A New Northbridge
Perth is developing a distinct identity and is culturally maturing, by way of a plethora of urban renewal projects, loosening of small bar licensing and an increasingly alternative business culture in the inner city. With the Perth City Link edging towards completion, more than ever Northbridge will be more accessible. Yet, Northbridge (Perth’s bar and club zone) is a cliché of all that is wrong with the Australian drinking culture; public drunkenness, violence and anti social behaviour making it a place to avoid at night. During the day, it is quiet and relatively uninteresting. What if this could be changed? What if the whole zone was redeveloped into a proper cultural hub?
Imagine its late Friday night and you’re in Northbridge. You’ve just had dinner and drinks with friends at that new tapas restaurant off William Street and you’re heading to another bar close by to continue the evening. You don’t want a big night; maybe a few gin and tonics or another bottle of wine. You’re planning on cycling home and waking up tomorrow without feeling like you’ve killed all your brain cells. You’re not ready for the night to end yet, it is Friday after all.
As you walk away from William Street a group of rowdy, drunken bogans jostle past you and your friends, pushing you off the footpath and on to the road. You notice one of the men has a Southern Cross tattoo. Two girls tip toe towards you in dresses that appear to barely cover their labia and the rowdy men leer at them as one bends over to take her stilt like shoes off. You round a corner to stumble across a highly inebriated teenager urinating against a closed shop door, while his girlfriend throws up a pungent bright pink liquid in the gutter. Walking past two burly bouncers attempting to break up a fight between drunk Irishmen outside a club whose music appears to only exist of bass, you and your friends decide to call it a night.
This could be any weekend night in Perth, and apart from the added risk of crime and assault, it pretty much describes every weekend in Northbridge for those who go out for dinner and just want to have a few quiet drinks, yet are not interested in dancing all night and doing tequila shots with eighteen (or younger) year olds. Apart from a small handful of bars like Pica, The Bird, Ezra Pound and The Mechanics – Northbridge has limited options for after dinner drinks, and due to the stringent liquor licensing laws in WA, they close at midnight.
The Bakery, Northbridge.
There has been talk of moving the big nightclubs of Northbridge out to Burswood. Imagine the idea! My inner snob tingles with the excitement of having a night out that could potentially roam further than the small corner of William Street and the Cultural Centre that my nights usually inhabit. Surrounded by like-minded people, looking for bars with exposed brick walls and dim lighting that sell boutique beers. Smaller, niche bars and restaurants could take over from The Deen, Mint and The Library, and their obnoxious clientele would disappear with the businesses.
Spending the night in Northbridge would be safer and a more attractive option for families past 7pm. We could see a change to this a cultural hub of Perth, like the many changes it has seen before today. From swamp land, to the best place to get fresh coffee in Perth, thanks to the influx of immigrant Italians and Greeks, Northbridge is no stranger to trying on different hats. During the gold boom, convicts were able to build many hotels (such as today’s Brass Monkey building) that saw it turn into a hive of activity leading to A-list Perthonalities moving in, including the first PLC and Scotch College buildings and elite shopping boutiques in the late nineteenth century. The rise of al fresco dining and development of the train line transformed it into the stand-alone suburb that we see today.With a surge in anti social behaviour in the nineties including a poor reputation in the media about gangs, crime and drugs – Northbridge quickly became a hostile nightspot. While it has improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go before the government’s lock out and extra transport initiatives take effect and it becomes an attractive option for a night out. This could be just one more of the many refurbishments of an ever-evolving city.
Northbridge already has much to offer after dark. Which I think is particularly apparent during summer when Fringe World and Perth International Arts Festivals have taken the city hostage. Quiet spaces and parks are turned into vibrant, colourfully lit bars like the Chevron Gardens, Urban Orchard and The Please Garden. Thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds come into the city centre to enjoy the art, comedy and performances, some of which have come from all over the world, to celebrate our beautiful city. Similarly during the rest of the year, Propel Youth Arts WA, William Street Festival and other seasonal festivals encourage the culture of Northbridge. Even on an every day basis, the rooftop cinemas, piazza and Cultural Centre screens bring a wonderful sense of community to this inner suburb.
In the absence of the big nightclubs and perhaps, a relaxation of the liquor licensing laws, Northbridge could house a slew of small bars, cafes, restaurants and galleries to continue the artistic and welcoming atmosphere that these festivals bring to the city. There is also the added economic advantage of adding more businesses, in turn creating more jobs and attracting more patrons to sample and support these independent and unique businesses.
Of course, simply relocating the big clubs out to Burswood is not going to solve crime in Perth. While it may mean my friends and I, are considerably less likely to be stabbed at 2am, moving the problem to another area of the city does not solve it. Out of sight may be out of my mind, but it won’t be out of the news. Crime has in fact already doubled since 2005 in the casino area, with apparent rumours of teenagers working in packs to target intoxicated and cashed up patrons leaving the Casino. Pushing the antisocial drunks out there is only going to exacerbate the situation in Burswood as 20, 000 people already visit the casino everyday.
Perhaps as an idea to merely get us thinking. An idea to get us motivated to change Northbridge. To imagine what it could be like if it were a safe and friendly place at all hours of the day and night.
Sian Sugars is a writer and contributor with FLINT.