A social history of Kings Cross entertainment from the high life to the low life (and sometimes the very low life), and why it remains such a special part of the Sydney story. This episode is part of the ‘Sydney Stories with Warren Fahey’ series.
Sydney abounds with curious history. Some stories are known and many have disappeared over time. Cultural historian and storyteller Warren Fahey has created a dozen video stories of the city’s past; each offering a unique slice of Sydney’s hidden history.
Visit Warren’s website: https://www.warrenfahey.com.au/
Sydney Stories with Warren Fahey features footage from the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. It was created with assistance from the City of Sydney Creative Fellowships Fund and support of The Vine Foundation. The grants were under the auspice of the Folk Federation of New South Wales.
KINGS ‘BLOODY’ CROSS
– The curious story of Sydney’s famous nighttime playground.
Sydney’s Kings Cross has a long history as a place of mystery, excitement, swinging doors, dimly lit staircases, rowdy noisemakers, late nights and a 24-hour heartbeat. The heartbeat is now quieter and the lights go out a lot earlier, but the spirit is still alive and well.
Historically, the convergence of streets at the top of William Street, namely William Street, Kings Cross Road, Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street was known in the second half of the nineteenth century as ‘The Cross’.
In 1897 its name was changed to Queen’s Cross to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the long-serving Queen Victoria. In 1905 the City of Sydney Council changed its name again, this time to reflect the new monarch, King Edward 7th. They also needed to avoid confusion with Queen’s Square, on Macquarie Street, where a life-sized bronze statue of the late Queen was placed on watch. It didn’t take long for the new name Kings Cross to be accepted.
Technically it is not a suburb. It is ‘part and parcel’ of Potts Point — to the collective memory of Sydney it is more a state of mind. If anything, it is a people place — poets and pimps, writers and skitters, singers and mudslingers, drag artists and con artists and, of course, the wealthy, the homeless and the hopeless.
For well over a century Kings Cross was Sydney’s main entertainment destination offering cafes, dining, nightclubs and fancy shops which sat alongside brothels, illegal gambling clubs, strip joints and dubious drinking holes. For much of the twentieth century it was the only part of Sydney open after 10pm and, sometimes, its doors never shut. Things have changed in the Cross: a victim of its own infamy, home entertainment, new conservatism and government designed lockouts, all pandering to increasing gentrification.
It was in the old Kings Cross where many Australians had their first espresso coffee, first drink, first look at the other side of life and, for some, their first sexual encounter. It is not surprising that so many of us retain a nostalgic view of Kings Cross – for it is a place held together by memories.