The post-COVID NewQuay soundscape
By Julian Smith - NewQuay Resident
Before I moved to Docklands in 2017 I lived at Darling Point on Sydney Harbour, where I became accustomed to seeing the sleek white HarbourCat-class ferries.
Every couple of hours one would issue a crisp, authoritative “parp-parp-parp” reversing signal before pulling away from Double Bay jetty, 300 metres down the hill from my balcony.
The Docklands ferries seem much more dis- creet. Probably because their departures are less regular, I guess. But the venerable Lady Cutler is an altogether different kettle of fish. When she is untethered from her berth adjacent to the ferry dock, we all know about it.
Like a dowager empress redolent of rouged cheeks, powdered chins, a heaving bosom and a husky gin-tinged tone, the Lady Cutler seems to embark on her party-people voyages with initial reluctance. Her distinctive tripartite reversing signal slowly rises from deep within her crusty old keel with an irritated exasperation that seems to accede wearily “Oh very well then, if I absolutely MUST ...”
But this tremulous start quickly ascends to a belligerent bellow that rings out a defiant, protracted “FFFFFWAAAAAAAAAARRRP” that reverberates throughout NewQuay and the Northern side of Victoria Harbour. It seems to amplify as it rings across the waters and ricochets off the glass surfaces of the residential towers opposite each side of the now mori- bund Central Pier. Lady Cutler really is a noisy old girl.
One element mercifully absent from the NewQuay soundscape since August 2019, when Central Pier was closed down, is the “foomp-foomp” of party noise. That used to belt out on Friday and Saturday nights from the nocturnal venues on the pier’s northern side, a wall of sound that boomed across the water straight at NewQuay Promenade. The gratitude of residents for its cessation knows no bounds.
Sadly, another soundscape element seemingly all but absent since the ascent and descent of COVID-19 is the cheerful chatter and clatter of satisfied diners on the promenade. Many of the restaurants now sit morosely silent and empty. Only the waterfront Berth and Cargo seem to be permanently hosting, but they’re indoor eateries. Even the previously always-busy International Buffet at the top of the promenade seems to have had a stuttering post-COVID restart.
What Docklands needs most are a few quality “destination” restaurants to bring back
some animation at street level. This is the strategy that vitalised Darling Harbour, the CBD- contiguous Sydney equivalent of Docklands. C’mon Council – creative master-chefs need to be wooed and incentivised.
Since lockdown expired, sporadic music acts by buskers have attempted to buoy the prome- nade’s street-life vibe. Some of these amplified performances can be tolerated from as close as 50 metres. But none has yet succeeded in attracting an enthusiastic coin-pitching crowd within their immediate proximity. Yep, it’s slim pick- ings and tough audiences down on the Prom. Credit for trying, but we need slicker, subtler, more nuanced performers. Any volunteers?
Few human activities though are as satisfyingly smile-inducing as the sound of children happily at play. So, a welcome addition to the Docklands soundscape is the new Primary School. Just the sight of parents holding their young kids’ hands on the way to school in the mornings brings a sense of fresh optimism to NewQuay, I reckon. Much of the school is enclosed, so the sounds of the cherubs’ youthful exuberance is muted, but we’ll take what we can get. NewQuay is better for kids at play being here.
Those perennials of the NewQuay soundscape, the rumble and clang of trams, reverberated on through the lockdown largely empty but with a comforting familiarity. During Spring, the melodic birdsong in the mornings and evenings was music to the ears. At other times, we gladly took the dawn squawking of seagulls on the lawns in lieu.
As life gets back to normal, the regularity of helicopters clattering through the sky with their high roller passengers has returned to the soundscape. By the time they skirt NewQuay on their swooping Western arc, they have achieved an elevation that almost manages to tone down the intrusion of their engine noise.
Finally, the footy is back. The muted roar of the crowd surging and billowing from the open roof of our neighbourhood stadium is quintessentially Melbourne. Pre-game, fans in their team colours make their way down the promenade full of buoyant optimism. Later, you can always tell which team won. Some fans skip cheerfully back to their parked cars. Others trudge silently.
But for another five months, there’s always next week •