If you’re a musician or somehow involved with the music business in Australia, you’re keenly aware of the uncertain future that live music venues are facing around the country. I’ve rabbited on about it before, but the whole issue remains a vaguely mentioned topic around the place. That’s a shame, because at least in my mind, there’s no more visible portrayal of the degradation of arts support right now.
It’s something of an epidemic. In Perth alone, classic and hugely regarded nightspot Fly By Night has spent months battling the National Trust and competing interests; the city’s pre-eminent world music venue, Kulcha, is dead; various other venue owners around the city are shitting their pants at skyrocketing leases and the ever-encroaching menace of private development. Meanwhile, Adelaide’s biggest venue Fowler’s Live is facing the same uncertainty, and Sydney’s Annandale Hotel is a shadow of its former self. But if you really want to see just how sad the whole thing is, take a look at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre.
In May, the venue hosted its last gig, ending decades of holding a position as one of the favourite venues not only in Melbourne, but in Australia. The decision was made by the venue’s owners, Jinshan Investments, and has been wildly unpopular with the local crowd since. Various interest groups have sprung up, including Save The Palace, with the aim of preserving the incredibly historically important building.
Now, the developers who own the building have been planning to knock it down since 2012, but thanks to considerable opposition, it still stands. Well, almost. You see, all of that opposition has kept the City Of Melbourne from handing over permits to the company, meaning they have no legal right to demolish the building yet. That hasn’t stopped them from starting, though.
Today, it’s come to light that part of the interior has already been removed from the venue, dumped into skips outside, without the acknowledgement of the city council. There’s a bit of a grey area here: as the sections removed are not structural, there’s not much recourse to be had. But that hasn’t stopped a fair few pissed off people sharing their feelings about how much bullshit this is. Allow me to add my voice to the choir.
Arts and culture in Australian cities are taken for granted. Being a bohemian member of society, you stiletto between your office and the thousands of cafes and burrito joints around you, the usual venue or graffitoed wall popping up in your travels. It’s incredibly easy to let these city landmarks slide by in your usual day-to-day routine, but to another area of society, these places are the lifeblood of their careers, their futures, their lives. More and more, we see the growth of private development – which, for the most part, has been fairly successful and equitable – push these people out of the venues and nightspots they spend so much of their time in.
There’s a whole smorgasbord of factors behind this, but the power of private development companies in Australia coupled with the stigma placed on live music venues by the dickheads who start fights at 2am on city streets are two of the major ones. These have been issues that have been constant, frustrating thorns in the side of venue owners, musicians, events promoters, members of the music media and more. These people have had to become begrudging victims of rich, powerful people complaining that a band playing at midnight on a Saturday is against the public interest. These are the people who have been tirelessly arguing that the ongoing cultural health of our cities is so much more important than 10 hours of sleep on a weekend.
Whether or not you consider yourself a punter, issues like the ignorant and callous destruction of the Palace Theatre, rather than a call for more support for historic venues, is the wrong way to go.