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Located about 3 km from the Sydney CBD, Kings Cross is the small area on the ridge between Woolloomooloo and Rushcutters Bay where Darlinghurst Road crosses Victoria Street. (These days, Kings Cross is often regarded as part of the suburb, Potts Point.)
Coca Cola sign, Kings Cross
Its main landmarks are the El Alamein Fountain, the Fitzroy Gardens, Tusculum (19th century villa), numerous 19th century terraces and 1930s Art Deco buildings, the nightclub strip in Darlinghurst Road, and numerous coffee shops and restaurants.
Back in the early 19th century, this suburb (then known as Queen's Cross) was home to some the richest and most influential people. For example, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General of NSW, had a grand neo-classical mansion called Craigend (the mansion was demolished in 1921 but the name, Craigend Street, remains).
Kings Cross in 1950
Bohemian Kings Cross
During much of the 20th century Kings Cross was a home for Sydney's bohemians, artists and writers. Some of the famous creative people who have lived in this suburb have included the artist Russell Drysdale, the poet Kenneth Slessor, poet and author Dame Mary Gilmore, and the actor Peter Finch.
Since the Second World War, Kings Cross has been a nightlife centre. This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the arrival of American servicemen on R and R (rest and recreation) leave from the Vietnam War.
The 1960s also saw the launch of the satirical newspaper, the Kings Cross Whisper.
The long-awaited Eastern Suburbs Railway line finally reached Kings Cross in 1979. The Sydney Olympics came in 2000 and afterwards many of Kings Cross' hotels were sold off as strata apartments.
Gentrification of Kings Cross
Since the 1990s the demographics of Kings Cross has been changing again once again as affluent city professionals (often popularly dubbed yuppies) have discovered Kings Cross as a convenient place to live, close to their offices in the city, and tens of thousands of them are buying and renting real estate in the area.
This latest change is worrying to prominent Australian writers and local residents, Louis Nowra and Mandy Sayers, which they are concerned will lead to writers, artists, the elderly and other traditional residents no longer being able to afford to rent in Kings Cross/Potts Point.
They believe that that the new (affluent) people moving to Kings Cross have different attitudes and values to the the traditional residents and that:
"... they complain about the people on Darlinghurst Road and they want to clean it up."
"The Cross always existed on the fact that she houses old people, writers who want to write and everything else like that... "Now these people will be shut out and will have to look elsewhere and that's unfortunate. It'll just be filled with pencil-thin couples dressed in black with metal furniture."
Apart from the demographic changes, there are many changes to the suburb being undertaken by the Sydney City Council which seem to be aimed at cleaning up the area and taking it more upmarket -- for example, the removal of neon signs from Darlinghurst Road, the installation of granite footpaths, and now the threatened bulldozing of the Fitzroy Gardens and of the Lawrence Hargrave Reserve, just opposite the Fitzroy.
In 2012 the Council had another "thought bubble": sponsor food trucks. This Council policy has been widely opposed in Kings Cross. Potts Point and Darlinghurst by local food businesses (already under heavy economic pressure) and local residents (trucks would be permitted to park under their windows for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week!). See Stop Food Trucks.
Since 2005 binge drinking has become a widespread problem in Kings Cross, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Local residents were bewildered by this development that went far beyond the area's traditional raffishness). The spread of public drunkeness has been aided by the opening of a number of 24 hour pubs. Locals were outraged at an increasing amount of alcohol-related violence (one example being the death of a young man named Thomas Kelly after he was king-hit by an intoxicated person one evening in 2012 in Victoria Street, Kings Cross).
A public meeting was held in the Sydney Town Hall by the Sydney Morning Herald but attending politicians (such as the Lord Mayor Clover Moore and State Government Minister George Souris) and the president of the Australian Hotels Association appeared to dismiss the pleas of the local Kings Cross police, St Vincent Hospital surgeons and Dr Donald Weatherburn (Bureau of Crime Statistics) to reduce the availability of alcohol by introducing earlier closing of pubs and clubs (similar to the 3am closing and 1am lockout mandated for the pubs and clubs of Newcastle, NSW that successfully reduced alcohol-related violence in that town).
Meetings have been held in Kings Cross by FARE (the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education), an organization that aims to reduce alcohol-related harms (for example, by its innovative ten point plan).
In February 2014 the NSW Government introduced lockout/last drinks laws (including 1.30am lockouts and 3am cessation of alcohol service) for pubs and clubs in Kings Cross and the Sydney central business district. In the two year period since the introduction of those laws Kings Cross saw a massive reduction in alcohol-related violence and injuries.
When the Cross was a larrikin
"As recently as the 60s, ... the Bohies and the larroes were the kings of Kings Cross; wearing stylish or outlandish clothing, hanging out in cafes that barely made a buck, arguing philosophy on street corners, making love, drinking red wine, playing guitars in tiny, grubby bedsits, and dreaming..."
Council's plan to rip heart out of Cross
"With its dark stands of yucca, large Chinese elm and low walls, the little park [the Fitzroy Gardens] next to the El Alamein Fountain is the heart of Kings Cross. For many residents and visitors to Sydney it is the spiritual heart of the city itself - raffish, a touch raggedy, but fundamentally good-natured." But this park faces a fate of "delete and replace".
From BoHo to PoHo. Plaques and decay: Can Kings Cross survive a $30 million facelift?
"...reasonable rents and cheap digs are becoming as rare around here as a two-buck coffee. The old hotels that contributed so much to the character of the place have come tumbling down and gleaming new blocks of flats have risen in their places, bringing in gleaming new residents, some of whom, not content merely to 'rediscover' the Cross, wish to reinvent it."
New York Restaurant & Diner, Kings Cross
New York Restaurant closes down in Kings Cross
Across the Border: Kings Cross: New York Restaurant
"The diner was also great for lonely, old-age pensioners who could enjoy lamb-cutlets and chips for tea in a social environment, and without having to spend too much of their measly, fortnightly government-cheque.... [T]he only reason it closed was because the landlords doubled the rent..."
Kings Cross is a happening place
Real estate agents talk up the gentrification of Kings Cross (report from the Business pages of the Sydney Morning Herald).
A great book about the Cross: Louis Nowra's Kings Cross: A Biography:
During the launch of this book Louis Nowra gave a fascinating talk about Kings Cross and why it is so important. Watch the video of of this talk.
Order at Macleay Bookshop
Order at Amazon.com
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Author: David Paul Wagner
(David Paul Wagner on Google+)