Sydney has all the ingredients of a lively city, but needs a shift in mindset and investment in transport to really make it sing.
That's the view of City of Sydney councillor Jess Scully, speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald about the council's new round of $265,000 in grants for live music venues. The 16 recipients include pubs and clubs, a boutique, a gallery and what might be Australia's first vegan brewery.
In Cr Scully's five-part plan to revitalise Sydney's night life, the first step is to change the narrative.
"There’s a perception that Sydney’s dead but it’s not, it’s shifted and there’s still a lot of great places to go," she said. "If we keep talking Sydney down it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best thing you can do to support night life in Sydney is to go out."
Second, Sydney needs to transcend the view of law enforcement that nothing good happens after midnight.
“We need to recognise that night life is a crucial part of any global city, it’s not a hedonistic and criminal activity," she said.
"Sydneysiders deserve to be treated like adults ... and night life is an important part of the offering for tourists and international students, and an attractor for technology and knowledge-economy talent."
Third, is nurturing the pipeline of emerging musical talent. Cr Scully said the NSW parliamentary inquiry into live music, which reported last month, was a "very solid" piece of work but it was time for action.
“Support for new talent includes understanding that we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and we need to preserve space, not just the stages but the rehearsal rooms, not just the opera houses but the dive bars," she said.
Fourth, policymakers need to value Sydney's cultural assets and follow the lead of cities such as London and Toronto to protect significant venues.
Finally, public transport is the "key to everything". "The City [council] back in 2011 recommended Kings Cross needed 24-hour transport and that might have alleviated some of the problems that led to the lockouts," she said.
Cr Scully has been a vocal critic of the lockout laws. She said it was not commonly understood that it's not just about restricted trading hours but also more onerous security requirements around them, such as special machinery to scan ID cards.
If she had her way, she would also reverse the late 1990s decision to allow poker machines in pubs - a controversial move at the time and the inspiration for The Whitlams song Blow Up the Pokies. Critics at the time predicted it would increase social harm from problem gambling and erode the number of live music venues in the city. Cr Scully said the ramifications were still being felt today.
“It just goes to show that policy has a really long half-life and we have a great responsibility to get it right," she said. "The impact of the lockout laws will continue to be felt for a long time too.”
Cr Scully said given it was unlikely any government would significantly tackle pokies, she supported the idea from the parliamentary report to use pokies revenue to create a live music fund.
The City of Sydney is trying to cultivate live music through its review of planning controls, which Cr Scully describes as the “map of fun” documenting how night life has shifted south and west, and its grants program.
Since September last year, the council has given out $850,000 in grants to 40 venues, with a focus on sound-proofing and better equipment, so night life and residents can co-exist.
The latest recipients include Yulli’s Brews, a brewery, bar and restaurant in Alexandria, which claims to be the first vegan brewery in Australia. Not only is the food vegan, so is the beer.
Yulli's co-founder James Harvey said traditional brewing techniques used animal products such as egg, dairy and fish scales in certain processes such as filtering. Yulli's has also dropped its honey beer in favour of a fully vegan offering.
The venue opened in July with a capacity of 150 people. It has hosted jazz and rock bands and stand-up comedy. The $11,000 grant will pay for a proper stage and better sound equipment.
"We were putting it off until we’ve got some capital so this grant’s come along at an awesome time," Mr Harvey said. "Music is something we're both passionate about."
Caitlin Fitzsimmons edits the Money section for SMH and The Age and writes columns about life, money and work. She is based in our Sydney newsroom.