Founders Lane Masthead
Photograph: Alex Moffatt.

Love thy neighbour, music to my ears

Heather Wallace

A_BakerIt seems the Noise Brigade have reared their heads again in NewActon. This time to complain about an event that is yet to take place…on the other side of Parkes Way. The event is part of the Art, Not Apart Festival and is set to bring a new wave of energy and life to Acton but more specifically, Westside. Heather Wallace visited the issue last year in November, when NewActon residents were up in arms about A.Baker’s live music performances…

I feel a song coming on. “Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours, with a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend…”

Ah yes, neighbours. You might love yours and pop in and out of each other’s houses. Or you might just say hello politely when you cross paths. Either way they’re all around us.

Neighbours have been on my mind lately, and not just because I can hear mine moving around upstairs. That’s the thing about inner city, multi-storey and high density living, your neighbours are very close by.

And right now there seems to be a neighbours’ dispute in the arts and culture precinct of New Acton, with some residents seemingly cranky at A Baker’s live music performances on weekends. In the summer months, when the weather is balmy and people are enjoying a cool al fresco drink, A Baker puts on live jazz from 5.00pm to 7.30pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The problem is some nearby apartment dwellers have objected.

So just to recap: free jazz, a music style that’s generally considered light and pleasant that ends in the early evening, is causing offence.

If it’s the style of music they’re objecting to, I can only assume they’ve time travelled from 1910 and I can’t wait for them to hear rock and punk! After all, jazz is usually one of the most universally acceptable forms of music.

Minky Faber knows this first hand. She was responsible for booking live acts for the nearby Parlour Wine Bar.

“I always tried to find live music acts that complimented the season and the venue ethos. These were generally jazz bands,” she says.

“On the one occasion that we had the Brass Knuckle Brass Band we got a couple of complaints from residents in the apartments. We had to resign to only being able to have live music indoors.”

Support for A Baker this weekend was loud and clear on social media, with most people asking, “Why would you move to a vibrant area if you are concerned about noise levels?” Maybe they were expecting nothing more than the strains of a light minuet to play when they moved into a space that was marketed as an art and culture precinct.

Not all New Acton residents though are jumping on the “silence the music” bandwagon (wouldn’t a bandwagon probably make the kind of noise this lot abhor?).  There were plenty of residents taking to social media to say they chose the area because of its arts and music scene, and are excited Canberra has entertainment on offer.

It’s been a long time coming. I still mourn the demise of Toast and Gypsy Bar in the mid-2000s. Noise complaints by neighbours contributed to their closures – not residents this time but businesses that moved in long after both venues were established. The Waldorf Hotel kept up a concerted campaign against Toast and is now taking the same approach with music at The Transit Bar. Rather than making sure the hotel was built to minimise noise from popular venues nearby, that again predated the hotel, it hounds live music operators into silence.

This isn’t just a Canberra problem, all around the country inner city live music venues that have been around in one form or another for decades are being forced to close their doors because new residents want an exciting lifestyle without any noise above a whisper.

As I write this I’m watching the ABC’s Countdown 40th anniversary special, Do Yourself a Favour and it has me thinking.

For those of us growing up in the 70s and 80s, Countdown was a Sunday night institution, giving Aussie bands that started in city pubs the chance to be known across the country. Can you imagine Jimmy Barnes being told to keep it down because a neighbouring apartment was hosting an evening soiree?

The demise of live music venues has many causes, from pubs preferring to install pokie machines to sound stages, and tougher licensing laws that restrict venue numbers and sound levels. Every council, state and territory has a different set of laws. The former Labor Government under Arts Ministers Peter Garrett and Simon Crean tried to address the problems facing Australia’s music industry. Work on the Government’s Contemporary Music Action Plan lead to initial funding for the National Live Music Office, coordinating a national approach to supporting the music industry.

Coming back to New Acton, I keep wondering just how much of a problem this really is. The Canberra Times quotes New Acton East body corporate chairman, Richard Hay, as saying he receives one to two complaints a month from the apartment block he manages.

That doesn’t mean the complainers represent all residents. I’m sure a lot of us have had experience of body corporate committees where there’s one person who thinks their views and comfort and more important than anyone else. The ACT’s Environmental Protection Agency confirmed to me that they’ve had only two official complaints about noise levels in the area, one in 2010 and one this year. Neither was considered valid.

But, to be fair, it isn’t solely about whinging residents. Let’s also put the onus onto developers to use and put in place better designs. The problem isn’t just noise from outside; my neighbours and I shouldn’t have to hear each other have a wee or do anything more, ah, ‘intimate’.

A few years ago I lived in an apartment converted from a Victorian era house in Edinburgh. My bedroom backed onto a courtyard that connected to a music college and auditorium built in the same era. When visiting bands would play I’d hang out in the garden hoping for a free show. And you know what? I couldn’t hear a thing! A building designed more than a century before electronically amplified music was ever thought of offered better sound protection than any modern building in this city.

It’s on the public record that some Canberra citizens wanted to prevent development at New Acton altogether, with concerns about the impact on the original Burley Griffin plan and heritage aspects of the area. If they’d had their way, the few complaining residents wouldn’t have a problem now – there’d be no apartments in the first place.

The problem with this kind of complaint by one or two vocal individuals is that they maintain a relentless pressure in their self-righteousness, eventually wearing down the music operators. So the best way to combat them is to go out there and enjoy live music in Canberra. Go and catch a gig at Transit Bar, Front Bar and Café, Tilley’s, Canberra Musician’s Club, the Abbey and any other place that’s playing music.

In fact, catch a gig and come back here and tell me what your favourite act was!

I started with a song, and it seems right to finish with one. Here’s Perfect Tripod performing Blueprint, with Eddie Perfect outlining his grand life vision to his girlfriend where “we’ll buy a little house together in the inner city…and we’ll close the local pubs down…”

Author’s note as at 11 March 2015: 

It’s despicable that an anonymous letter writer provides email contacts for so many other people but won’t put their own name on the public record. I am proud to have my name and my voice in opposition to them!

Image of audience at A. Baker courtesy of the NewActon Precinct Facebook page.

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

  • What I can’t understand, Heather, is why the petty whingers are listened to in the first place. It’s not like the noise police are going to arrest ABaker owners for violating the eardrums of the whining one or two people, because they are forced to listed to funky jazz music until Prime Possum says it’s time to go to bed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t we allowed to bang our drums and play ABBA loudly and proudly between the respectable hours of 7am until early evening? If the music is in between certain hours, then I thought it was permitted. I think the New Acton folk should get a bit jousty and rebel against these musical tee totallers by saying ‘NO’ to anti music nerds and continue to get their Sunday session groove on.

  • Lesley

    Well said. Music in the late afternoon is much more enjoyable than next door’s dog starting to bark at the possums at midnight. … but why hasn’t the ACT Government introduced double glazing grants? The answer to a range of local noise and heating issues.

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