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I've Never Known A Sydney That Wasn't Covered In CLOSED

When I was 17, my city was branded with a bedtime.

The lockout laws came into effect in February 2014 -- shutting Sydney out by 1:30 am, and shutting Sydney down by 3 am.

As a result, my coming-of-age story hasn't had that same sense of neon-soaked reckless abandon I always thought it would.

Now, months short of my 23rd birthday, the laws have been lifted. Sydney has been afforded the opportunity to party once again.

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The five years where the CBD was tucked into bed by the lockouts coincided with the dawn of my own adulthood. The government line on the matter remained unwavering -- these laws were to protect our young people.

These laws were about me. But whether they were for me or against me, depends on who you ask.

At 18, I saw more dilapidated window fronts than I did undiscovered bands. I was pushed out of venues but pushed towards the casino.

'The Cross' became mythology, rather than somewhere my friends and I would viably like to visit.

An estimated 10,000 people hit the streets to march down Oxford St, protesting the lockout laws that have gripped Sydneys CBD and innercity regions on October 9, 2016. Image: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

And the word spread. 'Sorry to hear that Sydney sucks now,' I was told again and again by young people across the world. 'Heard Melbourne's pretty good but.'

However, even in the midst of my groaning about growing up in a locked-out city, I could always understand why the government felt they needed to act in the wake of a spate of alcohol-related assaults that tragically claimed the lives of young Australians.

In fact, I could list a number of other situations I wish our government would handle with anywhere near this level of swift conviction.

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But the impact on our nightlife has been destructive, and potentially irreparable. It's easy to make a case against culture when you frame young people as 'messy, drunk and stupid'.

The reality is, however, that it is our music venues and restaurants -- the very kinds of venues that our international reputation depends upon -- that have been left most wounded.

In July last year, the City of Sydney submitted a report that estimated the policy had cost the potential of "2202 jobs and $1.4 billion in turnover."

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As a young person, I concede that matters of the economy typically concern us less than matters of the heart. But when stories of a Sydney that roared with music and vibrancy become the stuff of fairy tales, that hits where it hurts.

At first we got angry, marching loudly in rallies and calling on the state's premiers to lift the ban. In the early years, you couldn't walk a main street without spotting 15 different Keep Sydney Open t-shirts.

But now, as our city is finally open again, our cheers are oddly dim, if present at all. Our city will be returned to us, but we're too disheartened to care. Because in the years the lockouts were in full effect, Sydney's young people got political.

Abbey came of age during the heart of the lockout laws. Image: Supplied/Getty

The 'fight against fun' spilled out from the clubs to the grassy showgrounds. Our festivals were shutting down, our fellow young people were losing their lives, and we became highly engaged in the pill testing debate.

And for many, the appeal of a Keep Sydney Open rally gave us our first taste for protest -- leading us to later sinking our teeth into the nitty gritty that is climate action. It was estimated that 80,000 people gathered for Sydney's Climate Strike last September. We now know how to get loud.

People attend a protest as part of the worlds largest climate strike in Sydney on September 20, 2019. Image: PETER PARKS / AFP

Five years ago, the lockout laws felt like the be-all and end-all for Sydney's youth. But in that time, we learned to harness the power of protest and the importance of injecting young voices into political debate. The laws that deprived us also lit a flame under us.

We were not allowed a seat at the table, but soon we will own the boardroom. And when we do, we won't forget.

Featured image: Supplied/Getty