or left or right. It’s stuck fast. Pity about where it’s heading to, or from…

I’ve crossed over William St and I’m trying to get past the Kings Cross Hotel, but there are maybe 200-300 people squeezed outside onto the footpath, most of them drunk, many of them still drinking (I think to myself, “So this is what an Alcohol Free Zone looks like…”).

There’s no alternative, I have to step out into the path of vehicles on the road to get past. The unbearably loud amplified noise coming from ‘inside’ the hotel feels like their glass windows will shatter at any second – I can hear glass grating on metal framework with each pounding ‘BOOM’ of their sound system.

I turn down into Victoria St – I won’t use the front entrance of my building on Darlinghurst Road, opposite the Council Library, because it’s not safe to do so at this hour, with so many drunks and security ‘heavies’ outside my front door.

I walk down Victoria St to Earl St and walk through about 30 young men and women, some alone, some in twos or threes, some sitting or lying on the pavement, some leaning against walls or telegraph poles; most seem ‘out of it’, some appear unconscious, not displaying any awareness of their surroundings; one young man is spreadeagled on the footpath, face-down, not moving – the others don’t seem concerned for him.

I turn into Earl Place and there’s a noisy ‘queue’ of about 80 people (shouting, arguing, screaming) outside the entrance to a busy all-night nightclub, which sits directly under three large residential apartment buildings.

In the few seconds it takes for me to walk past the two bouncers (‘security guards’?) standing outside, that’s enough time for me to hear one say to the other violently, frighteningly, explosively:

“…if I see him he’s f****n’ dead, I’m going to f****n’ kill him, he’s f****n’ dead, I swear he’s f****n’ dead…”

I walk 10 more steps to the back door of my apartment building. I’m shaking and chilled on this warm Sydney summer night, and I realise it’s because I’ve descended into something like Dante’s vision of the Inferno.

When – not if – this relatively new culture of all-night youth binge drinking and violence eventually collides with the (apparently acceptable) existing 24-hour Kings Cross cultures of drug addiction, alcoholism, illicit drug use, drug dealing, homelessness, petty crime and major organised crime, then the scene will be set for a perfect storm of social, behavioural, medical and mental health chaos in this precinct and beyond.

You can almost see the dealers and venue owners, large and small, hopping from foot to foot just smacking their lips in anticipation of it.

The question for local council and state government policy makers is not, “What are we going to do about this?”.

The answer to that is already there in the Urbis and NDARC Reports: reduce the number of venues selling alcohol, limit the hours during which they can sell it, and apply greater policing of adherence to Licence conditions.

The real question they should be asking is, “What the hell is going to happen if we DON’T act NOW?”

Postscript: they didn’t ‘act’ and 6 months later Thomas Kelly was bashed to death.
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I moved into Potts Point 14 years ago, fully aware that it was a quirky, oddball, sometimes outrageous but friendly village, with a few sex venues whose customers scurried away quietly into the night. Big deal.

But in 2007, the City of Sydney’s disastrous late night trading plan was unleashed on the area, resulting in an unheralded explosion of licensed premises.

Now, within a 200 metre radius of my front door, there are over 200 bars, clubs, pubs and licensed venues, many trading 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I’m a 58-year-old male, fit, experienced, street-wise. I’ve travelled all around the world but nowhere scares me like Kings Cross.

I’m afraid to go out my front door after dark onto the street where I live.

For purely selfish reasons, this has to stop.

To give residents back their neighbourhood and some quality of life, this has to stop.

For the short and long-term health of our youth binging on alcohol, this has to stop.

To avoid massive looming health problems for our youth in the future, this has to stop.

To relieve the huge burden on police and other emergency service workers, this has to stop.

To save our hospital emergency departments from going under, this has to stop.

To break the nexus between late-night trading venues and drug trade and organised crime including OMCGs, this has to stop.

Photograph by Luke Zeme Photography

Patrick McGrath

Patrick McGrath

Patrick is a 58 year-old concerned resident of Potts Point in New South Wales, where he's lived for the past 14 years. He's traveled to cities all around the world, but says nowhere scares him like Kings Cross.

5 comments

  • One reads Patrick’s extraordinary tale and it makes you wonder first, how did we let this situation evolve in such a bad way, and second, why isn’t something meaningful being done about this? Why do those who have the power to act to stop this, the NSW Government, think that it is acceptable so many peoples lives should be diminished by the this woeful over supply of alcohol? This is unacceptable to any sane person. Things have got to change.

  • Wow, what an alarming and very sad account of what young people are getting up to on a night out. This makes me feel sick and scared for innocent young people who get caught up in this debacle of drinking till you can’t look after yourself. It’s a desperate situation that really needs some political focus. Pop some of the politicians on the same night walk and I wonder what their reaction will be? Nothing is more important than changing this culture. Patrick, I hope you have sent this factual account of yours to every single politician in Australia!

  • The City is not responsible for the number of liquor outlets in Kings Cross.

    Liquor licensing is a NSW Government responsibility. The City lobbied hard for a freeze on the number of liquor licenses issued in Kings Cross and this has been in place since 2009.

    Since then, any new venues that have opened in Kings Cross could only have done so using licenses that were dormant at the time the freeze was introduced. Such licenses can be reactivated under the current legislation.

    The City has repeatedly asked the NSW Government to introduce a permit system for liquor licenses that would see an end the current situation where licenses are awarded in perpetuity. A permit system would also mean venues that break the rules face the loss of their license.

    We have also repeatedly asked the NSW Government for ‘saturation’ legislation that gives Council powers to reject development applications for new licensed premises on the grounds that there are already too many in a given area, like Kings Cross.

    Outside of the liquor freeze, Council currently does not have such powers and our attempts to restrict new premises often up being overturned in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

    Kings Cross has some complex problems that require a coordinated response.

    Where we have responsibility, the City is doing its part. Our upgraded CCTV cameras in Kings Cross are a vital tool that assist police in catching criminals and deterring anti-social behavior. We have secured funding for a major upgrade of street lighting, CCTV and security at the Kings Cross taxi rank that is a flashpoint for late-night trouble.

    We’ve made the entire Kings Cross area an Alcohol Free Zone to help police manage public drinking. At peak times every summer we deploy Precinct Ambassadors, install extra urinals and signage, and take other measures to help deal with the huge influx of late-night visitors. We’ve deployed a compliance hot team over the busy summer period to make sure that licensed premises are obeying their conditions of consent.

    The NSW Government has responsibility for the things that will make the biggest difference in Kings Cross – liquor licensing and planning laws, public transport and policing. We will continue to work with the NSW Government, local businesses and the community to make Kings Cross a safer and more welcoming place.

    • Gee ‘City of Sydney’ I was only reporting verbatim what I saw/heard/experienced on that night – I didn’t think i was issuing a call to storm Town Hall and tear down the barricades, so your defensive response probably speaks volumes to any detached observer.

      It remains, though, that COS has done all in its power to maintain and promote the late-night KX binge-drinking economy: your history of rubber-stamping DAs for venues; your reluctance to challenge approvals in the Land and Environment Court; providing on-street urinals for the drunks under our windows; supporting extra transport to allow them to stay until all hours; inveigling NSW Police into an unholy alliance with the ‘street army’ to provide venue security (don’t believe me? see http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/police-back-kings-cross-guards-who-are-helping-in-fight-against-crime-20111030-1mqet.html) which was immediately denounced by the Asst Police Commissioner; financially assisting ‘entrepreneurs’ to open more small bars (1 beer barn=1000 drinkers, 10 small bars=1000 drinkers… hmmm, I can’t spot the difference myself).

      Bottom line COS: hundreds of licensed venues operating virtually around the clock in what you happily promote as a “vibrant late night entertainment precinct” but which is actually violent, unsafe, unhealthy and ultimately desperately sad – a real jewel in the crown for Sydney, don’t you think?

      I suggest Town Hall stocks up on paper towels, because you’ll be washing your hands like this for along time to come.

  • Things definitely have to change- hopefully for the better. Your post is rather poignant Patrick, and it certainly illustrates quite clearly what a lack of action on the part of licensed premises and the govt does to a place.

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