The Eve of Distraction A toast to the New Year and the day after

Text: Colin Gore

In the final hours of 2002, I ditch my friends at a woeful pop-up disco in Hyde Park, Sydney, and wander through the city alone. My veins are flooded with ecstasy (a new and wild love affair) and with no thoughts or intentions beyond the party happening to my body, I chance upon the Hopetoun Hotel booming on her corner.

Inside, members of a then-obscure hip-hop collective, The Herd, are throwing down onstage. Ozi Batla is standing on the speakers freestyling, boys are pashing on the dancefloor, others are dipping fingers into little bags. There’s a current of deviancy in the old pub and it feels like a new and thrilling world is revealing itself at exactly the right moment.

On the staircase, a couple are toasting the new year and stop kissing to include me in the moment. We touch glasses and compliment the hour.

“What are you thinking, brother?”

What indeed? After a year road-tripping America, Canada and the Australian desert, I was at a turning point: either create ways to continue the adventure; or mine the serotonin patch in my brain and go nowhere. Somehow, I knew I’d reached a high-water mark and the floods were about to recede. I tell the man this:

“The best year of my life just ended.”


The legendary rock critic Lester Bangs wrote that the truth about New Year’s Eve is unimportant: “the stories you make up the next day are always better than what actually happened.”

Subsequent NYEs never generated the excitement and discovery of ’02-03. Not through lack of effort. Getting older, and the world having less mystery plays a role.

2005 NYE was a warehouse party in old Chippendale. For standard reasons, the party’s location was held secret until the last minute. The directive was to meet at the Gladstone Hotel on Regent Street. When we arrived, about 1000 people were waiting outside the pub. The venue was a disused 3-storey factory space a couple of blocks towards Railway Square and about 2000 heads turned up.

Somewhere in the night paramedics roused me on the stairs between floors (nothing serious – I needed a nap). I walked home and, waking around dawn, realised I’d lost a trucker cap with sentimental value. In a fit of Jan 1 optimism, I walked from Newtown to Chippendale thinking I’d find my hat on the staircase where the paramedics found me.

The party was over. Two black 7-Series BMWs were parked out front. A gang of furious Chinese businessmen in suits were inspecting the busted door locks. I wrote my hat off, put my hands in my pockets and found an invite to an after-party in the laneway leading to the Clare Hotel. Someone put it in my pocket while I was passed out on the stairs.

A party was happening down the old laneway with its rows of dilapidated terraces. That’s where I took acid (successfully) for the first time; witnessed and partook in a lot of drinking, pashing and spewing in the gutter.

Back then, before the destruction, Old Chippo was arguably the epicentre of Sydney’s music scene. Nearly everyone that day was either a DJ, in a band, a promoter or a roadie. They all lived in the immediate radius. There was plenty of affordable squalor to rent.

Cops fronted several times and finally shut our street party down and fined the hosts $180 for noise. The Crystal Palace Hotel kicked us out after first drinks, and the last available space for drinking in the early hours of January 2, was a hole-in-the-wall counter in the pokies room at the Agincourt Hotel. We were kicked out for not gambling enough, staggering out onto Broadway tripping and laughing. Walking zig-zag back to a couch in Newtown as the sun came up.

The key lesson here was not to compartmentalise the NYE experience into one night. The after-party was far superior to the big one. As a rugby league commentator might say, it’s a game of two halves.


Sometimes you really do get plastered. 2015’s NYE edition was spent largely in the casualty ward at RPA surrounded by the usual suspects. This was entirely unplanned, but well overdue. My hand was twice its natural size owing to a gruesome fight with a neighbour a week earlier, that also stripped the skin off both my knees. The dislocated bones in my hand were pushing up through the skin.

With the cast set, I stiff-legged it straight to the pub afterwards in shock. Later, I went to meet my girlfriend to try and salvage a disastrous evening.

We were too old for the night to have any magic now, and just agreeing to go out seemed like a human rights issue. Meeting at the corner of Alice Street and King, we followed the crowd south.

On New Year’s Eve, South King St is the cheap’n’cheerful corner of a city overrun with lousy deals: The Shout Brothers playing obscure covers half shit-faced at the Botany View for the rock crowd. Beats and lasers in the old brickworks for the groovers.   

Up on the hill at Sydney Park, thousands get drunk and wait for the big explosions in the sky. It’s a cut-price view hindered by high-rise apartment blocks, and the absence of lighting means you’re constantly being tripped over, or tripping over someone else in the search for the good position that doesn’t exist.

There was no dancing for us this year. My knees were scabbing over and mobility was a major problem. Whenever I bent my legs, a trickle of fluid would escape the bloody mess and run down my shins. With one arm in a sling, tearing up the rug wasn’t a likely scenario.

Why did we bother? Sitting up there surrounded by drunks, stoners and ecstasy heads, my girlfriend leaned over and muttered through her teeth: ‘I hate fireworks.’


For mid-30s dilettantes like myself, December 31st is a yardstick of one’s capacity for excess. Behaviour during the night, and the recovery period afterwards, are key performance indicators of where your brain and body is at.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, so said William Blake. The best advice I can offer is to abandon expectations, and apply standards. Stick with what works, go a bit harder, and maybe something, or someone special happens along the way to make it memorable. If not, there’s always next year…

Alleyway just off York Street, photography by Ivan Tsaregorodtsev.
Instagram: ivan_tsa


Channel 7 station signoff dating back to 1960s for “the end of another colourful day”: Tommy Leonetti singing ‘My City of Sydney’.



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