Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fear and loathing in Adelaide's violent streets

If you haven't been to New York in the last 20 years, you may be under the impression that it's a dangerous city overrun by muggers, junkies and bandana-wearing gang members of the “that's not a knife, this is a knife” variety.

At least, that's what many Aussie tourists I've run into over here seem to think.

Having been schooled in the city's bad reputation by such probing documentaries as Coming to America and Crocodile Dundee, they walk around clutching their handbags, eyes darting about for the next mugger who wants to steal their high heels. (It's true, muggers do that – it was in Sex and the City.)

I recently suggested to a visiting Adelaide couple they hire some bikes and go for a ride around Central Park, one of the nicest things to do in New York and, actually, the world.

“Ooh, I don't think so. Isn't that... a bit... murderous?” the bloke asked.

Given he'd just been banging on about his new racing bike and love of the Tour de France it was obvious he didn't mean “gruelling”. He meant literally “murderous”, as in an activity which is likely to involve murder.

Frankly, you're more likely to die choking on a picnic lunch than be murdered in Central Park, but after reading some recent Adelaide news I think I may have some idea where this irrational fear comes from.

According to police figures quoted in a recent City Messenger report, almost a third of the 925 brawls and disturbances reported in Adelaide's CBD last year occurred in Hindley St. Unsurprisingly, 80 per cent of those involved alcohol or drugs.

This week the strip has been in the headlines again after a spate of attacks has led to calls for curfews and lock-outs to stop alcohol-fuelled violence in Adelaide.

Police swarming on Hindley Street. (Source: The Punch)

Anyone who's ever had to go near the city's infamous party strip late at night will not be surprised. Last year when I worked at the Sunday Mail my newsroom shift finished very late on Saturday night (or very early on Sunday morning, depending on which side of the clock you were looking at). At about 2am I would walk the two blocks from the paper's Waymouth St building to Hindley St to get a cab home, and was routinely afraid for my safety.

Hindley St is seedy at the best of times. At 2am on a Sunday morning, it is a war zone. I wrote about the horror in a previous column, which you can read here.

So when Adelaide residents see this sort of thing as the norm in their humble town, is it any surprise they expect the super metropolis of New York to be a cesspit of murder and and thieving?

The fact is, in almost 12 months in New York I haven't once seen public drunkenness, indecency, brawling or violence of the level you see in Adelaide's CBD every single weekend.

To be clear, I'm talking mainly about Manhattan, and the “trendy”, more monied parts of town favoured by tourists. Then again, what is Hindley St if not the heart of Adelaide's tourism precinct? What's the difference?

The strange reality is that I feel safer walking around New York at night than I ever did in Adelaide. Murderous? Depends where you are.


This article was first published in the City and Eastern Courier Messengers on July 25, 2012.


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