When Wollongong live-music stalwart Oxford Tavern closed its doors and the building was sold to apartment developers, those within the city’s live music scene were worried for its future.
As the city recovered from a GFC slump, high-rise apartment proposals boomed. But music venues were closing their doors, some succumbing noise complaints from nearby residents.
In March 2013, with pressure from live-music advocates mounting, Wollongong council agreed to intervene, setting up a live music taskforce and developing a suite of new strategies to put late-night entertainment options at the forefront of the city’s economy.
Fast-forward five years, and – while there is always room for improvement – the proof is in the pudding.
Last month, home-grown duo Hockey Dad had their album debut at number six on the ARIA album charts, marking the first time since 1995 that a Wollongong band has charted so high.
Now on a tour of sold out shows around the country, the surf rock band has been nurtured from the start by local label – the Farmer and the Owl – and given ample chance to cut their teeth at venues in the Illawarra.
Thanks to passionate promoters, those same venues now play host to countless national and international bands each year.
It’s also much easier for musicians to play outside in public places – for buskers in the mall, at festivals in MacCabe Park, Globe Lane or Stuart Park and at major sporting venues.
For instance, the Yours and Owls Festival has become a fixture on the annual festival circuit and each year is lauded in music circles for its top line-up.
Five years ago, it seemed unfathomable that Wollongong might host a stadium show like that of Elton John, or that we’d see the arts precinct taken over by a Spiegeltent and into a comedy and burlesque hot spot each April.
Wollongong often plays second fiddle to our larger cousin Newcastle – which always seems to carve out a greater share of attention, government funding and infrastructure spending, and has often seemed like it’s a few years ahead in its transition from a steel city. So there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing them follow our lead, especially on something this city built without handouts, from the ground up.