Melbourne Music Under Siege - The Fight For The Palace Theatre

The city of Melbourne, Victoria, is home one of the most vibrant live music scenes in the world. The last few years have seen it threatened by legislation, international business and grumpy old men.

Melbourne is known for its thriving music scene, but over the last few years it seems like people just don’t want us to have fun anymore.

The Melbourne CBD and surrounding inner suburbs have birthed and nourished to some of our most outstanding musical artists. The Hunters and Collectors began here, The Living End call Melbourne home as does Nick Cave. ACDC have a laneway named after them, and soon the late Chrissy Amphlett (front woman for the Divinyls) will have one as well. More recently it has nurtured the talent of Grammy Award winner Gotye, who spent most of his early life here and studied at Melbourne University. Melbourne soul group Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes just concluded a massively successful US tour, but they always return to play the Corner Hotel in Richmond. If you are ever at a loose end on a Saturday night you can always find a live gig playing somewhere, often for free.

The Living End’s “All Torn Down”

Is it any wonder, that with this thriving creative culture we have fostered, that real estate in the CBD and surrounding suburbs is suddenly hot property? Re-zoning of some CBD areas in the last few years has caused quite an uptick in residential development in the CBD. Inner Melbourne is home to more people than ever, including this guy and many like him; people who can afford to buy the hottest property in town, close to transport and culture, then complain when existing clubs, bars and venues (ie the culture!) play music at night.
There were 118 noise complaints in the 2010-2011 financial year, resembling the story of the rich man who built his house on sand, but rather than learning from his mistake the rich man complains and sues in order to make the sea go somewhere else. As a result of the noise complaints many small venus get fined and are forced to either install more expensive soundproofing or close their doors. Many pubs and clubs can’t afford the level of soundproofing required, but developers aren’t required to include it in new housing. You can read an excellent rebuttal to Mr Edwards complaint here.

With this sort of threat to our small venues, it is a consolation that our larger venues have some more protection, right?

The Palace Theatre Via theage.com.au

Wrong.
The latest scandal to hit the Melbourne live music scene is the purchase of The Palace Theatre on Bourke St. The Palace Theatre was originally named The Douglas Theatre, built in 1860 and destroyed by a fire in 1911. It was rebuilt in 1912 and has many name changes in the intervening years, including The Metro Nightclub, finally landing on The Palace in 2007. While the name has changed repeatedly it’s 1900’s charm still remains and the facade is heritage listed. The Palace is described as a mid-sized venue; for gigs which would overfill a pub but wouldn’t fill an arena (the next size up being Festival Hall). Venues of this size are an important stepping stone for an emerging artist, as well as a great choice for less mainstream acts. The Palace has hosted Macklemore, My Bloody Valentine, Kyuss and Flogging Molly in February of this year alone, as well as The Offspring, Stereophonics, Deftones and countless local up-and comers and supporting acts.

In June of 2012 this magical venue was put into jeopardy when it was bought by Jinshan Investments, a Chinese property investment firm. Their plan is to demolish the building and the surrounding area (some of which is also heritage listed) and build this:

When concerns were raised by the Planning Commission regarding the height of initial plans, designers lopped off a few meters to give us this:

Although we recognise that many of us have had great experiences in the past permutations of the site, we firmly believe that these experiences do not outweigh the need for the area to be regenerated,

a spokeswoman for Jinshan Investments told The Age newspaper back in June.

Regenerated. With Australia’s first ‘W Hotel’ and apartment complex. Just like every other high-rise hotel in Melbourne (and everywhere else).

Melbourne doesn’t need ‘regenerating,’ thank you very much. It doesn’t need yet another company buying up land and sending profits offshore. It doesn’t need yet another classic, old building demolished. Melbourne doesn’t need another nail in the Live Music Coffin, and it doesn’t need people who don’t live here or appreciate the lifestyle and culture of the area telling us what it needs!

There is hope on the horizon, however; Melbourne’s proud musical history is tied closely to its history of unionism and grassroots protest. In 2010 the Victorian State government brought in new legislation with regard to liquor licensing laws which were supposed to help combat the spate of alcohol fueled violence in the city. Rather than doing any serious research they simply deemed any venue which played live music “high risk,” and required that they add extra security (despite research and evidence that people are less likely to get drunk when watching a live gig). This legislation referred to any live music performance; from ACDC at the MCG to a kid playing acoustic at the restaurant on the corner. Smaller venues were unable to hire the required security and therefore stopped hosting bands, which led to the closure of the iconic Tote Hotel in Collingwood and an uproar on a local and national scale.

A protest rally was organised by Save Live Australian Music (SLAM) and Fair Go 4 Live Music, with an estimated 20,000 people marching on the steps of parliament house and effectively shutting down access to the Bourke St precinct. They were accompanied by the band from Rockwiz on the back of a flatbed truck recreating ACDC’s Long Way to The Top. This protest, along with a petition six months later and a year of negotiations led to much-needed changes in legislature and the re-opening of The Tote.

Protesters sing along to Long Way To The Top as performed by the Rockwiz Orkestra

We can do it again.

As soon as the plans for the Palace were announced a group launched the Save the Palace Theatre website, petition and facebook page. At the time of writing the petition has over 25,000 signatures, and over 900 formal objection letters have been sent to the Melbourne City council.
On the 12th of October a rally was held at Parliament Reserve to protest the development, and after a further month of fighting music fans saw a glimmer of hope. The following statement was posted on Facebook by Save the Palace on the 13th of November:

Last night, the Save The Palace Committee along with Melbourne Heritage Action presented at the Future Melbourne Committee Meeting to ensure the council voted to lodge an objection to the development of the Palace site. The council voted unanimously to object to the plans and will submit this to the Planning Minister in due course for his consideration.

The objection by the council was not due to The Palace’s essential role as a venue, but its heritage listing and the height of the proposed complex.
It should also be noted that the Victorian Parliament has protested the build on the grounds that the proposed 70-meter hotel would overshadow nearby Parliament House. Heaven forbid. Upper House President Bruce Atkinson stated

The government is not the Parliament and the Parliament is not the government … it’s the Parliament that is indicating its concern with the development.

The decision now sits in front of the Victorian Minister for Planning, the Honorable Matthew Guy; we wait with baited breath.
Meanwhile we keep fighting, protesting and informing the masses of the very real threats facing our musical culture.

Tania Wilson, Rebecca Leslie, Michael Raymond, Richard Stevens and Alistair Cooke, organisers of the Save The Palace rally. Via smh.com.au

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