Noise complaint shuts down a Newcastle folk music club

It’s 5:30pm. On a Monday evening. I’d just wandered into Lowlands, primed and ready for an incredible evening of food, beer and exceptional company. But my good mood came crashing down, shattering on the floor in front of me with a mere five words. “We’ve had a noise complaint”, one of the bartenders said as he poured my beer, shaking his head. I looked around, and apart from a handful of scattered patrons viewing the evening news, there was not a soul to be seen. The look on my face must have said it all, as he pointed around the corner. He was referring of course to the to the folk music club, who were huddled together with nothing louder than a few ukuleles and a passion for friendship and music, echoing onto the empty bowling green, barely disturbing the early evening. “You’re kidding me right?” I said out loud before muttering to myself… of course there was.

And you wonder why the live music and entertainment industry in Newcastle is consistently fighting a losing battle?

If a local inner city resident is driven to make a noise complaint, to a local bowlo, targeting a folk club, at 5:30pm on a Monday afternoon, god help anyone who even thinks about plugging a guitar into an amp. Is this really the benchmark? Are we really becoming the town where the desperate pursuit of absolute silence is the only thing we lust after? I’ve thought a lot about the motivation of this particular phone call. The resident in question called Lowlands directly. Perhaps they were turned down by local law enforcement due to the absolute ridiculousness of their grievance, and decided to take the matter into their own hands.

[x_pullquote type=”left”]But now that their partying days are over, they apparently and actively choose to spend their time squashing the hopes and dreams…[/x_pullquote]Before I go on, let’s first consider the phrase ‘inner city resident’. Defined as a person who, (just maybe), lives in the middle of a city. To me, coming from someone who fits well within this category, this location comes with a mixture of pros and cons. You’re right in the thick of the action, with everything our town has to offer, a mere stone’s throw away from your front door but…the same activities which provide residents with entertainment, also generate something called sound.

I also got to thinking, exactly what else could, in fact, potentially trigger a noise complaint from this particular resident. Children playing nearby? A couple having a conversation on the way to any number of venues in close proximity? Their neighbour sneezing one morning as the seasons change from spring to summer? Where is the line?

There is a tragic parallel which can be drawn between this particular type of resident and their engagement with the community. The same resident who chooses to make a noise complaint at 5:30pm on a Monday evening, over something they honestly would have been straining to hear from their front doorstep, will also be the first person to recount and boast about the heyday of our town.

[x_pullquote type=”right”] I am willing to give this particular resident the benefit of the doubt.[/x_pullquote]They will be the first to say, “back in my day”. They will be the first to tell you about the glory days where the city centre was overflowing with independent live music, chatting about how they packed out this venue or that venue and how they stayed out until 5:30 am just because they could. They will also be the first ones to tell you how, unlike the kids of today, they “really knew how to party”. But now that their partying days are over, they apparently and actively choose to spend their time squashing the hopes and dreams of exactly what our city could be, in a twisted act of bittersweet revenge.

Surely this is not the way of the future for our fair town? To suburbanise the CBD to the point where it ceases to exist entirely? Despite my words, I am willing to give this particular resident the benefit of the doubt. Because surely, the overarching consequences were not in fact their intention. Perhaps it was simply a case of on this particular day, this resident had a zero tolerance policy towards any activity which generates joy for another, and so my anger turns to empathy. I hope any particular internal conflict is resolved, because no man is an island my friend, and the pin drop acoustics you are hoping for, surely cannot be your view for the Newcastle of the future. Let’s build upon your legacy of yesteryear, and let the music play.

Written by Laura Kebby

I write words about talented people doing talented things, and translate chatter by putting pen to paper.


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  1. You have to wonder how close this resident lives to the impact zone for the upcoming V8 Super Vandals event. I’m sure the noise of that, as well as the wholesale destruction of Newcastle’e best features, won’t please them. While getting on with your neighbours is important, I also wonder why the venue bowed to this most unreasonable complaint.

  2. Well what you expect of people who want desperately stop Newcastle to go ahead , I think we have a lot of them who are just about on the way out. Very selfish not thinking about future generations. We had one of them before stopping the night live in Newcastle and nearly made it in a ghost town.

  3. Maybe the venue could offer a seniors night or some sort of senior themed activity that’s inclusive of the folk musicians also? Or even offer a vintage music night playing tunes from the 60’s and earlier, a night something tailored to the hey days.Kill two birds with one stone?

    Better yet perhaps circulate flyers within your area with this idea and maybe you will draw in a new regular patron who never used to be one, could just be the person who complained .

    Just a thought 🙂 hope either side can reach a resolve, not just one. Make the city more inclusive of all ages and respectful to all disciplines of music.

  4. I had my 60 th birthday party at Lowlands — I had a solo musician to whom I paid $650.00 !!!! There was a noise complaint from a neighbour , turned the amplifier off ! Continued to play for a very short while and another complaint !! Hence my musician left and I lost my money …. Totally unsatisfactory ….. Apparently there is one person who continues to do this when people are enjoying themselves ! Very selfish to say the least …..

  5. Don’t worry!Those nice people from V8 Supercars have no difficulty in running their festival of fossil fuel at more than 92db less than 1 metre from the front doors and windows of chardonnay sipping pensioners in Newcastle East. Nuatali has a free ticket andthe Noise will showcase Newcastle to the world as the most gullible city in Australia. Get the folk club registered as Cooks Hill Super V8’s and complaints will disappear into the too hard department in Destruction nsw. Hell, Colgate Baird might even show up.

  6. Absolute disgrace
    Time for us all to stick together and rally for inner city living to be banned
    If this is how they carry on
    How dare they ,
    I bet the club was there long before the complainer moved in
    Shame on this person
    Have they never heard of ear plugs

  7. It’s the same person who complains every week! They seem to forget that the bowling club was built in 1898, long before houses were built around the area. They chose to buy near the club as well as 3 other pubs. You get what you pay for!

  8. I’ve recently moved into the city and love live music. I’ve never complained about anything ……except Supercars. So I agree with the Pits above …… anyone who wants to make a bit of noise, affiliate with Supercars, and the city is yours to do what you want……no questions asked!

  9. So should I complain about the noise from the stadium, trots, go karts and pubs nearby my home? These venues predated my occupation in the neighbourhood and were part of the attraction to where I live. Let there be noise and passion demonstrated in my town.

  10. This isn’t even about Newcastle getting ahead. This is allowing people to enjoy life – music is such a source of enjoyment and peace and happiness and memory…

  11. I know the serial complainer from Lowlands and I know why the complaints are lodged. Lowlands is a bowling club, on crown land, not a pub, not a live venue.
    As someone who has lived in inner city environments for nearly half of my life, ‘noise’ can be acceptable or unacceptable. People yelling and screaming, profanity and general unnecessary inebriated exchanges are difficult to ignore for prolonged periods. Poorly amplified voices and instruments are also hard to take. Commercial radio at loud volumes is likely to cause harm.
    “Happy noises and other offences”, is one of our family’s favourite pretend code violations. The Lowlands Bowling Club is, whether you like it or not, in a residential area, even if we regard it as ‘CBD’. The club is licensed and has a gaming lounge. The benefit and harm ratio is delicately poised.
    The huge gap in Newcastle’s CBD is a lack of a late night strip or zone that is quarantined from residents. Don’t be duped into thinking that Newcastle has a healthy live music scene. It was killed off by pokies entering the pins in the 1990s. The residents are an easy scapegoat for poor planning.

  12. Thanks Laura for this article and this dose of common sense! I happen to be the leader of the group that night. We were a group of 13 uke players. We tried to keep quiet after the complaint but it felt quite ridiculous! It was difficult to understand how they could even hear us in the first place. We had one ukulele bass amp (that I turned down) and one vocal mic (ditto). The ukuleles were otherwise acoustic. I felt so sorry for the club to have to even acknowledge such a complaint. I lived in the inner city for years and understood that I would be putting up with some noise late at night. However our ukulele group played till 7.45pm that night!!! Wow, what a party ……..NOT!

  13. The author is right. When you choose to live in a city, you rent or buy an apartment or a house In a city. You do not buy The city, it is for everyone, not just you.
    Seriously, move to the country if that is the lifestyle you want.

  14. ” and so my anger turns to empathy. I hope any particular internal conflict is resolved” Nicely put.
    But I am confounded that ‘one’ person has so much power in a democracy.
    Can we vote on this?

  15. I have a uke night playing on my back deck Monday night 7-8:30 in Cessnock. My neighbour at the back told me she dances to the music and my other neighbours love the show. I think there are a lot of people with nothing to do but complain in newcastle. Every action has an action group to oppose.

  16. So if one complaint is made that out weighs the benifit and enjoyment to others?
    At 5.30pm that is crazy this person should have been invited over to the club and
    just maybe they may have enjoyed it.

  17. Just reading this while crashed on a bed in a Sydney hotel after an exhilarating night of good food, music, bustle and laughter. Last night had a lovely meal at a buzzing Lowlands which was full, with people crossing all age spectrums and having a great community night out. Feeling deflated that it is hard to have the sort of night I’ve had tonight in Sydney on my own doorstep in Newcastle. I would much rather spend my hard earned dollars in my community supporting local businesses, musicians, restaurants, providors, waiters, etc to see our city come alive than spend it in Sydney but my soul needs replenishing with life now and again. I don’t want to live in God’s waiting room shuffling around and tip toeing through life in case my merriment disturbs someone’s mid afternoon slumber! Newcastle must change, it’s an absolute must! Otherwise our young talent will flee to sparklier places leaving dust in their wake.
    Please strum your ukulele’s twice as hard and twice as passionately to infect the neighbourhood with joy and life!

  18. Here in the States – in many localities, a DB meter is used to determine whether noise levels are objectionable. I suggest you petition the local political boards to adopt the ‘DB meter’ standard to judge illegality.

  19. I am at a loss as to why a venue on receiving a direct complaint complies so hastily to the whims of this individual. Let it be resolved by Police who will make a determination on arrival at the venue as to whether the noise is offensive or not and abide by their decision which will then be relayed back to the complaintant. If the noise is determined not to be offensive and the complaintant complains at a later date whereby the noise is deemed not to be offensive then the complaintant can be recorded as a vexatious complaintant a person that just makes frivolous complaints. We all tend to know one of these unfortunately and you just can’t keep letting the squeaky wheel get the oil!

  20. It appears from Bev’s post that there is a serial whiner out that way. The club management obviously know who this person is. If they had any intestinal fortitude they would tell this nasty piece of work where to go. The club stands to lose patronage and with it money. I’d be telling the goose to go to the Police. See how far they’d get with their frivolous, nasty & vexatious complaint then.

  21. This nation has been taken over by Nimby’s. Why move to the inner city if you can’t cope with the noise of the inner city? What’s worse is that the powers that be cater to the spoilt, selfish minority. Those who don’t care about how good something may be for the town, out hour much enjoyment others may get – they only care about their narrow point of view and that’s it. It’s how we lost the railway line. Is how we ended up with such silly laws on opening times with pubs. Piece by piece what makes this town enjoyable is being eroded because some selfish fool can’t hear Family Feud on the telly.

  22. This nation has been taken over by Nimby’s. Why move to the inner city if you can’t cope with the noise of the inner city? What’s worse is that the powers that be cater to the spoilt, selfish minority. Those who don’t care about how good something may be for the town, out hour much enjoyment others may get – they only care about their narrow point of view and that’s it. It’s how we lost the railway line. Is how we ended up with such silly laws on opening times with pubs. Piece by piece what makes this town enjoyable is being eroded because some selfish fool can’t hear Family Feud on the telly.

  23. Was this actually an older person who made the complaint? Shiftworkers , someone who hates folk music and regular idiots also seem like good candidates for complaints

  24. Would be interesting if this guy who keeps complaining saw this article. Even more so if he tried to explain why he hates people having fun so much and why does he think he’s more important than others. Eeeven more so if he signed the reply, so ppl knew who he is and joined forces to take action against him (like sue him for harassment, suggest he moves to a retirement home far away from normal people, or anything peaceful but effective) instead of just complaining on the internet. And one more thing… Noise complaint at 5:30pm? Grace him with a naughty word and hang up the phone. And the police should do worse: fine him or smth, for wasting their time and resources (which could have been better used fighting crime instead, for example) with bullshit.

  25. Looks like nothings changed since the 80’s when I was playing at venues in Newcastle CBD Probably the same person complaining as then .We put a sound meter on the band and the noise from the railway (sadly gone now) was overwhelming compared to band noise.

    Funny thing though being an old guy I was playing in one of the few Newcastle bands in the city in the 60’s. Nobody complained as they could not get enough of live music and the venues where packed .Such fun for all and the musos got paid good money

  26. the serial offender(s) – although i believe it is only one who keeps complaining about Lowlands really needs to move – maybe some quiet farmland out the back of Singleton. Maybe a community crowd funding to buy them out as they seem to be one with a problem – the dozens of other residents like me dont

  27. I used to live on Bruce St,Cooks Hill. Maybe my front door was located a perfect distance between the triangle of pubs, because I never found myself bothered by noise. Then again, I would have still been driving home from work at 5.30pm on a Monday, so I would have avoided the more extreme arvo folk style sessions of Lowlands! If anything, I’d hear the occasional fireworks and maybe a ship horn.

    Hopefully they can find a way of mediating the issue.

  28. Sounds like a serial whinger…go inside close the door turn on the television…you won’t hear the melodic sounds of the easy listening ukes…

  29. I know Lake Macquarie Council installs a meter to record noise levels if there are neighborhood disputes over noise.
    I’m sure Newcastle would have this also.
    There are strict hours which usually include later times for Sunday morning noises – so idiots don’t mow the lawn at 6am Sunday. Get a copy of the code and stick to the times and decibels allowed.
    Perhaps drop a copy in the complainants letterbox.
    If they want to take it further they can go to Council.

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