Biting The Hand That Feeds

It seems the drum of kerosene lying just underneath the public’s sentiment towards the lockout laws, has been ignited over the past few weeks. For a city that isn’t famous for its aptitude towards protest, Sydney’s young people have suddenly voiced up with a surprising degree of vigour. Fed up with their nighttime liberties being suffocated, and the increasing trend towards a ‘nanny state’ mindset, young Sydneysiders are finally crying out “enough!”

However, amongst all of this healthy recent debate - it seems a key ingredient of the Sydney night time cocktail has sadly been forgotten about. It is a facet of our town that most local young people are all too familiar with - the aggressive attitude and disrespectful culture that still lingers amongst some of Sydney’s security and bouncer community.

Most of the world’s cultures, even the oldest ones, harness the night as a space for it’s people to be open, creative and free. It’s that time of the day where we are most likely to relax, express ourselves, watch others and be inspired. It’s a space in which a hard-working, fast-paced city unwinds. A time of leisure and a time to stretch out. An escape from the monotony of routine and workplace repetition.

And in order for a nightscape to provide the environment where a busy city can unwind, a population needs to be allowed to feel comfortable, relaxed and spontaneous within it. We need to feel trusted.

More than that though, we need to trust that we can express ourselves without the fear of intrusive rebuke or reprimand. The over policing and the over monitoring of any city’s nighttime space only contributes to an overall sense of cautiousness, anxiousness and edge.

So, with that sentiment in mind - trying to even enter some of Sydney’s bars or clubs is sometimes akin to having your background and identification checked at some dangerous war-torn border crossing. It can even feel a little like ‘running the gauntlet’.

Rather than being warmly welcomed, you often find yourself suspiciously vetted or unapologetically rejected - regardless the amount of alcohol you’ve had to drink. By simply trying to ‘get in’ to some places, it seems we’ve told ourselves that having to feel uneasy, uptight and even self conscious that we may not make the grade - is just a necessary evil.

We all know the drill and upon approach to the bar we have to mentally prepare ourselves. We try to appear alarmingly awake and sober. We make sure our background story doesn’t have any kinks in it. We start to think about a mitigation plan should one of the group get turned away.

Then - at the ‘checkpoint’ itself - our eyes are analysed, behaviour is reviewed and our body language considered. “So, where have you been tonight?” we often get asked. We smile and nod and act all obedient-like.

And if you manage to negotiate “Checkpoint Charlie”, the intrusive culture of ‘watch and vigilance’ continues unimpeded inside. Security staff trawl, scan and search for the smallest signs of inebriation. Risks are identified and the troublemakers swooped upon.

The worst bit is though, that by ironically eliminating these risks from their own establishments, bouncers are in fact injecting more potential violence back out into the community.

Think about it. How do you feel when you are refused entry, or your night is cut short or you are separated from your friends? Most likely you feel embarrassed, frustrated, angry, pissed off - and in some cases, aggressive. Multiply these triggered negative feelings across Sydney for the duration of any Saturday night. That is a whole lot of unnecessary new anger being released back out onto the street.

Of course, there are many establishments in Sydney where patrons are treated with respect and where there is a real freedom to have a good time. There are a stack of good security staff who have a real knack for melting into the background, rather than forcing themselves into your face.

On top of that, there are undoubtedly idiot patrons too - who do cause real trouble, who do need to be reprimanded, and who do give the rest of us a bad name.

But let’s the be honest - there are still too many establishments in Sydney who employ security staff who treat their patrons with rudeness, a lack of respect and a very unnecessary and unhelpful level of understated aggression.

These attitudes within the pub security industry have no doubt been accentuated by the lockout laws. However, it is a culture and an attitude that has for too long been a part of the Sydney nighttime ecosystem - even well before the lock out laws came into play. It is a culture that has gone for a long time, unchecked. It is also a culture that customers like us have simply grown to accept.

Despite all of this, though, there is plenty of hope.

A fundamental motto for anyone working within the service industry has always been “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” We have forgotten that it is in fact our own custom, and our own money as visitors to many of these bars that gives the security staff a job in the first place. As customers, we certainly can ‘giveth’ - but we can also ‘taketh’ away.

So, if like me you are tired of having to explain yourself, sick of having to constantly act like an obedient school kid, or fed up with being disrespected when in fact you are the ‘client’ - here are few things you can do to help change this culture in Sydney:

Ask for the manager:
Just as you would in a restaurant, ask to speak to the manager of the bar if you’re unhappy with any level of service, including the security staff.

Social networks:
If you have a bad experience, don’t be afraid to tell people about it.

Tripadvisor:
Encourage trouble venues to improve their game.

Get in touch with the pub’s owner:
Write an email to or phone the owner of the bar to feedback what you’re seeing on the ground.

Remove your custom:
By supporting places that disrespect their customers, we are only further encouraging the behaviour.

The development of a young culture like ours needs an effervescent and confident nighttime space. In order for this space to thrive, we need to feel more comfortable within it than we currently do. And as customers, we should be expecting and asking for more respect and maturity from our city’s security staff.

It is up to us to tell them how we’d like to be treated, and not the other way around.

Published in the Daily Review

Joseph O'Donoghue

Discussion and comment about Australia's young, vibrant and emerging culture - our own blank canvas.

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