Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Across the Border: Art and Culture: Kings Cross Festival 2012 Part II

With all the bad press the neighbourhood has been receiving this year, it was good to see residents and shopkeepers reclaiming the streets last week. 

We sometimes stay indoors at night, away from the rowdy crowds, or we rush down the strip in a hurry, careful to avoid stepping on a discarded chicken bone, triangle of greasy pizza or splatter of vomit. 
But last Wednesday morning, the reclamation began in the normally grim ticketing area of Kings Cross Train Station, when a string trio marked the beginning of the Kings Cross Festival 2012.

Their music was a magical way to start the day, and I would have lingered, too, if I didn't have to go to work. That night, however, I was lucky enough to attend the festival launch party at the Mercure Hotel's Dandelion Bar.

It was a real squeeze of locals, politicians and performers, and we were kept entertained by a roving magician, live music and a lot of nice drinks. The magician, below, did some amazing card tricks, including one involving a lighter that burnt his fingers in the shape of the six of spades (the card I had selected). I still don't know how the magician did it. A friend of mine had a theory, but I refused to listen.

Another friend who arrived later said it was fantastic to walk along the street and hear the music, chatter and laughter of the party above. And everyone behaved themselves mostly. We didn't have to watch where we stepped.

Performer Vashti Hughes, from the hit-show Mum's In, was also there and I insisted on taking her picture with the Kings Cross Hotel behind her, because that's where her show is now on (5pm every Sunday!). She may not look too happy about being snapped, but trust me, it was all AOK. I think she had just taken a sip of beer. 

The festival's artistic director Ignatius Jones, above, said a few words about Kings Cross, the most memorable being how the area is known as an 'entertainment precinct' and yet there is no entertainment, unless you want to get shit-faced or go to a blokey strip club. The festival was all about bringing entertainment back to the Cross, he said. 

But the speech-ette I liked the most was by the chairman of the Potts Point Partnership, Adrian Bartels (above), who was the driving force behind securing funding for the festival from the NSW Government and the City of Sydney. Quite a lot of cash, too. 
Bartels talked about how he was raised on the North Shore of Sydney, which was filled with white, Anglo-Saxon heterosexuals. 
The Cross, however, was unique and filled with a diverse range of people of all ages and backgrounds, who came to the area because it was so welcoming. There were no weirdos in the Cross, he said, just eccentrics. 
It was a beautiful line, which gave me goosebumps.

Sadly, I wasn't able to attend any other festival events until the weekend, mainly because I'd only seen the program last Wednesday and my diary was already booked with stuff, which is most unusual, but it's that time of year. I hope next year, the program comes out a little earlier and perhaps they could hold the festival a little earlier, too.

On Saturday, I headed down to the festival pop-up shop, at 28 Macleay Street, in the hope of finding a dream dress, but the one I liked was about $1200, so I went to Fitzroy Gardens for some free entertainment instead. 

It was a gloriously sunny day and I wished I'd brought my hat as I could feel myself burning, despite seeking shelter under a magnolia tree. 
Warren Fahey had put together the line-up of performers and I stayed around for his set with the 'larrikin band', who played bush songs and 'city ditties'. There was a song about Woolloomooloo, which was interesting and Fahey told a few historical tales about the area.
It's not my favourite style of music, but the mood was really good, everyone was happy and a couple of adults danced as the children watched on.

Later, we were treated to a performance by cabaret artist Carlotta, one of the original members of the long-running Les Girls, featuring "heavily costumed males". Les Girls Restaurant opened in 1963 in a purpose-built building on Darlinghurst Road, which was then owned by the late Sydney identity Abe Saffron. Les Girls ran until 1993 and the building is now known as the Empire Hotel.

Carlotta, who sang a tailor-made Kings Cross version of The Lady is a Tramp, was one of four people to be presented with an inaugural 'Characters of the Cross Award', by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, for their contribution to the area.

After receiving her award and performing, Carlotta - who had a sold-out show at the Kings Cross Hotel the night before and a big picture story in the Sydney Morning Herald - signed autographs for her fans.

Also receiving an award was Frankie Davidson, whose song, Have You Ever Been to See Kings Cross, topped the charts in 1962.

If you think you've done some travellin', like to say you've been around;

That you've seen the sights of Paris or the heart of London town;
You might say you dined in Soho, would be mighty hard to toss;
Well let me tell you boy, that you just ain't lived until you've seen King's Cross.

It was quite a lively tune and while he was accepting his award, the music came on and Frankie gave a surprise performance and sang along, as his lovely wife, Helen, pictured with him above, looked on proudly. 

Vittorio Bianchi, above, has been making coffee at the Piccolo Bar Cafe, on Roslyn Street, for about the past 50 years and in that time has become a well known character of the area. As he accepted his award, young children jumped up and cried out his name, "Vittorio! Vittorio! Vittorio!", such is his popularity. 

One of the most photographed men in Kings Cross, Animal from the Kings Cross Bikers, was the last to accept an award from the Lord Mayor, for his contribution to many charities in the neighbourhood.
Animal arrived at the gardens with the crew of men who normally spend Saturdays sitting at Froth Cafe on the strip. 
I always say hello when I pass them, so when I took the photograph above on Saturday, the chap on the right asked me when I was going to go for a ride on his Harley. 
Now that would be a great story. But first, I have to get myself some biker chick threads.

As I was leaving the gardens, I passed by the lovely El Alamein Memorial Fountain and a beautifully dressed woman, above, who had just dropped her handbag, spilling some of its contents on the ground. 
I stopped to help her and as I was picking up some of her belongings, I remarked upon how pretty her red velvet rosebud pocket mirror was. 
"No one ever helps me," she said.
"Please, you keep it."
I couldn't accept it, but instead stopped and had a quick chat, also complimenting her on her exquisitely coloured outfit, which had been put together like a fantastic Matisse.
I soon learned her name was Boom Boom LaBern and she once a well-known Kings Cross cabaret artist. Pictures from her career feature on the wall of the Piccolo Bar. 
Since googling her, I have discovered she keeps a memoir-style blog, and also once ran a cafe in Dharamsala, a hill station in northern India. 
I was so pleased to meet her and happy that she posed for a picture. Doesn't she look marvellous. Next year at the festival, she should be presented with a Characters of the Cross Award.

I returned to Fitzroy Gardens briefly on Sunday, but it was so unbearably hot and there was not a breeze to be felt. I only stayed long enough to see one of the performers in the gypsy caravan, above, and to buy a couple of second-hand crime novels, which I duly took home and read, while an electric fan kept me cool.
But I'm looking forward to next year's festival and hope to meet more characters and attend many more entertaining events. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Across the Border: Art and Culture: Kings Cross Festival 2012

Make sure you zip into Kings Cross today or tomorrow for the Kings Cross Festival 2012, run by the Potts Point Partnership with creative director Ignatius Jones.
The program features loads of free entertainment, including music, poetry, history, as well as quite a few interesting retail things.
One of these is the window displays by fashion designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley and the curated Festival Pop-Up Shop, at 28 Macleay Street, which features the best of the area's clothing, art and design items in one neat shop. I will be investing my pay there today.
There's also a free concert today from 11am in Fitzroy Gardens, alongside the markets, with a line-up put together by local fellow history geek, Warren Fahey. It closes with a performance by local muso Renee Geyer, from 6-7pm.
There will also be roving street artists, 'Razorhurst' tours, and a free talk at the heritage-listed Australian Institute of Architects building, at 3 Manning Street, on urban density. That's from 2-3.30pm. Bookings are required on 02 9246 4055.

If you have junior burghers, take them to the big family picnic day at Beare Park tomorrow, where there will be old fashioned tug-of-war and circus acts.
Also tomorrow, for civic-minded locals, there's a neighbourhood expo in the Rex Centre where a bunch of community groups will be hosting tables to show off what they are all about. Groups include Kings Cross Rotary, Kings Cross Knit Wits and the 2011 Residents' Association. That's from 11am-3pm. The Rotary markets, where I once found a pristine Gucci coat for $250, will also be on as usual, in Fitzroy Gardens.

If that all sounds a bit straight-laced, head off on Sunday early evening to the Writers and Whisky storytelling night at the Dandelion Bar at the Mercure Hotel, from 4-6pm. It's free. 
The Dandelion Bar is the official festival bar and is a great place to drink, because it's not normally open, yet it has a fantastic outdoor section where you can look over the streets and feel the energy of the neighbourhood.

For more information, look out for the impressive newspaper-styled program, or visit
Festival artwork by Jeremyville

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Binge Drinking

If you've been to Kings Cross Train Station in the past week, you couldn't have missed the large anti-binge drinking campaign covering every available advertising space between the street and the train doors. 
The campaign was launched in reaction to the death of 19-year-old Thomas Kelly, who was king-hit on Victoria Street in July, and is part of a wider suite of safe-partying messages and initiatives by the NSW Government and the City of Sydney.
(We are yet to learn whether the man who allegedly king-hit Thomas was indeed under the influence of alcohol. My guess is ice, or methamphetamine, but the authorities appear helpless on cracking down on that one, and alcohol is a much simpler target.)
One of the initiatives is a ghastly digital message board on a trailer, which is dumped near Poos on Sticks on weekends, that reminds people to party safely and about late night transport options. It's the kind of billboard you would normally see located next to a highway to warn motorists about upcoming traffic works. It make our little village feel like some awful war zone. 
I really don't like it.

But what I find more bizarre is one of the photographs being used as part of the anti-binge drinking campaign, which is located on the wall of the street level station tunnel:

This isn't the greatest photograph of it (above), but if you look closely to the left you can see the young woman's dress has been pulled up, revealing her knickers:

The woman's bottom is a very strange sight to see when I'm going to work in the morning. It doesn't really make me think, 'ooooh, I better not binge drink because I may end up with my face in the pavement and my knickers on show'. 
In fact, the first time I saw it I thought, 'ooooh, I really should stop drinking so I can lose weight and get a butt like that'. 
So, in a way I guess it does have the intended effect, but do I really have to see this woman's arse every morning?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: History: Books: Trams

A well-placed source of historical photographs last week sent me some great 1940s colour images of trams trundling down Darlinghurst and Sydney streets.  
They belong to a private collector and as far as I know have never before been published, so it's an honour to be able to reproduce them here.
I had a hard time placing where exactly the photograph above was taken and had to refer to a tram line map (below, Copyright John R Newland, 2010) to see exactly where the lines ran.

I believe the photograph at the top of this post shows the 'Special' turning off Oxford Street and into Greens Road, Paddington, on its way to Moore Park. In the background there is a smokestack, which I assumed belonged to the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington (which still marks the horizon today), but it would be in completely the wrong position if that is Greens Road. If anyone can identify it, please let me know.

This one, above, was definitely taken at the corner of Greens Road and Oxford Street. As my source says, the "luminous" colour photographs "have a depth and intensity of colour that only film from that era seems to provide. Gems!".

Here's another one, above, showing the trams cruising down Oxford Street. Again, that smokestack is in the background.

The photograph above shows a tram turning from Elizabeth Street into Liverpool Street, on its way to Oxford Street. The trams really were beautiful with their lovely heritage green and cream, with red-trim, paint. They also, for some undefinable reason, remind me of great big caterpillars wriggling along the streets.

The photographs also brought to mind a book I received early last year: Bondi to the Opera House, the trams that linked Sydney, by Dale Budd and Randall Wilson.
The 92-page book was published by the Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW division) and is a comprehensive and educational look at Sydney's tram system, once one of the world's largest.
Budd and Wilson are certainly passionate about the Sydney trams, which scuttled along the streets from 1879 to 1961, and one of the things I love about the book is that they place contemporary photographs alongside historical ones, such as this one:

According to the caption information, Bennelong Point, now the site of the Sydney Opera House, was once home to a tram depot designed by government architect Walter Vernon. 
Trams terminating at the Fort Macquarie depot would arrive on the western side, while those beginning another trip would travel around the depot to its eastern side to make their first stop at the Man O' War Steps.
The ornamental tower you can see in the top left corner of the depot housed an elevated water tank - the  early 20th century version of fire safety.
Prior to the tram depot being built in 1901, the headland was home to the real Fort Macquarie: a square stone fortress with an armament of 24-pound guns and five 6-pounders. Boom.

A tram climbs through the Bronte cutting, now a car park (Copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson).

According to the authors, "the Sydney tram system extended from Narrabeen in the north, to La Perouse in the south; from Bondi in the east to Ryde in the west.
"From the 1920s to the 1940s there were up 1,500 trams operating on 290km of lines serving the city and more than 70 suburbs. Trams carried more than a million people every weekday."

Tram passengers line up at Market Street stop on Elizabeth Street, Central Sydney (Copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson).

There are more than 250 photographs in the book, featuring trams in a vast array of suburbs including Birchgrove and Balmain, Botany and West Kensington, Manly and Milsons Point. There are also a couple showing William Street and Kings Cross.
Most of the photographs were taken by John Alfred, who apparently "had a special talent for spotting unusual vantage points, often elevated," the book says.
"Starting in the 1950s he took more than 4,500 colour transparencies of Sydney trams: his total body of work amounted to more than 21,000 images, almost all of trams and trains throughout Australia."
Alfred died in 1969 - in a road accident - and his photographs are now in the collection of the Mitchell Library, part of the State Library of NSW. 
The authors owe him a great debt. 

One of the Kings Cross photographs in the book is identical to the one above, which I have framed on my wall. My father picked it up at a garage sale in the 70s. The only clue to its origin is the name of the framer printed on the back: Mr Frame of Wetherill Park. But I think it was a common travel pic of the 1940s as I have seen it before in many places.

 Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

This photograph (above) showing the tram passing within a few metres of The Gap is one of my favourites in the book. I would have loved to have ridden that tram. The authors say the view would have been "stunning"

Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

Back in the 1950s some major fool decided to start closing off the electric tram lines and replace them with diesel buses, the same vehicles that today emit such a foul stench and ear-grating noise throughout the city. Bravo.
The photograph above shows the last tram in George Street, Central Sydney, in November 1958. 
"It is after midnight, a wreath has been attached and everyone is trying to get into the newspaper photographer's picture," the caption says.
"This scene was repeated many times as the tram network was progressively closed down."

 Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

The La Perouse and Maroubra routes were the last to be served by the trams, with the final day of operation on 25 February 1961.
"Travellers packed aboard the trams and crowds gathered at vantage points along the route," the book says.
The very last tram (pictured above) was "jammed to the rafters" and it would be "36 years before a tram again carried passengers in Sydney."

Pic copyright: From Bondi to the Opera House, by Budd and Wilson.

Some of the trams were donated to various institutions and museums, such as the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus, south of Sydney. Many other trams were burned to death, as illustrated in this very sad photograph above.
Trams, or light rail, returned to Sydney in 1997 and the authors hope that this network is expanded.
The City of Sydney is pushing the NSW Government to commit to an expanded network, including the addition of a line along George Street, which they would like to close off to north-south traffic.
Part of their vision is detailed on their website, which is worth visiting just to see, at the bottom of the page, a film that was shot in 1906 by someone on the top of a vehicle cruising down George Street
The animation at the top of the page showing what George Street would look like with trams today is also pretty cool.
From Bondi to the Opera House, the trams that linked Sydney
By Dale Budd and Randall Wilson
Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW)
92pp, $39.95

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: Past and Present: Higgs Corner

So the Frenchman never sent me any more pix as promised (see previous post), and I don't write or speak his language so I can't really blame him. 
But never mind, because this major crossroad of Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street - which his Papa had photographed in the 1960s - had already been on my radar, specifically the corner of William Street and Darlinghurst Road (pictured above in 1936).

Back in the early 20th century it was known as Higgs Corner (pictured above in 1916). It was called this because the building was once home to A.A. Higgs, a bootmaker who specialised in surgical shoes and "repairs by craftsmen skilled in the art". 
I guess Higgs was the early 1900s version of the Surry Hills Perkal Bros who were profiled in yesterday's Good Weekend in The Sydney Morning Herald.

In September 1916 Flora Helena Mann and Daniel Spillane, executors for the will of Esmay Farrell sued the Municipal Council of Sydney for compensation for the land at Higgs Corner.
The property had been resumed by the council for the widening of William Street at a cost of 8,800 Pounds. But Mann and Spillane wanted 18,000 Pounds. 
(There's not much talk about Esmay Farrell in the archives, except for her estate, because she apparently owned the York Hotel in Central Sydney. Was she a descendant of the Farrell of Farrell Street? A relative of Bumper Farrell? I'm afraid I can't shed any light with my research budget.)
In case you are interested, the photograph above from the City of Sydney Archives, was taken in March 1918, probably just before the building was demolished.

Here's another view (above) from the archives of 1918, from the perspective of Darlinghurst Fire Station. As you can see Mr Higgs is having a sale, no doubt because his building is about to be demolished.
As an aside, Ms Farrell's estate also had an address known as 1A Craigend Street, which was declared, in April 1939, a "common gaming house". Legal action was taken against the tenant, Frank Benjamin.

The picture at the top of this post shows what the corner looked like in the 1930s, after Higgs Corner was demolished, but William Street was widened or realigned again in the 1970s for the Kings Cross Tunnel, so the building pictured above (from City Archives) now marked the corner. 

In the 1980s the building was home to Michelangelo's (above, from City Archives), an Italian cafe with gelato, pasta and espresso coffee. 
The cafe stayed for many years and was still there in the late 1990s as far as I can recall. 
Do you remember the old news stands, like the one above? 
I vividly remember the one at Taylor Square and frequented it to buy American Vogue and The Face magazine. 

In recent times Higgs Corner has been home to a series of not so successful bars, such as Firebar, shown above. 

At the moment Higgs Corner is home to a bar awkwardly named Awkward. 
It seems to be going OK, despite the fact they have strange displays in which they place a live model dressed in colourful clothing in the Darlinghurst Road window on random evenings. 
Not sure what that's about, but the location looks like a good place to have a coffee on a sunny day.