Monday, January 31, 2011

Darlinghurst: Public Transport: Village to Village Bus

If you have been reading My Darling Darlinghurst for a while, you may know about my passion for the 311 Bus; that wonder on wheels that glides through the suburb like a phantom. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't, sometimes you can hail it, but most of the time it never appears and you are left wondering if the 311 ever existed at all. 
But while I love the 311 Mystery Bus, recently a new people-mover has been vying for my patronage. The Village to Village Bus runs through the neighbourhood on Thursdays and Fridays. It begins its route down at the Mary Macdonald Activity Centre on Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo and then moves up through Kings Cross, Darlinghurst and on to Central Station and Redfern.
So it traverses much the same route as the 311 but unlike the 311, the Village to Village Bus costs absolutely nothing for a ride. Yes, it's hard to believe, but some things in life are still free. 
So now, at the end of the week while going to work, instead of seeing this:

I see this:

It's a much cosier ride and the driver is really chatty. Because it is a small bus, whenever I catch it, I feel like I am part of some weird church group or school student going off on a day trip to the museum. It definitely has that community bus vibe about it. The bus takes the community route too, stopping at St Vincent's Hospital:

The Village to Village Bus first began spinning its wheels through the streets of Sydney in 2007, with a limited route between Redfern, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on the outskirts of Newtown, and inner city Glebe. 
It is run by the South Sydney Community Transport group and funded by the City of Sydney council as a means for residents without cars to connect to shops, health care and other services. 
The Woolloomooloo to Redfern service, which I catch, was established in 2008 and last year they extended the route to include Onslow and Billyard avenues in Elizabeth Bay. 
The council committed a further grant of $36,000 in the last budget to keep the service going. But I imagine they won't continue the funding unless people catch it, so if you happen to see it cruising along, make sure you flag it down and go for a free ride. 

Village to Village Bus
Every Thursday and Friday
Woolloomooloo to Redfern

(use the times as a guide to the stops in between)
8am: Mary Macdonald Activity Centre 
8.15am: St Vincent's Hospital
8.45am: Poets Corner, Redfern
9.45am: Mary Macdonald Activity Centre
10am: St Vincent's Hospital
10.30am: Poets Corner, Redfern
11.30am: Mary Macdonald Activity Centre 
11.45am: St Vincent's Hospital
12.15pm: Poets Corner, Redfern
1.30pm: Mary Macdonald Activity Centre 
1.45pm: St Vincent's Hospital
2.15pm: Poets Corner, Redfern
3.15pm: Mary Macdonald Activity Centre 
3.30pm: St Vincent's Hospital
4pm: Poets Corner, Redfern

The Village to Village bus stops at most of the usual bus stops.
There are also four trips in the reverse direction. 
Timetables are available from the bus and from the council's website here.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Darlinghurst: Apartment Buildings: The Westbury

The Westbury apartment building, at 221-223 Darlinghurst Road was once a private hotel, known as The Imperial, with a colourful bunch of permanent residents, among them, many sailors who worked out of Woolloomooloo.
The six-storey building was built in the early 20th century and in the 1980s mid-1990s was converted in to an apartment building with 65 units. 
Whenever I have been apartment-hunting in Darlinghurst, I have often noticed rentals available in the Westbury but I was warned off even doing an inspection as I was told the studios were tiny. 
But now, after checking out the building last weekend, I am wondering if perhaps I could have handled living in a smaller space if only to have access to the Westbury's excellent rooftop swimming pool.

The not-for-profit Australia's Open Garden Scheme organisation last week launched its 2011 program by inviting people to have a sticky beak at the relatively new $638,000 rooftop garden at The Westbury. 
Entry cost $6 with the funds raised going to charity. 
I couldn't resist, so set off with my horticulturalist friend, Ruby Molteno, to have a snoop around The Westbury. 

The corridors of endless doors are just like those in an old-fashioned hotel with gaudy red carpet and eggplant- and peppermint-coloured two-tone walls.

A lift took us up to level six where we then skipped up a flight of stairs to the rooftop. 

Australia's Open Garden Scheme's primary sponsor is the ABC, which promotes the scheme's various events through their radio stations and website. So the small crowd of 25 or so people looked just like your stereotypical ABC listener: slightly left leaning, opinionated baby-boomers. 
The crowd was there to check out the garden and to also listen to a talk by the roof's landscape architect, Mark Harper (the chap standing in the middle with the brown hat), from Atlantis Design. As usual, with such talks, people like to ask questions, which is fine by me. But one man in the crowd appeared to be fed up with people asking questions during the talk and kept on huffing, ''Can't they wait until the end to ask questions''. 
I could barely hear what Mr Harper was saying anyway, so Ruby and I decided to ditch the talk to go and explore the garden.

The stand-out part of the garden is this swimming pool, which has an infinity edge that looks across to Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge clearly visible. To give you an idea on how the design has improved, here is a picture of the old swimming pool:

Looks pretty dinky, and apparently the pool was leaking, causing all sorts of bother. 

The rest of the garden design is in the Clover Moore functionalist-style, with lots of flat, grey granite surfaces, neat, squared-off corners and six varieties of the ground-dwelling plant, Sedum.

There are also three Red Frangipani (Plumeria acutifolia) trees, surrounded by water-tolerant Agave (Foxtail) and Senecio (Chalky Sticks) plants. In order to stop the frangipani trees from blowing over in the wind, they had to have chains tied to their trunks, which have then been screwed in to the bases of the planter boxes. Wind is the biggest problem on roof gardens, which is why most of the plants are so low down on the ground. Even so, Ruby and I thought there was way too much use of Sedum, especially when small shrubs could have probably been used in areas sheltered by the wall (below left): 

Ruby and I both prefer wilder and more natural looking gardens, one of which we happened to spy on the roof of a nearby building:

But another important factor behind Mr Harper's design was to create something that was low-maintenance. Most residents were apparently not interested in watering and weeding the garden, even though I would have put my hand up in a flash. I love the smell of a watered garden at the end of a hot day. 
The  sleek new Westbury roof garden and swimming pool does puts its southern neighbour to shame:

The northern neighbour's roof was even worse, with a curious collection of handbags:

One of the greatest things about The Westbury roof was the views. Oh my goodness it was good to see Darlinghurst from above. The Top of the Town looked like a box for collecting insect specimens:

The Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross looked like a toy:

But best of all were the good spying opportunities down to Star Car Wash, Victoria Street and St John's Church:

And there's this especially sneaky view of Iona:

''The Green Roof'' Facts:
Roof Area: 460sqm
Construction Cost: $510,000 ($1200/sqm)
Project Cost: $638,000 ($1500/sqm)

Australia's Open Garden Scheme

Mark Harper, Landscape Architect
Atlantis Design
02 8507 0288

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Retailers: Russell Sharp the Flower King

For the past 30-odd years, Russell Sharp has been the self-styled ''King of Flowers'' or ''Friend of Flowers'', surrounding his working life with bloomin' colourful and fragrant buds. What a marvellous life to have.
I have always been a big fan of flowers and one of my earliest and happiest memories is of burying myself in a large patch of freesias that grew beside my first childhood home. I would hide in there for hours, breathing in the flowers' sweet peppery fragrance and pretending no one could see me.
As a young adult, my friends and I, armed with scissors, would trawl the roadside around our neighbourhood picking enormous bunches of freesias, which grew like wildflowers.
Now, when I am rich, my apartment is filled with cut flowers and when I am poor, there is always still at least one small vase of gorgeous blooms. As I see it, flowers are a cheap and harmless form of anti-depressant (but to this day, I have never been able to bring myself to actually pay for freesias).
When I asked Sharp about how he has managed to stay in the same business for over 30 years, he said it was because he loved flowers and liked talking to people and his job combines these two simple pleasures.

Russell Sharp doesn't actually have a retail shop but operates out of this customised truck, which transports him, his market tables, umbrellas and stock between various market locations around Sydney. So if you happen to see this truck cruising by, just imagine the petalled jewels contained within.
When I visited Sharp on Sunday at Kings Cross Markets in Fitzroy Gardens, he took me across the road for an inspection of the truck, which is fitted out with all kinds of contraptions to transport his stall safely. That big square pipe in the middle is used for holding his umbrellas. 

But he wasn't happy that the truck was empty and sent me this photograph of the fully-stocked mobile flower vehicle:

You may have seen Sharp selling flowers from the back of this truck on Friday afternoons at Foveaux Street in Surry Hills, but he only sells from there occasionally and usually sets up a stall at markets in neighbouring Kings Cross and north of Sydney at Kirribilli, Crows Nest and North Sydney. 
I often visit him on Sundays at the Kings Cross Markets in Fitzroy Gardens to pick up my weekly dose of floral medication. This week I was heading off to a party and stopped to buy some white dahlias for the host. 

But there was also these freakishly enormous sunflowers.

As well as river lillies, roses, lysianthus (above), oriental lillies and these hyper-coloured, black-centred flowers for $5, which I don't know the name of:

Because Sharp is such a top bloke (check out his business philosophy on his website) he has generously offered a special freebie for readers of My Darling Darlinghurst. All you have to do is purchase some flowers from his stall at the Kings Cross Market on a Sunday, mention My Darling Darlinghurst and he will give you one of his lovely hessian flower-carrier-bags, worth $5, for free! 
The bags are designed to carry flowers and have a plastic lining to stop water seeping through. But they are also a generous size and I have found them perfect for carting groceries or other baggage around the neighbourhood. 
The straps are long enough to fling over your shoulder and the cream cotton alongside the hessian with the aqua-blue logo print is tres French market chic.

Russell Sharp - The Flower King
Sundays: 7.30am to 5.30pm
Kings Cross Market
Fitzroy Gardens
Macleay Street
Kings Cross NSW 2010
0410 503 039

Monday, January 24, 2011

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Reader Story: Adrian Bell and his Street Photography

Santa's Little Helper, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

''Sure is lots of interesting people around the area. Often it's the ones you least expect to be the most interesting. Ones who brag are only after attention.'' - Adrian Bell, 2011.

It's easy enough taking pictures of buildings, books and buses for my blog, but portraits of people are another matter that require certain conversational skills and patience that I have yet to master. 
Adrian Bell, 61 (''but I feel a hellava lot older''), has been living in the Kings Cross area for the past 35 years and has mastered that talent, having taken thousands of photographs of people on the street as well as learning their stories.
Bell studied photography at TAFE for a short time but said it was ''so boring, I'd go to sleep''. Instead, he just went out and took photographs and learned the craft the best way you can: not through books and lectures, but by practice.
''I like photographing anywhere,'' Bell told My Darling Darlinghurst.
''But there are lots of characters at the Cross and I can be more sneaky with it.
''People are an interesting species, I like to look at them and wonder what makes them tick.''
Bell's equipment includes a Canon compact camera with 10x zoom, a Canon 300D and a Canon 30D. He also has studio lighting, flash packs and tungsten globes. 
''My favourite subject is girls,'' he says.
''Faces I like best.''

Brown Sugar (Gemma), Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

The Strip, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

Adrian took the photograph above outside the old Westpac Bank building on Darlinghurst Road. The building is now home to the Sugar Mill Hotel.

Animal and ''Radio John'', Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

Adrian says Radio John's health has ''gone downhill'' since this photograph was taken and he is now living in a nursing home. Kings Cross Biker Randall ''Animal'' Nelson continues his good work in the neighbourhood, which includes regular toy-runs for hospitals and schools and other charity work.

Norman, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

''I'd give Norman cigs because he didn't ask,'' Bell says.
''Very polite fellow, non violent. I asked him about the marks on his body, which would occur often, and he said they were from fighting. Not his nature at all. Because he was non-violent, people would bash him. I went to the Kings Cross bikie toy-run on December 19 to be told that Norman was bashed and had been taken to hospital, where he died from internal bleeding. Hit me later. Poor fella, he was 44-years-old.''

John ''Pal'' O'Connor, died in 2008 aged 45, photograph by Adrian Bell

Violet says: I first met John O'Connor when I lived in Redfern in the late 1990s. I had noticed someone had been going through my garbage bins and leaving the rubbish strewn across the street, which the local dogs then had a fine time dragging around. One day I saw John going through the bins and I went outside and asked him why he was doing it and what he was looking for. He said, in the saddest voice I have ever heard, ''I can't help myself, ever since my friend died . . .''.
I vividly remember him showing me one of the things he had salvaged from the rubbish. It was the little insert tab from a box of tissues, which you remove to access the tissues. It had a picture of flowers on it and he said he was going to stick it on his wall. 
Later when I was living in Darlinghurst I would see John all the time, wandering down the middle of Victoria Street carrying his plastic bags. When John died in 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph ran stories about his death. 
I'm so glad Adrian captured him on film, as he was then. I wonder what other treasures and stories Adrian has in his archive. 

All photographs copyright Adrian Bell, 2011. 
If you would like to contact Adrian about his work, please send an email to

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Darlinghurst: Food: The Owl House

Night owls who don't like night clubs are hooting it up in Darlinghurst and the surrounding suburbs at the moment thanks to the City of Sydney council's new liquor laws, which make it easier for cafes to gain licenses to serve alcohol. 
Small bars with loads of character and cute names are popping up everywhere. For starters Darlinghurst has Pocket Bar (13 Burton Street), Ching A Lings (133 Oxford Street) and the Shady Pines Saloon (5/256 Crown Street), while Surry Hills has the Absinthe Salon (87 Albion Street) and Potts Point has Velluto (50 Macleay Street) amongst others.
Even so, I still miss Barons!
The Owl House opened less than a fortnight ago, sandwiched between a brothel and a gym-clothes shop on the William Street end of Crown Street.
My friend Ruby Molteno is a dedicated night owl, so when she spotted The Owl House last week, she was determined we go and visit and see if this new bar was perhaps her spiritual home. The only problem is The Owl House is only open to midnight, which doesn't seem very night-owlish at all.

The Owl House is spread across two floors with a ten-seater bar taking up most of the space downstairs, while upstairs there is a room with a mix of communal seating areas, tables for two or four and a small veranda that can seat two couples.

I like being where the action is, so we each grabbed a bar stool at the downstairs bar and set to work perusing the cute homemade menu that was held together with a length of wool.

The Owl House is owned by former New Yorker Amir Halpert and former Brit Paul Coulli, with chef Ruddy Nurkoo making North African inspired tapas. 
Surprisingly, The Owl House did not take advantage of the new liquor laws and instead holds a restaurant license because, Amir told us, he wants the emphasis to be on good food and drink, rather than booze alone. 
There are about a dozen items on the menu, which starts at $5 for a bowl of mixed olives and goes to $16 for a braised lamb shoulder in red wine with baby vegetables and chat potatoes.
We wanted to order the steamed zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and mint, over crushed peas ($8) and the braised chicken drumsticks on apricot, pistachio and coriander cous cous ($14). But they were both sold out. 
Luckily, they still had the garlic prawns, pan-fried in white wine and roasted garlic butter ($13):

And the portobello mushroom stuffed with ricotta, porcini, served with rocket yoghurt foam and balsamic glaze ($9):

As well as the Shakshuka, a mix of fried tomato and capsicum, baked with quail eggs and served with Iggy's sourdough bread ($9):

That's Amir laughing in the photograph above, because he thought he was escaping the prying lens of my camera. When not mixing drinks Amir doubled as happy, welcoming and talkative host. Ruby and I were having a jolly good time too because the food was excellent and the service even better.
One of my pet hates is flat sparkling wine. You can't imagine the number of times, stony-faced bar staff have filled my glass with the dregs of the bottle and then expected me to not only pay for it, but to drink it too. Flat sparking wine = migraine. 
There is no way I am touching the stuff and I always feel insulted when bar staff pour me a glass of flatness and don't even seem to notice. That inevitably means I have to ask them kindly to please pour me a fresh glass, which always seems to bother them, as if they can't see what is wrong with it in the first place. And it makes me appear as if I am some annoying, complaining hag, when all I want is the drink I am paying for.
My other pet drinking hate is when they pour wine from two bottles in to the one glass. Argh! Don't mix it, I almost yell. 
Anyway, I was so happy when Amir poured me a glass of sparkling wine, realised it was flat, and then immediately tossed it down the sink and opened a fresh bottle. I didn't have to say anything and I was so grateful for that. So The Owl House receives ten out of ten from me.
The other reason for their immaculate score, is their immaculate bathrooms. You can always judge a place on the cleanliness of their bathrooms:

Outside the door to the upstairs toilet was this cute little scene featuring an old fashioned laptop:

Inside the bathroom there was a book and cactus theme:

You must also visit The Owl House bathroom to see this view:

Another good reason to visit The Owl House and sit at the downstairs bar is for a bit of gossip about the neighbourhood. I love Darlinghurst gossip and information gleaned from business owners, who always seem to be the first to know about new developments in the neighbourhood. 
Amir told us that a new Woolworths is opening in the old City Ford building on the Woolloomooloo side of Crown Street. If that is true, it's quite good news for the residents of Darlinghurst Flats, who either have to walk up the hill to Coles in Kings Cross or go to the IGA in the Oxford Square shopping centre for their groceries.
I immediately set to work online, checking the City of Sydney council's development applications and approvals as well as the website for the Department of Planning, which approves major projects. But neither contained any applications from Woolworths or approvals for the Crown Street site:

Anyway, we will know soon enough as City Ford has already vacated the building and I doubt Woolworths will waste any time moving in and putting the $elf-$ervice check-outs to work.

The Owl House
97 Crown Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9357 5060