As the ever-popular Music Cafe and downstairs bistro approach their fifth month of closure, students at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music have found themselves disgruntled by the University’s lack of action in providing sufficient food and beverage alternatives.
The Music Cafe, by far the main eatery at the Conservatorium, was closed after the proprietors, Cupcakes and Canapes, made the decision to cease operations for undisclosed reasons from 17 December last year.
A University spokesperson told Honi that USyd is “currently in negotiations with the NSW Department of Education to develop a request for proposal […] for a cafe to operate on site”. However, until the details of these negotiations have been finalised, there is no indicative timeframe for when a cafe and bistro will be available at the Conservatorium. When asked about alternative food and beverage solutions, the University pointed to two existing on-campus vending machines, one for drinks and one for food.
Secretary of the Conservatorium Students Association (CSA), Meg Collis, told Honi that the vending machines do not adequately compensate for the closure of the cafe. “I think it’s unacceptable that the University won’t provide proper food options for our students. How is a packet of chips lunch?”
Third year Bachelor of Music (Performance) student, Robbie Adams, said that he rarely uses the vending machines, preferring to buy lunch outside campus, a decision that has come at some financial cost. “The food is fantastic, but it’s all pretty pricey, like $12-$20”.
Adams buys lunch from Gateway at Circular Quay. It is one of the last remaining food courts in the area, after the AMP retail plaza, a popular and relatively cheap lunch option for staff and students, shut down earlier this year.
Compared to Newtown or Haymarket, the dining precincts in Circular Quay are expensive, located in high-end shopping strips or five-star hotels. In the University’s Front of House recommendations, at least a third of the listed restaurants start their mains from $20, way outside an ordinary student’s budget.
Additionally, the cost of buying food from outside campus can be more than financial. Julia Vernes*, a former trumpeter at the Conservatorium, told Honi, “it’s important for students to have on-site food, as musicians most often stay on campus all day to practice and rehearse. Having to leave campus whenever you want something is the University not really acknowledging the specific needs of a Conservatorium student.”
The students Honi spoke to said that their request to the University is straightforward and simple. Any on-site cafe is helpful, as it saves them the task of rushing to Circular Quay and back just for a meal. They suggest, in the meantime, that the vending machines could be replaced by more substantial food options—like a food truck, or a coffee cart similar to the one outside Manning House in Camperdown campus.
Yet the absence of viable food and beverage services appears to be a part of a trend of solutions that have worked against the interests of students on satellite campuses. Last year, in spite of student concerns, the Conservatorium was included in the university-wide centralisation of admin, meaning students at the Conservatorium now have to travel to Camperdown campus for in-person advice on their specialist degrees.
A University spokesperson told Honi that USyd will “continue to work towards a solution for all parties.” It is unclear how proactive and speedy the University will be in resolving the issue. What is clear, though, is that change is needed at the Conservatorium.
“I do think many students would feel as if the University has turned somewhat of a blind eye [to student needs] after the cafe closed,” Adams said.
“It feels like the Conservatorium is becoming less of a whole and more of a limb.”
* Names have been changed.