By John Niven
I’m in Sydney and I can confirm that fun, if not already dead, is certainly dying.
A few of us were in a bar in The Rocks district of the city.
It wasn’t late, maybe 9.30pm. We’d had a couple of drinks, nothing serious, honest. I went up to buy a round. “I’m afraid I can’t give you any more alcohol for the young lady with you,” the barmaid said.
“Eh?” I replied. “Why not?”
“She’s really not.”
“I believe she is.”
“I disagree,” I said.
I really couldn’t believe this was happening. On so many levels. a) because our friend really wasn’t drunk. And b) because, being Scottish, a huge part of me just wanted to scream: “WE’RE IN A PUB. IF PEOPLE AREN’T GETTING ‘INTOXICATED’, YOU HAVE A BIG PROBLEM ON YOUR HANDS, MY FRIEND.”
“Look,” I said to the barmaid, trying to remain reasonable. “What makes you think she’s drunk? She isn’t shouting, she hasn’t fallen over, she’s hasn’t been sick…”
“Just the way she was looking. Her eyes. The way she was holding her drink…”
I stared at her. “Are you telling me that just because you think someone looks a wee bit funny, then their evening is over in here?”
“Right,” I said. “Get me the manager.”
“I am the manager.”
I looked at the girl. All 28 years and 59 IQ points of her and said. “So that’s it? You make this arbitrary decision and, without any right of appeal, we have to leave?”
“You don’t have to leave. We just won’t serve her any more alcohol.”
“But why not?”
“Because I think she’s drunk.”
It was at this point I hit the roof. I must admit, dear reader, that I used some choice expressions telling the Australian people where they could stick their bar, their country and their licensing laws.
As we left, I made a point of finally screaming: “THIS IS A PUB! WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE GETTING DRUNK?”
Seriously. I’m not talking falling-over-shouting-your-head-off-toon-loon-drunk. I’m just talking pleasantly, mildly steaming. Flush-faced and a bit jolly. What’s the harm? Why build a pub and then outlaw intoxication?
Then I did a little more research into Sydney’s nightlife in the past few years and a darker story emerges.
The powers that be, in the form of Mike Baird’s New South Wales Liberal Party (and that name will soon come to seem ironic) have used a couple of tragic alcohol-related deaths to drive through a punishing series of reforms that have all but destroyed Sydney’s once thriving nightlife.
Some of these will sound familiar to you, some of them might yet be coming our way:
1) You cannot drink and smoke in the same area.
2) You cannot stand on the street with a drink.
3) You cannot enter a club after 1.30am any more as they must all lock their doors at that point.
4) You cannot buy a whole bottle of wine after 10pm.
5) You cannot order ‘shots’ after 11pm in the evening.
And by ‘shots’ I mean something like a nice malt whisky. I found this out by trying to order a whisky somewhere around midnight. I was told that I could have it if I had Coca-Cola or some other mixer added to it.
“Now why would I want Coke added to my nice Talisker?” I asked.
“It’s the law, sir,” I was told.
Wow. The first country I heard of where they can not only tell you how much you can drink but what kind of drinks you can have too. (Imagine it. Imagine telling a Scotsman he HAS to add Coke to his whisky.)
Bar staff are legally required to refuse alcohol to someone they even suspect might be drunk. And so on and on and on.
You notice bouncers and police everywhere in Sydney’s drinking areas, monitoring, stalking.
I saw one guy in the huge outdoor bar near the Opera House whose job seemed to be to patrol the enormous outdoor area in case some madman insanely lit a cigarette, thereby causing the end of civilisation.
It all feels like nothing less than the death of fun.
The result of all these laws? Apparently Sydney’s once-famous nightlife is dying on its feet, with hundreds of bars and nightclubs closing down and thousands of people losing their jobs.
There has been a particularly harsh effect on the area around Oxford Street, the hub of Sydney’s gay community, which has seen an 82 per cent drop in late-night foot traffic in the last few years.
Why would a city’s government systematically destroy its nightlife?
Many theories abound, not least of which is the fact that New South Wales premier Baird is a committed Christian, a man who has said his faith always comes before his job.
Probably not a fellow who is filled with joy at the thought of a bunch of hot transvestites drunk and partying into the early hours of the morning.
He is, obviously, a fool. And, until Sydney gets its act together and kicks these puritanical fools out of office and hot, drunk transvestites back on the streets, I won’t be rushing to return.