A 45 minute train ride in from my cousin’s home in Wahroonga and I was standing on the very same boardwalk that my father began his trip’s photography–opposite the Sydney Opera House. The hubub of the morning rush was a bit nerveracking, but things settled as I walked towards the Kings Cross neighborhood. The clean, polished look of downtown’s business district quickly transitioned to the gentleman’s clubs, camper rental outfits and budget hotels of the Cross. Victoria Street was abuzz with backpackers and retail workers meandering about on an uneven sidewalk.
I stopped in at the Kanga House hostel to see if anyone could point me toward the Kings Cross Backpacker cited in my dad’s story from 1977. Most people hadn’t been around for long enough for it to ring a bell, so I moved back to the main drag to see if some locals might have a better idea. At the Kings Cross library, the receptionist–a friendly middle aged Indian woman of small stature–pointed me in the direction of the sidewalk cafe next door where a handful of older gentlemen had congregated to rap over their morning joe.
Introductions began with “Hi, I’m Andrew and I’d like to ask you a few questions about the area for a little project I’m working on.” Brevity wasn’t in the cards, and an inquiry ensued. Following a thoughtful explanation of my intentions, I was in. Harley gave me a brief introduction around the patio before noting that the best person to speak with was named Animal, and he would be along shortly.
These guys were the real deal. Most were Ozzies in their 50’s and 60’s who had moved to Kings Cross in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, although a few had thinning foreign accents. All in all they looked a bit rough, but were nice people and approachable.
First up was Helmet. From behind his well kept pushbroom mustache and morning cigar came a gruff, magical dialogue that I won’t soon forget.
He spoke of the old days when Kings Cross “was a true red light district… syringes in the gutters and girls all about the place.” Now, according to Helmet, the neighborhood has been watered down a bit by surrounding areas and police intervention.
And so it went. The more we chatted the more comfortable my new Kings Cross patio friends became.
Then came Animal. You could hear him coming from a mile away, rumbling up on his piped custom Yamaharley trike. Adorned from head to toe with tattoos, patches, and medallions, I quickly learned that Animal was something of a staple in King’s Cross. His wild facial hair, precise dialogue and iconic presence might have intimidated most tourists, but he quickly added dimensions with his every quip.
He spoke similarly to Helmet of his neighborhood, and Sydney at-large with regard to the last 35 years. Girls, parties, good, bad, government, the biker network–all parts of his story added up to a wonderful interpretation.
Sure enough, Animal confirmed that the old King’s Cross Hostel had since been turned into a gentleman’s club, as was the fate of many parts of the Cross.
I bought Animal a pack of smokes for his time and headed back toward Central Station on foot in search of a quick bite to eat and train back to Wahroonga.
In many ways I lucked out meeting such prominent and knowledgable people. They were, and still are kings of their domain.
I recorded conversations with Helmet and Animal on video, which will be edited and available after I return to the States.
Keep an eye out for posts over the coming days from Byron Bay and Brisbane.