Friday, October 11, 2013

"A Theme Park For Every Human Desire"

 The title is a quote from broadcaster Philip Adams about Sydney's Kings Cross where he partied in the 60s and 70s with the late media mogul Kerry Packer. Bizarrely, the Coca Cola sign that signals the beginning of 'The Cross' is now  National Trust listed.

Playwright and author Louis Nowra who has lived there for yonks has written a superb history of Kings Cross, a place he says : "attracts the sane and the mad… but that at times it’s hard to tell the difference."
The Cross is a no-holds barred place -backpackers, prostitutes, strippers, chefs, mad men, poets, beggars, booksellers, doctors, gangsters, sailors, musicians, drug traffickers, movie stars, eccentrics, judges and artists and a former Prime Minster (Paul Keating) live side by side in elegant terrace houses and cheap flats. And slam bang in the middle are George Miller's studios were he filmed Babe and Happy Feet.

Part flaneur, part historian and part eyewitness, Louis Nowra is the best possible guide to a place both real, and a state of mind. The Cross attracts hordes of tourists from all over Australia and the world. It's history began as a sort of melting pot for European expats- there are still gracious old Art Deco buildings lining Macleay Street packed with little old Hungarian and Polish ladies who fled from WW2. During the 20s it became the night time entertainment area offering every conceivable sin man desired- from strip clubs to bordellos, gay bars and 24 hour drinking clubs, illegal gambling casinos and even a few opium dens. The legendary Razor Gangs fought duels in the back streets over the cocaine trade.
 The illegal casinos were frequented by visiting celebrities and  local politicians including premier Sir Robert Askin who like a character out of Casablanca would have his winnings thrust into his hand and be ushered out a side door just before his own cops would raid the joint (mainly to collect bribes).
Norton & Goossens
The list of memorable characters is too long to chart: like the practising witch Rosaleen Norton who became entangled with the British conducter Sir Eugene Goossens (he attended her orgies) whose career crashed when he was stopped at customs retuning from the UK with a suitcase of porn for Ms Norton.
Mr Sin- Abe Saffron
 And Mr Sin Abe Saffron who came from humble beginnings to dominate The Cross for 40 years like an Antipodian Al Capone- just as powerful and deadly and finally like Capone, they could only get him for tax evasion. Owning a string of strip joints and the all male revue bar Les Girls and with a finger in every club and bar in the area, Abe made an art of bribing politicians and police including the Commissioner. And he saw off the US Mafia when they tried to muscle in on the action. When Saffron died he left around $30Million but it's rumoured there was another 30 or 40 hidden away.
Louis Nowra & wife Mandy Sayer
Things began to change in the 1960s with the mass influx of US  soldiers on 'R&R" leave from Vietnam and the appearance of Bernie Houghton reputedly the former boss of the infamous Air America who arrived with suitcases stuffed with cash and a new passport courtesy of his spook friends in ASIO. And with the opening of his Bourbon & Beefsteak 24 hour nightspot came hard drugs.

The unexpected can still happen in Kings Cross. Two years ago the Shuttle witnessed an impromptu one hour performance by comedian Robyn Williams at the Kit & Kaboodle when he arrived with actor Elijah Wood for dinner. The Beach Haus club became Leo Di Caprio and his entourage's favourite club of choice as he nightly commandeered 6 tables (leaving about 3 ).  And actor Russell Crowe could be often found popping in to the Portuguese Chicken bar around midnight after a munchies attack.
There's more, much much more in Nowra's book