Music scene needs nurturing, not police heavy-handedness

By Rob Carr

Liquor licensing enforcer at Wollongong Local Area Command, Wayne Hadfield, is relatively new to the job. In the past his colleague Paul Hoyer did not seem to have minded, as much, pop up and live music venues in Wollongong city centre.

Liquor licensing enforcement at Wollongong LAC has a chequered record. Last year the LAC was embroiled in the leaking of Wollongong Council’s public surveillance footage to national media, the ramifications of which are still playing out. Public trust was shaken by the deliberate misuse of our local government CCTV system.

Now music fans attending the Good Jelly pop up gallery-come music venue in Globe Lane are outraged about the fines recently imposed by police on the new venue. The fines amount to $1,500, and proprietor Dioni Pinilla says he will likely have to close the venue just when it was starting to gather momentum.

Certainly, before Hadfield’s spell as enforcer of the Liquor Accord, the pop up style venues – Music Farmers, Sol and Yours & Owls – rarely if at all raised a blip on the police radar. Has something changed since Hadfield come on board? Have new orders been issued to crack down on emerging live music venues in Wollongong? Or is Hadfield simply throwing a bit of muscle around?

Perhaps it is because of a lack of violent episodes to occupy the officer’s time. After all, crime rates are down, and NSW statistics show that public violence in the central postcode has declined consistently since 2007.

By all indications music venues are the least of worries for Wollongong police. The culture of live music venues is much different, generally speaking, to that which you’d find at the Harp, Ivory, Illawarra or Abbey’s.

To give credit where it’s due, the police have a role to play in monitoring alcohol consumption, which includes music venues. Saying that, some gigs at these gallery style venues are BYO alcohol, so there is a conflict in terms of what regulations apply for venues – such as what police can and cannot enforce in terms the Liquor Accord and alcohol legislation; dealing with the smaller venues which are not members of the Liquor Accord; and when the venues are not selling alcohol but offer a “social” and “cultural” space.

Most important is the social and cultural role pop up venues play in the rebuilding of the city centre as a hub of activity. At the pop up venues there are now scores of die hard live music fans finally getting a sense that they’ve found a new home since the centrally established venue, the Oxford Tavern, closed its doors in 2010. Two years on, musos and alternative crowds are starting to regain their bearings along with a centre of gravity for their favourite pursuit – a centre of gravity that emanates directly from pop up venues.

Music Farmers, Yours and Owls, and now Good Jelly are heroes to local musos, taking it upon themselves to provide a space for creative activity when the business sector has lost its interest in supporting live music (excepting pubs Dicey Rileys and The Patch).

For the last decade RDL’s control of the nightlife scene in Wollongong proved to be shambolic. Their venues, along with the Oxford, forced musos, many of whom are students and working people on low incomes, out of night spaces. Before its closure, even the Oxford required long-time patrons to pay for entry, to accept gentrification of an important cultural space or go home. That battle was lost, for better or worse.

But where the business sector has failed local musicians, the small, independent pop up venues have taken up the slack. Importantly these spaces are a source of connectedness. To quote Wollongong Council’s 2022 Community Strategic Plan, they are part of the provision: ‘We are a connected and engaged community’.

These venues connect live music fans and performers, in all their diversity, and appreciate the creative economy, which is often financially non-rewarding, but they do it anyway. And now instead of being rewarded for their efforts, the independent pop up venues are being slapped with thousands of dollars in fines for breaches that remain unclear.

Who is to blame? Sure, it’s the responsibility of the venue operators to investigate and look into what activities they are and are not allowed to undertake. There are basic Work Health Safety standards all night life spaces should adhere to like basic fire exits, provision of toilets and the like.

But it’s not entirely the venues’ fault. Good Jelly has been running live music gigs for months without any issues being raised by police. Good Jelly’s operators say they thought they were adhering to their D.A. conditions – a scheme that includes a rent-free space with leeway for live music.

The rent-free scheme is available to anyone wanting to run creative and artistic ventures, but it does seem, at least on the surface, to be vague in terms what operators can and cannot do in terms of live music. Officer Hadfield told the Illawarra Mercury that Good Jelly should have run a proposal for ‘events involving non-acoustic music and alcohol should be arranged in co-operation with police.’

So is Council at fault for the confusion? Not entirely. Neither Council nor the operators should be criticised, not least without some context.

On one hand the rent-free scheme is a relatively new program, and this is a learning curve that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. If venues need specific licenses to run live music gigs that are deemed ‘non-acoustic’, then Council should consider providing this information in briefing applicants for the rent-free scheme.

Moreover, the rent-free program must be better managed, particularly if this is part of Council’s plan to ‘Activate’ the city centre – to light up laneways, alleys and unused business frontages with buzzing, creative, cultural and economic activity at both night and day. That also means bringing police into discussions about the importance of live music in Wollongong, and creating a new consensus between all the stakeholders on issues that impact live music as a whole. This includes recognising the importance of providing and nurturing spaces for live music culture to exist and develop within Council’s broader strategic plan, especially in regards to the ‘2022’ policy.

City Centre management wants the city to recover from what seems to be stagnation in the city centre economy. It wants to ‘activate’ that space and change the community’s perceptions on how it is used and why. Council purports to want community members to feel free and creative, not scared and unsafe. It wants to bring light and synergy to the city centre, and “turn on the lights” so to speak.

Police have a job to do, but I urge liquor licensing to come to the table on this issue. The rigidness of the application of police powers, whether they are justified or not, needs to take into account that Wollongong city centre needs to recuperate, to repair itself. That means allowing members of the community, such as independent venue operators, to try to assist in that task.

Police need to come to new terms with the music scene. Issuing thousands of dollars in fines on emerging, independent live music venues is counterproductive to the bigger task for Wollongong as a whole. Come to the table. Be part of this community, while being responsible contributors to public safety.

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7 Responses to Music scene needs nurturing, not police heavy-handedness

  1. Scott says:

    Great article Rob, the fine was a bit much, a simple warning to the new guys on the live music scene would have sufficed for a first time infringement or whatever they put it down to.

    You said it wasn’t the venues fault entirely, nor the councils. I really think venues need to be very transparent with their events, inform the police what they want to do and get the “ok”. We have to play by their rules, i guess it’s the law and stuff.

    It would be a damn shame if Good Jelly has to close, that lane has a lot of potential, here’s hoping the discussions you mentioned actually take place and we get some kind of mutual agreement/consensus .

  2. My band played that night and I was generally well involved in the evenings festivities and I saw no reason for the gig to be labelled as a bunch of loitering rebels. It makes our music scene seem like a gathering of delinquents when actually its a group of like minded friends sharing their creativity. It was pretty ridiculous to see so much preparation and hype go to waste and the fact that after the gig was cancelled they then had a large number of outraged fans with no where to go except to loiter somewhere else in the city. Wollongong’s apparent revitalization has turned into a decrease in support for anything creative.
    Good article Rob!

  3. me says:

    ”some gigs at these gallery style venues are BYO alcohol” issue #1. BYO does not absolve the venue of responsible service of alochol as some seem to think it does. You still can’t let 16 yo’s drink, and you’re still responsible if they are on your premises.

    Bagging Yours and Owls and MF with GJ = issue #2. Businesses vs coop. Totally different rules apply. Totally differnet motives and therefore levels of effort put in to comply. In my opinion, GJ wants to be cool and popular, the other two want to make a living doing what they love.If you want to see it done properly look at Little Prince, His Boy Elroy or even Lower East.

    Issue #3”instead of being rewarded for their efforts, the independent pop up venues are being slapped with thousands of dollars in fines for breaches that remain unclear” ummm…what\’s not clear?

    Issue #4 there seems to be some blurring of trend and culture here. The mentions of gentrification, venues such as Ivy, etc, these are personal biases. Those elements are still helping to shape Wollongong’s cultural scene, even if you don\’t like it.

    Issue #5 How is a $1500 fine heavy handedness? The fines per incidence of under age drinking are way more than that, the Health and Safety breaches could also be much much more expensive in $ but also image a fire or some other form of incident – the cost would be far worse than $1500.

    And don’t cry poor Dioni. He knew exactly what he was doing and the guy has spent over $10,000 on the frikken Gong101 app – and that’s directly from him, on tape.

    • Admin says:

      as far as we can tell, the fines weren’t for underage drinking, so your argument falls down right there. Only the Mercury has made that link, and as with the rest of that story, it was hugely inaccurate in many ways. The fine was for a lease condition that was inconsistent between several separate agreements between council, GPT (owners of the spot) and real estate; hence the “breaches that remain unclear.”

      His Boy Elroy hasn’t even opened yet, so putting them in this discussion seems quite irrelevant.

      in terms of the clutching-at-straws “fire” that you brought up, you’ve clearly been reading the Mercury’s totally hysterical comparisons to the fire in that New York nightclub. Good Jelly is small enough that, if there was a fire, it’d be pretty quickly spotted and people would clear out. There’s two doors, which is a lot more than many shops of smaller size, yet do we hear about “fire hazards” in mall stores when they’re packed out due to big sales? I bet there’s nobody asking questions there.

      the issue isn’t about Good Jelly specifically, but about the conflict between what council says, and what they do, broadly. Council talks about wanting to open up Globe Lane to retail again, get the area vibrant, and revitalise those areas of town that are run down and boring – but venues like Owls, Music Farmers, Sol Studios and (yes) Good Jelly are punished when they stick their heads out. That’s the real issue here – that besides Dicey Riley’s, there is not a single venue in the CBD that has not had major dramas due to noise issues, noise complaints, crowd issues and so on. Sol has been run out of town, and bounced from venue to venue just for trying to do something good. Owls get fined on a seemingly weekly basis. Music Farmers can’t run gigs for fear of being shut down for noise complaints. Good Jelly, literally kilometres away from the nearest residential property, has had noise complaints. The Patch, even, gets shut down because they – a MUSIC VENUE inside a PUB – make too much noise during gigs. It’s a wider issue that has been brought to the fore by the abrupt and, in our opinion, heavy-handed and arbitrary punishments handed down that by all rights should be levelled against every nightclub in town, every night of the week, if these punishments were handed out evenly. That’s the issue, the unfairness of it, when literally every nightclub has the same issues; alcohol, crowding, noise and so forth. It’s one thing if the music venues are breaking the rules; yes, if they’re in the wrong, they have to cop the fine, too bad. But if nightclubs are doing the same, and worse, every night of the week, why do they get away with it?

      • Scott says:

        For the year and a bit that i ran music at the Otis Bar, we didn’t get one complaint/fine or anything of the nature. It would have continued and hopefully grown except now it’s getting demolished. Poor Otis Bar.

      • Scott says:

        Just thinking, what did we do differently at Otis Bar?

      • Admin says:

        Good point Scott, you guys had a great run!

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