At last, a chance to tackle one of the crucial, life-changing issues of our time.
Yes, we have the virus, and we have climate change, and we have unjust laws and a housing crisis. But sometimes these concerns just have to yield to a genuine earth-shattering local emergency.
Noise. Amplified noise in Byron Bay.
First, we went to the park at Main Beach. A place where our children and grandchildren grew up on the latest version of outdated splintered play equipment, where the grass always fights a losing battle against feet, where the alcohol free status is ‘you must be joking’, where fire twirlers burn and whales are gawked at, where sunsets are magic, and where we met some friends for a chat.
Or tried to. Conversation could not be heard over the absurdly loud amplified busker who was blasting the whole area with his piss-poor Van Morrison and Neil Young covers.
Not a chance of hearing the waves, or the children play, or the birds. Or each other. I considered paying him just to shut up. We yelled and gesticulated and sign-languaged and spat at each other accidentally as you occasionally do in more mature years. Before we went to eat.
Now, Light Years is my favourite restaurant. Sometimes when I am meditating the taste of the chilli coconut kingfish ceviche erupts into my mind with the force of a volcano, and I succumb to the memory of bliss.
I have actually hovered near the kitchen, pretending to tie up my shoelace, trying to work out how they cook the miso caramel eggplant so exquisitely. But there we are again, the four of us screeching ungraciously at each other and drooling over the food in a most un-COVID Safe manner to lean close enough to be heard over the amplified din.
I actually decided to send my friend, seated across from me, an SMS while we ate, because at least then he would not think I was calling him a Fucking Tory when I was actually just suggesting he might pass the rice please. We had a nice text conversation. It’s actually okay when I eat there just with my partner, because we can communicate entire philosophical discussions with just gestures and a raised eyebrow after almost 40 years of marital bliss.
I once ate at Bang Bang. The food was sublime. But the music was so loud my plate was vibrating on the table. I thought the fish was alive! And yet, there are all these people eating there, screaming at each other just to be heard and have a decent conversation.
When I asked them to turn the music down, the eye roll was so intense I thought the waitress had passed out standing up. Even parents with children brave the incessant bang bang (maybe that’s the reason for the name) and maybe they do so deliberately so they can’t hear their kids. And the kids can’t hear them. Beats eating at home with the TV on, I guess.
So we left Light Years, and went for a stroll to listen to the buskers. Here’s a mathematical fact – when they were acoustic, there were lots more buskers.
Because the number of buskers was calculated by the length of the street (x) divided by the sound envelope of the average busker (y). X has not changed. But the sound envelope (y) is now so much bigger because the buskers all have amplifiers up so loud that a single busker can be heard from The Balcony to the NAB. And thus having a quiet stroll with conversation on the main streets becomes as impossible as sitting in the park, or in the restaurant.
And then there are those shops/bars/cafes that insist on having a speaker directionally positioned out onto the street. So even once you get out of the sound envelope of the electronically enhanced buskers, you are likely to be further hindered in conversation by these businesses who actually think it is enticing to further deafen passers-by. How does that work? Perhaps they hope people will to go into their shop to get out of the doof.
So bugger the housing crises, the virus and global warming – in the upcoming Council election, I’m voting for the candidates who vow to quieten public places in Byron Bay; with a ban on amplification above acoustic level, and making all businesses have their speakers facing inward, not outward.
And please get that strangled drongo out of the park, so that other people might come with a guitar or a song like they used to. To talk. To masticate. To enjoy nature in all its five-sense glory.
As for the restaurants – I’m on to you. Mr Google tells me that this phenomenon is not based on atmosphere or customer demand, it is greed.
People who are being deafened by sound leave the restaurant in a shorter period of time, thus more turnover. Duh!
The quicker the beat, the faster the fork to mouth eating too! There are studies. Who knew? And noise, like smoking, can be an occupational health and safety issue.
So, I’m going to make sure that I eat really slowly. With earmuffs on. Perhaps not a fashion statement that will take off, but I’ll suffer familial mocking for the cause. I’m preparing a leaflet for floor staff about their legal rights regarding work related hearing loss. And it won’t be based on sovereign citizenship either.
Suggestion – perhaps the restaurants of Byron could have an oldies dinner hour, where there is no music at all. Say 5.30pm to 6.30pm, so we are all tucked up in bed by a reasonable hour.
Oh my god… I think I’ve become a grumpy old man.
David Heilpern is a recently retired magistrate and the author of several law-related books, journal articles and reported judgments.
He was the youngest magistrate in Australia when appointed in 1998.