Partygoing protesters in Victoria park for the Reclaim the Streets rally on 19 March. Credit: Alex Yujin

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BY ALEX EUGENE

King Street and Sydney Park were transformed into a playground awash with glitter, fire twirling and partygoers of all ages at the Reclaim the Streets protest on Sunday 19th March.

The street festival-come-protest was organised in response to the rise in violence since the New South Wales Government lockout laws took effect in 2014.

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, violence and assaults in Newtown doubled in 2015.

After the brutal attack of transgender woman Stephanie McCarthy in the same year, Newtown locals decided to take action.

Hundreds gathered in Sydney’s inner west to march down King Street in the name of “Keep Newtown Weird and Safe”.

Tyson Koh, Spokesperson of Keep Sydney Open, said there was a widespread feeling that the streets are more hostile since the lockout laws were passed.

“There are queues outside every single bar and venue [in Newtown] on the weekend now.

“That never happened five to ten years ago. A lot of pressure has been placed on the community because of the lockouts,” he said.

The Newtown Roundtable, made up of local stakeholders including Greens MP Jenny Leong, Liz Yeo from the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and the Newtown Liquor Accord, recently met to discuss ways to make the area safer and return it to its famously diverse self.

“We want to keep Newtown weird, welcoming and open, it’s not about saying we don’t want people to come here.

“We just want people to behave well, have fun, have a few drinks, but just don’t be homophobic or aggressive,” Ms Yeo said.

In an effort to target drunken violence, the committee offered safer bar training for local venues and successfully installed extra taxi ranks.

Talks are continuing to find more ways to tackle rising crowds and intoxication.

At a community meeting hosted by the Newtown Roundtable last week, Ms Yeo said many locals agreed there had been an improvement.

“There were several community members who got up and said we should celebrate what we’re doing right here.

“We do seem to actually be managing this and i say that knowing there have still been incidents and particularly some that haven’t been reported,” she said.

Richard Adamson, Coordinator of the Newtown Liquor Accord, echoed the sentiment.

“Overall, the feedback we received at the public meeting was that measures put in place by the Liquor Accord, Police and local councils had impacted the situation positively.

“The most important thing to do if residents are affected by any type of violence is to report it, without a report, the police can’t act and the data used to shape policy will be inaccurate,” he said.

Partygoers at the protest said that despite progress, there was still work to be done.

“We’re sick of being harassed in our own community just for being a little bit different,” said one punter, Reid.

“It was good to have that many people out that were non-conformist in one way or another,” said Bruno, who had graced the “weird” catwalk earlier that afternoon.

Asked if it was ironic to protest against the effects of alcohol fuelled violence by getting drunk at a party, Reclaim the Streets Spokesperson, James Loch, denied there was any inconsistencies with their approach.

“We’ve never had any violent incidents because violence isn’t caused by alcohol or parties, violence is caused by disrespect for other people.

“Our crowds are respectful and look after each other. We believe that if that was taught in all aspects of our schooling and culture then there would be no premise for the lockout laws,” he said.

Mr Koh said the problem is whether people are getting drunk responsibly or not.

“If people are celebrating with friends, with a purpose and they’re not hurting anyone, then there’s absolutely no reason for any backlash or outrage,” he said.

City of Sydney Liberal Councillor, Christine Forster, believes that her party’s solution to alcohol fuelled violence in Sydney’s CBD has expired.

“I believe they have served their purpose, and the 1:30am lockout should be revoked,” she said.

Newtown Greens MP, Jenny Leong, said Reclaim the Streets is essential to bring people together and protect the things that are important to the local community.

“People feel comfortable to dance in the streets and talk to strangers here.

“They can feel proud to identify as queer or trans or anything else.

“Keeping Newtown ‘weird’ is about ensuring that all types of diversity are not just tolerated but accepted and celebrated,” she said.