Way off license

Pic borrowed from the linked article - Mikey Hamer/Lucien Alperstein

A cool piece in Cyclic Defrost about the temporary, nomadic venues of Sydney’s out music. One of the places mentioned is a few blocks from my house, it was awesome to stumble upon it one night. You could buy beer and red wine at more-or-less cost price and bands and audience sat around on the same concrete floor. A good proportion of the audience would be on the line-up at some point. Following the links from flyer to flyer, I took my visiting brother to another place in Newtown, which turned out to be someone’s flat. “It’s like they forgot everything that makes music good,” he said, “but it’s interesting to see the kind of people that get into it.” Actually a lot of the music is pretty good, and although Sydney has a reputation as a musical wasteland it seems to me like the good swampy kind of wasteland and no longer a desert.

Published in: on 19 September, 2010 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Came from the Desert


Sydney does a good apocalypse. Our first Spring in Sydney, a plague of Bogong moths arrived, darkened the sky, coated the balcony for several days, then went back to their migration, though we kept finding stragglers for weeks. Today was much weirder.

Published in: on 23 September, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Comments (2)  

Abercrombie Street, wet, from above


Sydney is having a weird, wet summer. A year or two ago I would have felt gypped. It’s usually so bright here that old Sydneysiders tend to have a squint. But now I’m stuck inside writing all the time and I don’t really mind. Actually I think rain suits the neighbourhood, rusting all the corrugated iron and sluicing the dirty gutters.

I’ve lived around here almost three years now and I love it. Yesterday I was drinking at the corner pub with a friend. There’s a pub on just about every block in the inner suburbs. Takeaways are expensive – about $15 for a six-pack of cheap beer. Longnecks are a little cheaper, but still at least 150 per cent of the price of equivalent beer in New Zealand. I don’t know why, tax or liquor licensing, but it means drinking at the pub is not much more expensive. So they’re everywhere and start to fill up from lunchtime. There are two within a minute’s walk of my place, and at least five more within ten.

The one on the immediate corner is undoubtedly the seediest but it’s between my place and my friend’s so we often end up there. It has a captive clientele with two storeys of ‘studio apartments’ above it. My friend introduced me to one of the inhabitants yesterday and as it got crowded he invited us upstairs.

A South Sydney ‘studio apartment’ is a room in a boarding house. You share the bathroom and maybe a kitchen, though it’s common for the landlord to not bother with the kitchen and you are left with whatever appliances you can plug into the wall to supplement a diet of kebabs and chips. It’s a man’s world, women tend to leave as fast as they can. (I lived in one of these places for a few months until Raych joined me over here.) WordPress hasn’t sorted out scratch’n’sniff yet so you have to use your imagination: mouldering carpet and stale smoke.

But that’s the smell of history. I’d say this place above the pub would have been there at least a hundred years. The one I lived in was once a Glebe mansion, probably converted in the 1930s. Today the clientele is pretty cosmopolitan, one-third immigrants, one-third local students and young labourers and one-third what you might call seasoned men of the streets. Our host was one of the last category, a guy with some serious charisma, a happy punter who gets beer bought for him all the time by young guys like us keen to hear about his talkback radio revelations. And this guy has the king of views, which these photos don’t begin to do justice to, from an outsized balcony some people would pay hundreds of dollars a week for if it wasn’t rotted through around the edges. He didn’t mind me taking these photos over the rooftops, but warned me not to step where the wood gets dark.

Published in: on 19 January, 2008 at 4:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Redfern oral history

This looks fantastic: a website devoted to oral history of my neighbourhood, Redfern. I’ve only just started browsing through it. Some great stuff about the squatting origins of the Block:

Roberta Sykes: Well I suppose The Block was all boarded up and lots of the houses there had been gutted and there weren’t facilities available. There were a lot of people around at the time who had nowhere to sleep and they would prise the boards off the windows and climb in and sleep there. [That was around] 1970, 1971, 1972.

Mum Shirl always had a concern for people who had nowhere to sleep and they would start sleeping in empty houses. She would run around to make sure they were all right. There are all sorts of background things that I am not sure about, like what triggered off the police oppression against the people who were sleeping in there, whether the developers suddenly got it in their minds. All those buildings belonged to somebody, somebody had been buying them, some big company, with the intention of developing them at some stage but years in the future. Meanwhile there was a shortage of shelter for people in the inner city so people were taking the advantage of going into the boarded buildings because they had nowhere else to go. Then the police started targeting that area to harass people and that’s when Mum Shirl and myself and others got involved. At the same time there were other targets of harassment like the Empress Hotel and places like that, where we understood the Riot Squad was being trained there by running in and rounding up blacks and things happening, and it seemed to us like the same thing was happening with people even less able to defend themselves.

They were just thrown into police paddy wagons, were they?

Roberta Sykes: Sometimes they were, sometimes they were beaten up. Then it almost turned into like a small urban war between the people and the police. Once we started to become involved, they started to get even heavier and they seemed to be, from my perspective, being trained to act without compassion. Since I would say the overwhelming majority of those young white male policeman had never known an Aboriginal, it wasn’t difficult for them to be made afraid of Aborigines, for them to believe all sorts of fantastic things about them, that they were crazy, their heads are as hard as bullets so you are going to have to bang them to get some sense into them, that sort of attitude.

Mick Mundine: Well I started in 1975 and my brother was working in 1974. I came here and I got a job and I started as a painter. Now at the time there were about six houses was getting renovated, as you know, the company [Aboriginal Housing Company] was registered in 1973 and the reason why the company was set up was a lot of Aboriginal people found it very hard to get [into] private real estate. It was very racist in them day. So a group of ‘goomies’ [heavy drinkers] squatted in these three houses. Now at the time, Father Ted Kennedy used to help a lot of people up at the Catholic church in Redfern in conjunction with Bob Bellear and his wife, Kaye. They were the ones who really got together, got a good mob of people from the community and got the company [Aboriginal Housing Company] registered and it carried on from there.

Published in: on 12 January, 2008 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Troops out now


I like it when protests start at the Block in Redfern because I can get from bed to the rally in less than 10 minutes. A 10am starting time can be forgiven.

It was a relatively small march for Sydney, 400 at most, but spirited. This was Sydney’s part of the national day of action against what amounts to martial law in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In fact it was international, because protests were happening in New Zealand as well, and organiser Lyall Munro got a big cheer from the crowd when he mentioned Maori support.

There are vast differences between the situation of Maori in New Zealand and indigenous people here, who on average have things much worse. The last few weeks have demonstrated one major difference – the complete lack of independent indigenous political power at a federal level. Thanks to their weight in the New Zealand population and the Maori seats, Maori can’t be ignored – this has long been an electoral handicap for National and lately troublesome for Labour.

Here, despite the valiant efforts of indigenous activists, independent Aboriginal voices are almost inconsequential in national politics, except those voices cherrypicked as useful for the government. A constituency of white liberals has to be appeased, but even on the left proper, their concerns often take a paternalistic form. Many are surprisingly susceptible to the warping of self-determination rhetoric by the likes of Noel Pearson – New Zealanders will find phrases like ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘the failure of liberalism’ familiar from people like Donna Awatere-Huata and John Tamihere. The ALP leadership has been shameless in jumping on the bandwagon to avoid the wedge.


What happens now will depend on the extent of resistance in the invaded communities themselves, from the Northern Territory government, and among the professionals the government will rely on to carry out its plans. (As if to highlight that the police and military are not bringing extra welfare spending, Howard has called on doctors to volunteer to carry out the compulsory checks for sexual abuse.)

For the rest of us, the immediate goal is to keep trying to swing public opinion against the invasion. According to a Newspoll poll last week, 61 per cent of voters support the Howard plan.

Published in: on 14 July, 2007 at 4:16 pm  Comments (1)  

One day soon, all of this will be apartments



I first stumbled into the Eveleigh railyards with some friends one night a couple of years ago, walking home from a party in Newtown. The barbed-wire-topped corrugated iron fence most of the way up Wilson Street had always made me curious, and that night we were drunk enough to climb it and check out the post-industrial wasteland.



It’s a vast site that was Sydney’s main rail workshop and carriage manufactory for several decades, and in operation for a hundred years. The 1917 general strike began there. It was, for the most part, abandoned in the mid-1980s, but still used for warehousing and such things until quite recently. Its latest claim to fame is as a location in the Matrix movies.

We were even drunk enough to open a locked door with an EFTPOS card and wander through an office building, abandoned like the Mary Celeste, a decade-old fax still in the machine, and (fortunately for us) the plumbing still working.

Now the site is open to the public, until it becomes a giant construction site, and it’s well worth checking out. (I took the colour photos today, the old ones are from here.) One building has been turned into the Carriageworks theatre – very tastefully, it must be said – and so the rest of the place is no longer locked up. Walk up Wilson Street towards Newtown from Redfern station, and take the steps down from the Carriageworks sign.

Now it’s a dump, but a beautiful dump. Some of the buildings are open; others have been nailgunned shut. The recent rains have left a lake in the middle in which rubbish floats around. Weird old machines are still anchored in the ground, but wrapped in black plastic. Some of the buildings have 21st century motion sensors and security systems, but all they seem to do is blink and beep.






Published in: on 17 June, 2007 at 7:26 pm  Comments (7)  

Mixed market signals

So the other week I arrived home one evening to find a massive garage sale in the park across the road. All kinds of things, beds, sofas, kitchen appliances, and a family standing around dejectedly, looking like they weren’t getting much business. I started sauntering over to take a look, when Raych stopped me. “That’s not a garage sale, you idiot,” she explained. “They got evicted.”

Oh. So this rental crisis thing is starting to bite.

On the other hand, when their place got listed, it was for $200 per week, for a two-bedroom terrace. That’s really cheap. Then when our neighbours gave notice around the same time, their place was listed for quite a bit more, $350 or so. But the agent couldn’t rent it, and it was listed again with a lower price. Next week, same thing happened. As of this week we still have no neighbours.

I have to admit that my street is unusual in that it’s in a part of Sydney with a bad reputation – Redfern, on the edge of the Block. But it’s five minutes from Sydney Uni, and just around the corner from Darlington and Chippendale, about which we are hearing all these stories of the throngs turning up for apartment viewings. So I woudn’t have thought it was completely immune to this rental market tightness.

Anyway, yesterday the NSW Department of Housing released its quarterly rental stats for the March quarter, so I thought I’d compare anecdotal evidence with the hard stuff. They’re based on bond lodgements, so I think they only track new tenancy agreements, but that should still give a good indicator of what is happening.

Overall, rents in Sydney have definitely been rising quite fast. 6.7% rise in the median rent across Sydney in the year to March. And worryingly, the March quarter itself saw a rise of 3.2%, an acceleration. But the rise is concentrated in the Middle and Outer rings, i.e. from Burwood and Canterbury west, from Willoughby north, and south of Botany Bay. In the Inner Ring (which covers a lot of ground), the median rent grew 1.3% in the quarter to March. Which isn’t that small on an annual basis, but isn’t that big either, and is a slow-down from the rest of the year.

Things are even more mixed once you look closer at the Inner Ring. Here the stats are broken down into dwelling type and unfortunately not aggregated. There are big differences between what is happening to one-bedroom apartments and four-room houses, as well as between different suburbs. (So, for example, four-bedroom rents in wealthy Mosman have skyrocketed by 40.7% over the year to March, while in Ashfield they have fallen 5.3%.)

I’m in the Sydney local government area. But those stats could be a little misleading because it includes all kinds of areas – the heart of the city, Surry Hills and Kings Cross as well as Redfern, Alexandria, etc. Overall the median rent for two-bedroom dwellings has risen 10.3% in the year, and 4.3% in the quarter to March – an acceleration. But the median rent on four-bedroom places, where a lot of students will live, has fallen by 2.5% in the year, and by 4.8% in the quarter, which implies a reverse.

In neighbouring Marrickville, median rents have completely stabilised for one-bedroom units, the rise has decelerated for two-bedroom dwellings (1.6% in the quarter, 10.3% in the year), and rents are rapidly falling on four-bedroom dwellings (4% in the quarter to March). Only for three-bedroom houses is the rental squeeze still going on.

You can even zoom in further and check it out postcode by postcode. Sure enough, in my postcode, the median rent on two-bedroom places has gone into reverse big-time, falling 5.8% in the quarter!

As for what this all means, I’ll leave that for another post. But at an individual level the moral is clear – if your landlord is encouraged by all this talk about a rental squeeze and tries to jack up your rent, check the stats and you might find out your bargaining position is better than you thought.

Published in: on 15 May, 2007 at 10:41 am  Comments (2)