Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Darlinghurst: Books: The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa, by Murray Waldren

Every once in a while a book is published that not only smells, feels and looks good but the story inside surpasses my usual publishing expectations. And so it was with this fine biography about Australian contemporary artist and musician, Reg Mombassa (real name: Chris O'Doherty), by writer and painter Murray Waldren, which was published one year ago. 
I'm not a big reader of biographies of men but I bought this book for three reasons:
1) It was a beautiful, tactile object with lots of pictures:

That Even Has a . . .

 . . . Dust Jacket . . .

 . . . That Unfolds . . .

 . . . To Reveal . . . 

. . . An Art Poster!

2) It was about Reg Mombassa, legendary illustrator and member of excellent band, Mental as Anything, who provided the soundtrack for my youth and who featured numerous time on the cover of Countdown magazine, which I subscribed to as a child:

Countdown magazine, February 1986, (from page 204 of the book).

3) It was $75, signed by Mombassa, written by a friend, and I thought, what the hell, if I don't like it, its heft and size could still be useful as a shield against the Mechangaroo.

Mechangaroo, by Reg Mombassa, 2001, (page 227).

So I bought the bio last November and that evening sat down at the dining table to have a look at the pictures in the book and unexpectedly stayed up reading until 3am, compelled by Mombassa's eccentric, rich and creative life. I then slept for about eight hours, woke up and continued reading, right until the very last page. I was so engrossed I even read all the acknowledgments, bibliography, discography, exhibition lists, credits, end-notes and index that are stored at the back of the book and which I would normally skip over. 
By that stage I was endlessly singing the Mentals's song Too Many Times, too many times, wishing I could play an instrument and dreaming of setting up a new Sydney art collective. The only thing I was unhappy about was that within 24 hours of buying the book I had already read every word and there was nothing left of it to read. 

Chris O'Doherty at the rear of his Oxford Street terrace, Paddington, in 1975, (pages 98-99).

Apart from the fascinating story of Mombassa's crazy character and life, the book - set in New Zealand and Sydney - also features a number of pubs, apartments and houses in Darlinghurst and the surrounding suburbs and includes references to various events in the neighbourhood.
Mombassa studied at the National Art School, housed in the Darlinghurst Gaol, and it was there he met many of the Mentals band members.
Mombassa initially lived with his parents - who immigrated to Australia from New Zealand in the late 1960s - at their home in Avalon, on Sydney's northern beaches. 
But commuting to the National Art School ''on a double-decker bus'' for two-hours was tiresome, so in the early 70s Mombassa moved in with a friend to a house in Bondi Junction, in Sydney's eastern suburbs. The other flatmates were junkies and crims and one day the house was raided by police. 
Soon after, Mombassa packed up and moved to a house in Paddington Street, Paddington, neighbouring Darlinghurst.
During this time Mombassa played bass and lead guitar in a band called, Bulldog, doing garage-band covers for weddings and parties. His circle of friends and acquaintances grew, and included Maria Hisshion, who lived in a house in Liverpool Street, Surry Hills, neighbouring Darlinghurst. Hisshion was a drug mule for the infamous Mr Asia heroin importer and she was murdered on Christmas Eve, 1975 - her body was found 12 days later in Sydney Harbour, tied to a 7kg anchor.
There are also tales of squats and squatters, wild parties and drugs during this period in Sydney's inner suburbs, with locations including the Excelsior Hotel in Surry Hills, the Cell Block Theatre at Darlinghurst Gaol, and The Settlement community centre in inner-city Chippendale.
Mombassa's future wife, Martina Woodburne, was also involved in the protest/squatter movement on Victoria Street, Potts Point, in the mid-1970s, when developers wanted to demolish historic terraces and a green-ban was imposed by the Builders Labourers Federation. Department store heiress and street-publisher Juanita Nielsen, who was noisily opposed to the development also disappeared, presumed murdered, during this time. 
In early 1972 Mombassa moved in to an ''unpleasant dark and dusty house'' in Boundary Street, Darlinghurst, for a brief spell, before relocating to a flat on Glenmore Road, Paddington.
By the age of 24 Mombassa had held his first art show at Watters Gallery in Darlinghurst's Little Italy district. Around that time he started gigging with his brother Peter O'Doherty, Martin Murphy (who lived in Caldwell Street, Darlinghurst), David Twohill and Andrew ''Greedy'' Smith, with the group soon to become known as Mental as Anything.

The band played regular gigs at Heffron Hall (pictured above), on Burton Street in Darlinghurst, Balmain Town Hall in Sydney's inner-west, and at the Tin Sheds Collective studio on City Road, near inner-city Broadway.
The book paints a picture of a lively, energetic and creative Sydney, and while memory tends to romanticise things, it appears Mombassa really has dedicated his life to art and music in a rather determined, flamboyant and enviable way.

The Mentals also played a gig with Tiny Tim at Iona, the 19th century Darlinghurst villa, in 1989, (page 255).

But this engrossing book is not just about Sydney-centric incidents and escapades. Mombassa went on to become the signature artist for Mambo clothing - thousands of people around the world wore his fashionable prints - and he later designed massive blow-up figures based on his Mambo characters for the 2000 Sydney Olympics closing ceremony. The Mentals were also one of the best-selling Australian bands of the 80s and continue to gig today. 
Yet despite these commercial and popular enterprises Mombassa remained a subversive and eccentric individual and after reading this book I now believe he is one of Australia's greatest artists.
Mombassa still plays with the Mentals but a few years ago I saw Dog Trumpet - the band he has with his brother, Peter - at the Illawarra Folk Festival, south of Sydney, and they rocked like happy-folk-hill-billys. Mombassa, using his real name, Chris O'Doherty, also continues to exhibit at the Watters Gallery. With Mombassa's seemingly endless creative output, Waldren will no doubt have to write additional chapters for the book in about 20 years. 

Author Murray Waldren, by Reg Mombassa, 2009, (from the dust jacket).
In a nice bit of serendipity blog-post-wise, Harper Collins will this week be releasing a second edition of The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa, which comes in a classy slip-case and includes a 24-month calendar featuring Mombassa's artwork. The limited edition set, pictured below, costs $50.

The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa
by Murray Waldren
Harper Collins

Watters Gallery
109 Riley Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9331 2556

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Across the Border: Potts Point: Retailers: Bang! Art + Gift

I walk by this shop on Macleay Street, in nearby Potts Point, quite regularly and can never resist going inside. The first thing that draws me in is the lovely, refreshing smell of essential oils that emanates from its doorway. But I also know that the small shop-front leads to two large rooms, filled to the ceiling with colourful and quirky gifts, home-wares and art. 

I could spend hours wandering through this shop as there is so much to look at and the stock changes regularly. There are cushions, dolls, jewellery, stationery, iPod speakers, handbags, magnets, key-rings, clocks, finger-puppets, lamps and fairy-lights, soaps, moisturisers and lots of ''novelty items'' such as little ducks that vibrate (I don't know what they are for!) and small cat figurines with pencil sharpeners in their bottoms. So there's not only lots to look at, but lots to laugh at as well. 

What I also like about Bang! is that a lot of the products are unique to the shop because the owner goes to great care to source items that can't be found anywhere else.

Bang! is a great place for buying birthday presents and other gifts because it also stocks a vast array of wrapping paper and cards. 

At the moment Bang! has the sweetest little gift cards from Korea that feature child-like drawings and the most adorable script. I bought one that has an illustration of two young women holdings hands with the line: ''Nobody knows me like you, that's why I like you. Thank you about that.''
I am going to give it to a special girlfriend. 

Bang! is owned by artist Garry McEwan, who used to have a smaller scale gallery on Darlinghurst Road, near the corner of Liverpool Street. He moved to this shop in Potts Point about three years ago, but I understand he is soon going to relocate again after the landlord increased the rent by a ridiculous sum. Apparently commercial rents on Macleay Street are going up and up, pricing out the locally-owned smaller retailers, so that soon the street will feature a strip of internationally-owned chain stores, like Dunkin' Donuts and The Gap. 
But McEwan, pictured below, is happy and optimistic and I'm sure his customers will follow wherever he goes:

At the moment, the back room of Bang! is home to an exhibition of McEwan's most recent work. Walking Manhattan - as the show is called - features 42 mixed-media works on canvas, ranging from $250 to $3000, which were inspired by a recent trip to New York. Using photographs taken on his adventure, McEwan printed the images on canvas and then highlighted areas with paint and collage to bring the pictures to life. When I visited the show a few weeks ago, many of the works had already sold. So be quick, Walking Manhattan, runs until December 25. 

Walking Manhattan, by Garry McEwan, 2010

Bang! Art + Gift
Shop 4B, 50 Macleay Street
Potts Point NSW 2011
02 9356 4319


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Across the Border: Potts Point: Hoon-Cars: 1948 MG

This classy red racer was today parked on Macleay Street, Potts Point, just next to the Fitzroy Gardens, where the Saturday markets were being held. I don't often see cars of this vintage around the area, but it was a fine day so the owner had brought it out for a spin. It reminds me of the cars that Toad of Toad Hall (from Wind in the Willows) used to gad about in and I can just imagine him taking the wheel and then crashing the car in to a tree.

The car is a 1948 MG TC and attached to the side was a little note so that passers-by could learn about the four-wheeler's fine pedigree and the kind of work involved in maintaining such a vehicle:

The note reads:
1948 MG TC
Registration Number VPV 240.
Purchased new by a Mr P.R Williams of 268 Oxford Street, Woollahra in 1948 (original metal sales plate still attached to battery box).
The car was then purchased by John and Barbara Dixon, of Mosman, date unknown.
In 1966 Mr Dixon then sold the car to Mr Cooke of North Sydney for approximately 150 Pounds.
1968: The car was taken off the road and all wood was replaced with hand-crafted, lead-primed Tasmanian Coachwood and all mechanicals that needed it replaced or rebuilt.
1972: Again taken off the road and stored on blocks.
1980: Re-sprayed in original colour.
1990: All leather replaced.
1998: Car sent to Albert Johnston to finish rebuilding and restoration. Motor rebuilt/balanced, new suspension, better quality steel crankshaft, new brakes, Datson steering box, new carburettors, both 16- and 19-inch wheels rebuilt, new stainless steel exhaust, new waterproof cloth hood and new side curtains and canvas tonneau-cover.
2000: Car registered and travelled 3000 miles, until . . . 
2005: After owning it for 40 years, Mr Cooke then sold the car to its present custodian (Car lives happily ever after).

I was extremely lucky to be allowed to sit behind the wheel of the car (I think it was because I once gave the owner's dog, Sunny, some of my breakfast bacon):

And then, even better, the owner took me for a drive around the block, and with the wind in my hair and Sunny on my lap, we cruised along Elizabeth Bay Road. Ah, happy days in Darlinghurst.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Darlinghurst: Heritage Items: 10-20 Oxford Square

10-20 Oxford Square
- Register of the National Estate, City of Sydney Council Heritage List
I mainly know this square as being the former home of Rogues nightclub, which was this dork, but very popular, dance-music venue that ran from sometime in the 1980s, until morphing in to the equally dork The Gaff nite-spot a few years ago.
I never knew this area - which fronts on to Oxford Street - was called Oxford Square until I discovered the Register of the National Estate list, and after digging around on the Heritage Branch website, I have learned a little more about this historic place.
The area was once part of Burton Street, but in 1887 it acquired the name Oxford Square.
The Victorian Free Classical-style building at 10-20 Oxford Square was owned by the Burdekin family - who were a major landholder in the area - and has the date, 1886, carved in to its parapet. Because this was the year prior to the establishment of Oxford Square, historians have concluded that the Burdekins were responsible for pushing for the area's name change - but they admit there is no documentary evidence to prove this.
I don't really mind so much who changed the name.
The property is also known as the SILF Company buildings - SILF being an acronym for the Sydney Investment Land and Finance company - although those same historians can't find any evidence that SILF ever resided at 10-20 Oxford Square.
Thomas Burdekin left London for Australia in 1828 to set up the local arm of the Burdekin and Hawley ironmongers and merchants. Business must have boomed, for in the ensuing years Mr Burdekin purchased vast tracts of real estate throughout NSW.
When he died in 1844, his fourth son, Sydney Burdekin, inherited the land at Oxford Square. Four years after the building at 10-20 was constructed, Sydney was appointed Lord Mayor of Sydney, a position he held for 16 months until April 1891.
When Sydney died eight years later, the property passed on to his wife, Catherine.
In 1906 the property was purchased by the City of Sydney Council as part of civic improvements and road-widening of Oxford Street.
Over the next 49 years the building remained in council hands until it was sold off in 1958.
Like many historic structures, the two-storey building suffered due to its use as a commercial building, the continual changing of ownership and the dozen or so building applications that naturally follow that change.
The building is presently home to The Gaff, Arum Hair Salon and a doctor's surgery. 
While the top floor of its facade is mostly intact, the ground-floor shopfronts have been modified haphazardly without any thought of the building as a whole. The Gaff's ghastly orange signage is a fine example of this ruin - I'm surprised business owners don't give more consideration to their signage and how it sits on a heritage building.
I have firm ideas about signage and believe the reason the beautiful 1913 Kings Cross Hotel, at 248 William Street, recently closed (less than two years after it was given a multi-million dollar refurbishment) was because of its tacky signage, which was at odds with its stunning heritage exterior.
As an aside, a company called Repeller Nominees purchased the Kings Cross Hotel in 2002 for $8.5 million and after spending a fortune on its re-fit, sold it in October last year for $12.55 million . . .  but more on that in another post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Darlinghurst: Animal Life: Royston Street's Cat

This cat may appear innocent, scratching his ear on the footpath, but be warned: this cat is very naughty. He's always lurking around Royston Street and when I'm leaving home, I'm quite happy to say meow and stop for a chat. But when I'm returning, I dare not even make eye-contact for fear that he will follow me all the way to my door and then slink inside my building. 
It's happened previously and it was rather annoying, because once inside, he refused to leave and I had to chase him up the stairwell, draw him close and then grab him by the scruff and transport him back outside. 
After that episode, I stopped talking to him, so he tried a new tactic. Playing dead:

The first time I saw him lying there like that, still as a piece of wood, I thought he had been hit by a motorbike and rushed to his aid. But when I went to check his pulse, he rolled over with a long meeeooow, stood up and then wiggled his tail in the air, pleased that he had fooled me. Then he followed me to my building and bolted inside when the door was open. Once again I had to find him, grab him and put him back outside. 
These days, I have had enough of his tricks, so when I see him I clap my hands - once, loudly - and watch him run like the clappers back to his own home:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Darlinghurst: Art and Culture: King Street Gallery on William: Rod McRae's Heart of the Matter

Walk along William Street on any Friday or Saturday night and it's like a zoo with plenty of gorillas, baboons and apes wandering around without their shirts on and leering at the female of their species. The mating call is usually something along the lines of, ''Hello, ladieees,'' which is accompanied by the gorilla, baboon or ape sticking their tongue out and flapping it up and down. It's an unusual ritual, quite disturbing to see really. 
But while there are plenty of these hairy primates on William Street, never before have I encountered zebras, lions or polar bears . . .  that was, until Wednesday night when I passed by the large windows of King Street Gallery on William.
The gallery was closed, but peering out its windows at me peering in, were an assortment of wild animals. I was transfixed. This was taxidermy of the likes of which I have never seen. 
The dead animals were stuffed and arranged in unlikely settings by New Zealand-born artist Rod McRae, who I believe lives in Darlinghurst. The photograph above shows one such artwork, Mommie Dearest, which has a lioness sitting in maternal pose, caring for a group of little lambs.
Before you have visions of the artist roaming around Africa sourcing his materials with a shotgun, it must be said, all the animals are ''ethically sourced'' and died naturally.
Having said that, it must have taken a bloody long time to gather the rabbit ears used in this artwork:

Rabbits Heart to Heart, by Rod McRae, 2010

And the zebra foal? According to this Sydney Morning Herald story, the zebra was a stillborn.

Are you my Mother? By Rod McRae, 2010.

McRae's work, according to his own artistic statement, is to challenge our ideas about the environment and climate change. This idea or goal is most evident in the work below, which shows a polar bear balancing atop a refrigerator: 

Crying Out Loud in the Age of Stupid, by Rod McRae, 2010.

But it's such a terrible photograph, taken as it was at night, through the window of the gallery, with my little point-and-shoot set on zoom. Yet, just seeing the works through the window set off my imagination, so I can't wait to go and see them properly when the gallery is open. . .

UPDATE: I went to see this amazing and challenging show today and while I would have liked to walk away with Dome of Doom ($1200 and already sold) - a bird's nest holding three eggs, guarded by two small birds, with large, furry spiders climbing a branch towards it - or a print of Operation Foxtrot ($1100, pictured below), or Blessed are the Meek ($1400) - a perfect lamb with a bone in its mouth - I could only afford to take home a copy of a free glossy flier, with an essay about McRae's Heart of the Matter.

Operation Foxtrot, by Rod McRae, 2010

The essay, by artist, writer and University of Sydney lecturer, Court Williams, shed some light on this fascinating show. The most interesting information, for me at least, was that the bunny ears from Rabbit Heart to Heart, were collected from an abattoir, and are basically by-products of the rabbit meat industry. The figures on which the rabbit ears are mounted, are holding pace-makers, which are salvaged from dead bodies because the electronic devices can not be put through the cremation process. It's so fascinating, I now want to see the show again.

Heart of the Matter, by Rod McRae, runs until December 11, 2010.


King Street Gallery on William
177 William Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9360 9727

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Kings Cross Library

I'm not a bad person. I don't get into fist-fights, or throw rubbish out the window of my car, or say too many nasty things about people. I move around the world with the best intentions. But sometimes life and other circumstances overcome me and things happen, which I don't necessarily want to happen. And I don't know how it reached this point, or this level of badness, but I have a library book that is 4.5 years overdue:

It would probably be more blog-appropriate if this book was about the writer's time in Darlinghurst during the early part of the 20th century. But this seriously researched, niche, non-fiction work, by Joseph Davis, is about D.H. Lawrence's time in Thirroul, near Wollongong on the NSW south coast, during the winter of 1922. It was in that season when Lawrence and his dear wife, Frieda, stayed at a little holiday cottage called, Wyewurk.
During their short stay at the bungalow overlooking the sea, Lawrence wrote Kangaroo, his only book about Australia, which contains evocative, painterly descriptions of the Illawarra escarpment and coastline (please read this paragraph aloud, the writing demands it):

''He loved to wander in the bush at evening, when night fell so delicately yet with such soft mystery. Then the sky behind the trees was all soft, rose pink, and the great gum trees ran up their white limbs into the air like quicksilver, plumed at the tips with dark tufts. Like rivulets the white boughs ran up from the white trunk; or like great nerves, with nerve like articulations, branching into the dusk. . . . And so the great tree-covered swoop upwards of the tor, to the red fume of clouds, red like the flame-flowers, of sunset.''

That last line, so good, is even engraved on a little plaque attached to a rock at a reserve a few doors up from Wyewurk, which still stands at 3 Craig Street, Thirroul, thanks to the D. H. Lawrence Society of Australia
But please, let me try to explain how a book, from Kings Cross Library, remained in my possession long past its return date and then, perhaps, you can forgive me:

It appears I checked the book out at 12.59pm on the 18th of March, 2006, which I believe was a Saturday: 

And the book was due to be returned just two weeks later on April 8. 

But a year later I left Sydney for a period of two-and-a-half years and D.H. Lawrence at Thirroul became lost in the mess that is my bookcase. There's really no excuse for my tardiness. I knew the book was there and needed to be returned and this task hung over my head like an un-submitted tax return. As the days and years passed I worried about how I would return the book. I know you must be thinking, ''Just slip it in the returns slot, you idiot!''
But that would mean I would have an overdue fine hanging-over my head, which at this late stage, at 25c for each day overdue, would amount to somewhere in the vicinity of $385.
And because I couldn't afford such a grand sum, I would never be able to show my face in the Kings Cross Library again, and all of their many wonderful books would be off limits:

Even so, that was already the case. But that was fine, because I was laying low, living in another city, far, far away, where local library staff had no idea about my shameful past, and unknowingly issued me with a library card so I could borrow all the books I liked.
But I still felt terrible guilt as I imagined the following scenario: A young borrower, curious about D.H. Lawrence and his time in Thirroul, skips up to Kings Cross Library one sunny day in search of a book that will sate their interest. They pop on to the computer and run a catalogue search - ''D.H. Lawrence" and "Thirroul" - and bang, instantly a book appears with just such a title. The good borrower beams, jots down the catalogue number and with a bounce in their step heads over to the appropriate bookcase to find the book . . . missing. The good borrower goes to the counter to seek help from library staff, who in turn jab their keyboard for a bit and then, with a shake of their head, say, ''Sorry mate, that one's long overdue. Some idiot took it out years ago and hasn't returned it.'' 
The good borrower's dream of a Lawrentian life in Thirroul evaporates.

So why didn't I just stick the damn book in the returns slot? Because I always knew that one day I would move back to the neighbourhood and figured I would deal with the issue then. And the more I thought about returning the book, the harder it became.
I even dreamt up a plan of a book amnesty, whereby I would bravely walk to the borrowing counter and admit my terrible deed, profess my deep shame and give my heartfelt apologies to the the Kings Cross librarians. 
They in turn would take pity on me, agree to the amnesty and ask me to hand over the book.
It was the best idea I could come up with, so with such intent and purpose I set off today to the library on Darlinghurst Road.
The Kings Cross library first opened to book-lovers in 1958 in a custom-designed building, known as the Florence Bartley Library, with an entry-way on Fitzroy Gardens. The building, designed by then Sydney City Council architects, was so wonderful that the very same year it won the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architecture. Other winners of the medal include Joern Utzon, for the Sydney Opera House (a commemorative award in 1992), the glassy Patrick Bingham-Hall designed NIDA building in Kensington, in Sydney's south-east (2002) and the striking Renzo Piano building on Phillip Street in the Sydney CBD (2004).
Sir Sulman, an art-loving architect who died in 1934 also left a bequest for painters, The Sir John Sulman Prize for best mural/subject/genre painting, which is announced and celebrated each year alongside the famous Archibald Portrait Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.
But Sulman's post-death imprimatur, and protests by the South Sydney Heritage Society, were not enough to save the Florence Bartley building, which was demolished in 1997 to make way for developers.
I don't know who Florence Bartley was, nor can I recall what the building looked like - history often vanishes without a trace. Perhaps there's a book at Kings Cross Library that could enlighten me? But sadly, at this present time, that source is unavailable.
From 1997 to 2003 the library was temporarily housed in the Rex Hotel building, at 50-55 Macleay Street. The Rex Hotel, which overlooks Fitzroy Gardens, was once one of the swellest drinking places in the Cross, serving cocktails since the 1950s. The Rex remained a hotel until 2001, when new owners employed architectural firm, Burley, Katon, Halliday to convert the building into apartments. By 2003 when this work was complete, the library was booted out and was homeless for a few months until moving into a shopfront at 61 Darlinghurst Road, sandwiched between a sex-shop and a strip joint.
I think this was a fine home for a library and in such a spot could have attracted a diverse new range of members.
But the City of Sydney council was busy beavering away developing the library a new home, across the strip, at 50-52 Darlinghurst Road, a building they already co-owned with supermarket chain Woolworths and which they bought out wholly in 2001 for $9.75 million.
The four-storey building, dating to 1939, is listed on the council's heritage register and is described on the Heritage Branch website as a being built in the inter-war Functionalist style and has a great recorded history.
A year prior, in 1938, the site's sale made the real estate pages in the Sydney Morning Herald when supermarket chain, Woolworths, purchased the land for 640 pounds per foot - ''a record for this area".
The paper said the site was home to the Santa Barbara Cafe, three shops and an old three-storey terrace. Woolworths paid agent L.J. Hooker 38,000 pounds cash for the lot.
''The company does not propose to build immediately,'' the Herald said.
''But has bought the property with a view to future development.''
The Herald was wrong. The same year, Woolworths employed architects Crawford H Mackellar and Bruce F Partridge to design the building that stands today, with its green-grey tile facade.

From the National Library of Australia Archives

Kings Cross Woolworths officially opened, right before Christmas, on December 7, 1939. Crowds ''thronged'' the store and the air tinkled furiously with the sound of cash-registers.
According to the valuable Heritage Branch website, newspapers reported at the time:

"The store level is described as 'beautifully lighted' with a combination of natural light through spacious windows and a unique neon installation. There was 183m of counter space, finished in blonde Queensland Oak, which accommodated 24 departments. 
"The basement was organised as a store-room, linked with the store level by means of a goods-lift for transferring stock. Incoming goods were unloaded at Kellett Street down a broad chute. 
"The first floor contained a modern restaurant and coffee lounge known as, The Balcony, with serving tables and public accommodation based on the latest American style."

The Balcony Restaurant - National Library of Australia

"There was a store-room/pantry running the full length of the northern wall, which provided heating and cooling chambers for food. No cooking was done on this floor. Cooked food came down in a lift from the third floor and was transferred to the heating or cooling chambers. All the latest hot and cold drink and ice cream machines were installed.
"The second floor was set apart for staff, with toilets, wash-basins, lockers, luncheon rooms and rest seats.
"The third floor contained a modern bake-house. This kitchen and bakery was equipped to supply edible goods to both the Kings Cross store and restaurant as well as the metropolitan Woolworths stores."

During World War 2 the first floor restaurant was used as a canteen for the Australian Combined Services and after the war was over, Woolworths leased the floor to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) for use as a rehearsal space for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The restaurant was ripped out and the space was redesigned by architect and acoustic consultant H. Vivian Taylor to create a large orchestral studio, conductors' rooms and a musicians' lounge, which opened on to the balcony overlooking Darlinghurst Road. 

In 1949 the ABC's news and music departments moved into the building's second and third floors respectively. 

Seven years later then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies visited the building to officially open the ABC's television services.

The ABC moved out of the building in 1985, and over the next dozen years or so the space was leased out to various film companies.
Following extensive renovations to the building's interior, the King Cross Library officially opened its doors in December 2004. 
The ground floor is occupied by a City of Sydney council shopfront where residents can organise parking permits and what-not, while the library is spread out over the first floor and a small mezzanine area. The library's flooring is the original parquetry from the Woolworths restaurant and the little balcony is still there, but the council's fixtures are pretty revolting. The check-out desk is like a prop from a Wiggles show, and looks like a giant jellybean. 
Nevertheless that is where I stood today, anxiously waiting for a librarian to come and take my confession. A brown-haired librarian approached. I gave them my best smile and pushed the book forward on the counter.
''I'm so sorry,'' I said.
''But this book is four-and-a-half years overdue.''
The librarian kind of shrugged and said, ''Well, the maximum overdue fee is $10''.
Oh, really?
''Am I allowed to still borrow books or am I banned?'' And then I added, ''I'm really sorry about the overdue book.''
The librarian just shrugged again, as if they didn't take my misdemeanour personally.
''Do you want to pay the fine now?'' they said.
''Do you still have your old card? If not, I can just issue you with a new one.''
So that was that then. A rather anti-climactic end to 4.5 years of worry.
I paid the $10 and walked off with my new library card.

Kings Cross Library
Level 1, 50-52 Darlinghurst Road
Kings Cross NSW 2011
02 9246 4530

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Darlinghurst: Heritage Items: Burton Family Hotel

Burton Family Hotel
- Register of the National Estate, City of Sydney Council Heritage List
Now home to the Carhartt Store clothing boutique this corner building at 20 Burton Street was built as a hotel in the rum-soaked years of 1883-84.
I'd love to step back in time, loosen my corset and have a cold pilsener at the Burton Family Hotel bar, which isn't too far from my Stoneleigh mansion.
I have a hunch the mid-Victorian building still belongs to the original owners, as the NSW Heritage Branch refers to its ''long term single family ownership'', while the title can not be found in basic, online real estate databases.
I love its large, ground-floor windows and corner entrance and the fact that it has clung to this hilly site for about 125 years.
Because of the hill, the building has three-storeys fronting Burton Street and four-storeys on Riley Street.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Darlinghurst: Animal Life: Digger The Dog

This happy little dog, called Digger, lives on Craigend Street, just around the corner from my home on Royston Street. When it's not raining and he happens to be at home, he can usually be found loitering around on his perfectly manicured patch of grass at the front of his terrace house.
Digger is one of the friendliest dogs in Darlinghurst. When I walk by he never fails to run up and say hello and give me his best dog-beaky smile. If you happen to see him, say Woof for me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Darlinghurst: Detritus: Christmas Tree

It's officially Christmas in Darlinghurst!
I took this photograph at Taylor Square this evening. 
Happy Christmas dear readers!
And don't worry, I won't be writing a history of Christmas trees in the area.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Animal Life: Ibis

There's been a lot of talk in the neighbourhood recently about Ibis poo. The droppings of this big white bird are apparently one justification for the City of Sydney council's proposed redevelopment of Fitzroy Gardens in Kings Cross. It seems many residents can't bear the white Jackson Pollock-style sprays of Ibis excrement splashed about the gardens.
Sure, there are bird droppings here and there, but in all the times I have been in Fitzroy Gardens I have never actually been hit by an Ibis projectile (although I have been shat on by a pigeon).

I was discussing Ibis and Ibis poo recently with some friends, as we sat just metres away from one's nest in Fitzroy Gardens, and it made me realise I knew very little about the bird at all. 
Call me a fool, but I thought they migrated from Egypt during their northern hemisphere winter and returned home in time for summer. Because of this I had always thought they were such exotic, worldly birds. But the Ibis I was thinking of was actually the Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis Aethiopicus), which was worshipped and even mummified by Ancient Egyptians, who saw the bird as a symbol of the god Thoth, the patron deity of knowledge, writing, scribes and secrets.
Ancestors of this mythical bird now reside in sub-Saharan Africa and south-eastern Iraq and don't carry suitcases or Australian visas, preferring instead to build stick-nests in Baobab trees by the edge of waterholes in their homeland. They are also said to eat frogs, insects, small mammals and, curiously, other birds.
The Kings Cross Ibis is from the same family but seems to enjoy eating anything it can scavenge out of public garbage bins, much like rats do.

The Kings Cross bird is actually known as the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis Molucca) and originates from inland Australia, according to Michael Morcombe's Field Guide to Australian Birds.
In NSW the birds liked to splash around the Macquarie Marshes in the northwest of the state but in the late 1970s, when inland Australia was ravaged by drought, the water-wading birds began migrating to coastal cities such as Sydney, Wollongong - on the NSW south coast - and even the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Hungry and thirsty after living in drought affected areas, the Ibis set up their Sydney nests in places like Centennial Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, where water was plentiful and food could be pinched from groups of picnickers or nipped with their long beaks out of open garbage bins.
In the late 1990s, when drought again hit inland Australia, there was another Ibis push into the cities and their growing population began to disturb some residents.
City people couldn't bear these feral country birds' pungent smell or their nosy nature and began to regard the poor, refugee Ibis as a pest. 
During the early part of the 21st century, local councils conducted culls of the birds in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Centennial Park and Darling Harbour, in which Ibis nests were dragged out of trees and the eggs crushed. In Bankstown, in Sydney's west, a professional pest exterminator was called in to shoot Ibis that were living on an island at Lake Gillawarna.
This extreme action prompted animal behaviourist, Ursula Munro, from Sydney's University of Technology to speak out on behalf of the birds:

''They are in trouble and we need to look after them,'' Dr Munro told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2006.
''It may be that the only viable colonies we have are the ones in the big cities at the moment.
''Theoretically, if we keep on destroying them we could force these birds into extinction.''

In 1998, there were 11,000 breeding pairs of Ibis in the Macquarie Marshes and two years later, there were none. And even though the drought is now over, they haven't been back to the marshland since.
A 2006 count suggested there were just 3500 Ibis living in Sydney, but Dr Munro told the Herald their numbers were much less. So where have all the Ibis gone?
Frankly, I don't care about Ibis poo anymore, I just care about the poor, unloved, native Ibis.