Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I first recall Kings Cross in the late 1930s, regularly visiting my aunt Elaine Wagstaff in Challis Avenue. We would almost immediately be sent for a walk! My aunt was quite fastidious and you know how children are, touching everything! She lived with "Uncle" Kurt Hervig who was an émigré from Vienna, he had a beautiful white grand piano which we were only allowed to look at. He was a pianist in the music department for the ABC. In the photo they are wearing matching suits which is quite extraordinary. She already had a daughter, from an earlier relationship, who was at boarding college. I suppose it was easier to live in a more "Bohemian" area, where living out of wedlock would be more acceptable at the time. I think there was some Chinese in the family from the gold rush times but I was never able to find out. So I would say, it was another reason to reside in the area. We had heard that you could go and get your newspaper in your dressing gown and slippers, which was, we thought, just amazing. Very Bohemian!

I was attending National Art School from around 1951, three nights a week for four years. We girls would go away for weekends and at a dance on one of these trips I met a man named Eric Turton who was an interior decorator. I said to him "How do you get to be that"? And he said "you go to art school" - next thing I was enrolling. It was that easy! The first night I remember I had this yellow rayon duster coat on, of course I was very out of place and totally unsuited to an art school life! It wasn't too long before I was trying to look more the part, but soon I realised, I didn't have to do anything. I really was a Bohemian. This was really the end of my childhood and knowing only a family life. I met people who became friends like Kevin Tenney and Ken Muggleston 1, He worked at Metro Goldwyn-Mayer during the day. from there I got to know people in the editing department at MGM. We didn't use the word "gay" then and it wasn't until later we realised that quite a few people we went to art school with were. I knew the gay scene well in the 60's but we called it "camp" then.

You only know your family and then suddenly you go out into the world and meet people from all sorts of different places.

Occasionally we would cross Darlinghurst Road to "Repins". It was a long narrow café which I chiefly remember you got a second cup of coffee free. There was a block of flats, called St. John’s Flats (they’re still there) opposite St. Johns Church (120 Darlinghurst Road), and I would gaze at them and think "how wonderful it would be to live here!"

In 1953 I moved into “Rosary Villa” at Darling Point. My Aunt Elaine had arranged it through the Parish Priest at Edgecliff. It was an old Hordern mansion that was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of California for country girls who were in the city. I lived there from 1953 to around '57. By then I was about 22, working as a colour consultant at Taubman's. Most of my peer group by then were living in boarding houses like Birtley Hall and Wyldefeld gardens.

We could get a late night pass from the nuns and take the 369 bus and hang out at the Cross. There was a lot of a lot of socialising , and also a lot of balls during this time; the "Artist's Ball" and the "Art Student's Ball" were mainly at The Trocadero (near the corner of Bathurst and George Streets). Afterwards we would be in the Cross, there was a café near Springfield Plaza where we would have, of all innocent things after a ball, a bowl of porridge! Another favourite haunt in Challis Street, "The Boomerang" served "Viennese Coffee" with cream on top, and cinnamon toast - this was considered very exotic at the time! We also used to go to "The Arabia", where we would meet Bohemians - we knew Frank Howards, he was a poet. I remember he read us a poem -

Roads cannot be said to exist

Nor can they be said not to exist

But when many people pass one way

A road is made.

I've remembered it all these fifty or more years. we thought it so surreal at the time!

This advertisement is from the "Home Cafe" in Victoria Street, which was a very desirable venue between 1953-57. the lighting was candles in Chianti bottles and we thought this very modern. There was a Hungarian café run by Magnus where "The Landmark" is now. They served peppers stuffed with rice in a tomato sauce - those were the first we had seen, for the time it was very different and very interesting! "Sweethearts" (a famous cafe at 45 Darlinghurst Road) was one of the first to serve espresso.

I have always been a person who was interested in ...things, so I knew of Chica Lowe 2 a good ten years before I met her. She had a place in Elizabeth Bay after Merioola 3 in the 1940s, a boarding house and we knew Ray Blaxland who had lived there at some time in the 1940s. However he was behind with the rent and he came home to find that Chica had put him in an old motor car crate in the garden. She'd painted it pink. "I've moved you out to Lolly Lodge", she announced. She was a raconteur. I was invited to a dinner party at her place in Bondi Junction once.

The 1920's in the Cross were absolutely wild, we heard from the older people we knew. There were big parties in the William Street area with free love, as they called it, and Cocaine. We had heard about both Roie Norton 4 and Dulcie Deamer 5, they were part of our discussions. Roie's William Street cafe was later a Jazz hangout, about 1961 I recall. Dulcie I did know. At the time we belonged to the Australian Society of Writers in Clarence Street. It was a place we could get a drink after 6 O'clock Closing. We had all these haunts worked out! Dulcie would have been a member given her profession, so we probably met her there. This photo of my friend Mary McGahey and myself with Dulcie was taken around 1962 when Dulcie was in her old age, at the Art Student's Ball. And yes, I saw her do her famous splits at this event! you can see I am wearing low jeans and a rope belt. About this time I remember making and wearing my first pair of hipsters - I wore them over to Mary's house, her husband John Auld opened the door and just gaped. He quickly said "Oh...they're very...nice..." he was clearly shocked!

We associated with artistic people - painters, potters, sculptors. Folk singing was fashionable during this time. Artists I remember are John Passmore 6 , John Perceval 7, Matcham Skipper 8 and of course John Olsen 9, whom I knew very well during this time - between 1953 and about 1956. I probably met John through "The Push" 10. A friend of mine took me to the "Tudor Hotel", on Phillip street, which was one of the early "Push" pubs where they would shut the doors at 6 O' Clock and you could drink after closing. A lot of us were on the fringes of the group. I have this painting by him which is dated 1954, so that indicates the period. I saw the painting in his studio in the attic of "The Witches House", in Victoria Street, sitting on a chair and to me it looked like virgin and child. I liked it so much John gave it to me.

Later I went to England, New York and Canada, I worked at the United Nations in New York, I was away for four years. It was a chance to see some art and experience life.

When I eventually returned, about 1961 and got back to Kings Cross it was changing. in the 1950's it was really the innocent years in a lot of ways. The world was changing, so it filtered down.

I moved in with a friend of mine Ann Thomson 11 , who was also working at Taubman's. it was a converted garage around the back of Brown Street, Paddington that was dubbed "The Dustbins" by her mother! She was a very...superior sort of woman - she hated the idea of her daughter living in Well, Paddington was very cheap at that time! By the '60s artists were starting to move in - quite a few. Richard Neville 12 lived next door, and Martin Sharp 13 nearby, Charles Blackman 14 across the road from us, so it was becoming fashionable. I spent quite a bit of time living in Paddington, into the '70s.

Now I am back at the Cross, living here at the Gazebo. It's nice and level, perfect for older people really! I want to be here for the rest of my life. It's an area where things have always happened, and will continue to happen!

1 Ken Muggleston (1930, Australia) Set decorator. Won an Academy Award for Art Direction, "Oliver", 1970.

2 , 3 The Merioola Group was named for the colonial mansion in Woollahra, Sydney. Managed from 1941 by Chica Lowe, an exceptional character; she was interested in creative people as tenants, forming a Bohemian community including Donald Friend, William Dobell, Loudon Sainthill.

4 Rosaleen (Roie, Rowie) Norton (1917-1979) was a writer and artist. Her public scandals of the late forties and fifties for obscenity charges made her a household name as "The Witch of Kings Cross".

5 Dulcie Deamer (1890-1972 Deamer was an influential writer known as "The Queen of Bohemia" and notorious for doing the splits in her leopard skin, on tables at parties.

6 John Passmore, (1904- 1984) Australian painter.

7 John de Burgh Perceval AO (1923-2000) Australian artist, surviving member of a the Angry Penguins group who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included Nolan, Boyd, Tucker.

8 Matcham Skipper (1921-2011) Australian sculptor and jeweller strongly associated with Melbourne artist colony "Montsalvat". Works are represented internationally.

9 John Olsen (1928-) Australian painter, see first blog interview.

10 "The Push" was a loose group, born from forces within Sydney University, who had a rebellious approach to life that was in opposition to the conservative values of the 1950s and '60s. Most were involved in creative endeavours. Famous members: Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes.

11 Ann Thomson (1933, Brisbane) Australian painter, has mostly lived and worked in Sydney since the mid '50s after completing studies at the National Art School in 1962. She won the Wynne Prize in 1998.

12, 13 Richard Neville (1941), Australian author who along with Pop Artist Martin Sharp, came to fame as a co-editor of the counterculture magazine "Oz" in Australia and the UK in the 1960s - early '70s.

14 Charles Blackman (1928-) Australian artist, member of the Antipodeans, a group of Melbourne painters that also included the Boyds, Perceval and Clifton Pugh.

Transcribed from an interview conducted in person with Elaine Ellis on 18 March 2011.

© 2011 Darian Zam. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature, without the written permission of the copyright owner.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Robin Dalton's 1965 memoir "Aunts up the Cross" become an Australian classic of sorts - a charming and witty book about growing up in Kings Cross and her family's privileged lifestyle at "Maramanah" - the only private residence left in Kings Cross by the late 1920s.  The house was sold to the City Council in 1945 and demolished by 1956 to build Fitzroy Gardens and the El Alamein Fountain.

story removed by request

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Phaedra on the Mike walsh show in the early 1970's.

Phaedra worked in the Darlinghurst precinct from 1968 and remembers a wild afternoon at the Yellow House with Martin Sharp and Sylvia and the Synthetics.

I wish they would stop using the term legend for a middle-aged drag queen. A legend is King Arthur (you have to be dead, or mythical). I have been called a legend. Let's get this in perspective. I spent 20 years miming to records and dancing a bit. I did not save a nation. I also wish they would stop using the term "icon" for a middle-aged drag queen. An Icon is a religious painting set often in silver or gold!

I started actually living in the Kings Cross area in about 1972, perhaps a bit earlier. When I arrived in Sydney it was my third visit by myself. There had been lots with my parents as a child. I found myself here at age eighteen, working as a Dance Director at Fred Astaire Dance Studios Australasia.

"No son of mine is going to be a Ballet Dancer!". Quote Mr Nunn-Smith...then, oh dear. He came with Uncle Bob to see me at work, and by then I was no longer a dance director, I was in the drag show, and my big number was, "This Girl's In Love With You" and I wore a fishtail in orange brocade. I was very pretty.

So I saw Kings Cross from the late 1960's, about '68 or '69, just after I left school. The 10 years or so I worked at Les Girls cabaret (internationally famous all-male revue, Darlinghurst Rd and Roslyn St, Kings Cross) were amazing.

When I arrived on the scene Reg (Boom) 1 had died, Sammy Lee 2 had gone quite mad but was often there, and Mrs. Boom, Ilene, ran the place. She was brilliant. Sammy still thought he was in charge but Mrs. Boom looked after everything; and I mean everything that running a business in the Cross entailed. This included diplomatically handling some very nefarious members of the "White Shoe Brigade"3 and on the same night, often, members of Sydney's social elite including members of the Black & White committee.

Back in those days Kings Cross was always the centre of excitement, especially on New Years eve. It really is so hard to describe how exciting it was with everything being illegal. The parties were better, and the makeup stayed on longer. I thought I had died and gone to heaven… there was of course a very dark interesting side too. I loved it.

Really seedy, strange terrace houses with little gaming houses in them, and so enjoyable. Strip clubs... these were the campest clubs to go to and I so wish they were still there - they didn't mind a drag queen at all. Then down the strip itself it was Surf City, and round the corner Whiskey A Go Go. The Whiskey and Surf were quite straight but if you "butched it up" they let you in. Loads of strip clubs dotted all along and crowning it all Les Girls. Yes, the drag queens had the best spot. Ironically, depending on definition of the word, probably the straightest people I knew were the gangsters.

The block of flats, "Bayview" in Roslyn Gardens was full of very elegant prostitutes including a number of the very early un-springable sex-changes. These prostitutes and their flats were rented for the duration of, usually an American servicemen's stay. So they had all their rent paid for, all their food, lots of presents and some extra money to feather the nest. These girls did very well. As one serviceman left another was found to rent out the property and the girl for the next duration. and on it went.

I returned to Adelaide for a moment, and was back again by '70 working at Les Girls and from then on the years were like a dream. For me Kings Cross and Oxford St, Darlinghurst from 68 til 85 was like a magic carpet ride.

I know people had other jobs, but I can't for the life of me think why - nor do I want to. Being a drag queen at any club in those days was just fairy-tale.

I remember Doris Fish4 starting off, I am that bloody old. I actually met her at "The Yellow House" ( a pop art collective and "24 hour a day happening" in Macleay Street from 1970 - 1973, in the former Terry Clune Gallery building), now that really dates me.

Barbara Williams, a Lesbian that we called "George", was frightfully well connected on the art scene and all that. So adorable. We rescued her, the poor love, when she was a waitress at the Texas Tavern (a big bar down Macleay Street for R&R gentlemen, past the Rex Hotel, on the same side. They would have a floor shows and topless singers).

I felt sorry for her because she had to wear a skirt, and she so hated it! We told her that had to stop - so first a job back stage, then doing lighting. She never looked back. Then she went on to become lighting director at the Belvoir Street Theatre for many years. She was the only biological female to appear on stage with us at Les Girls - as a Spanish man of course!

Collage of Phaedra based on a Barry McKay photo taken in the Les Girls dressing room in the early 1970's.

She did the most amazing portrait of me in oils, it was huge, and very good. I wish I still had it. For some reason I am holding a bottle of perfume like in an ad. So strange yet wonderful. It hung in the lobby of our flat on the waterfront at Elizabeth Bay. The odd thing is I don't think George really painted. I never saw any other art she made. She did lighting, and her lighting was like art.

George knew everyone at "The Yellow House". She took me there a number of times during the day. "Phaedra, you must see this!" I remember her saying that, as it was very hard to get me out in the daytime, all that bloody sun! It was like Barbara knew something important or very different was happening.

There was very little furniture it seemed. Everything was painted. Even painted floorboards. I remember the noise of women's shoes on bare floors. I have never liked it. Stage makes a different sound to houses for some reason. I think people slept upstairs during the day time and I got the impression it may have been more "on the go" of a night. Of course I never saw it then as I was working.

To me the place was strange, often empty. I suppose in perhaps three times I went there with George I met five or six people; and I only ever met one painter and he was going over a wall already painted. To my untutored, philistine eye I thought it was all very ho-hum. But apparently it was some important art movement I witnessed. George knew what was going on - she was on our "draggy" wavelength; she understood all that - but she also was so ahead of us too.

I remember being introduced to Doris Fish there; she stuck out because of her name. I knew she was just starting as the look and makeup was not refined as it was later (eventually refined enough for Doris to appear on many greeting cards for the popular humorous West Graphics line).

And she was in drag in the day time! You just did not wear drag in the day time. We just did not need to antagonise the police. To see all these drag queens including Doris Fish, in the cruel light of day, was really quite shocking.

I was dressed as a boy of course as was George (it only occurs to me right this minute she was actually technically in drag). But these queens had pencil skirts, ballerina skirts, blouses cheekily open at a non-existent cleavage. And slap that went for days. Much more even than we wore of a night time at Les Girls! We could have all been arrested - the doors to the house were wide open to Macleay Sreet!

They were doing this drag show of sorts in the painted rooms of The Yellow House. I suppose it was what we would call today "Vogueing". They just struck poses everywhere while some artist kept painting one of the walls. He became recognisable to me in later years as I thought about it, as being Martin Sharp. I don't remember any music.

We, the audience of about 15 people were applauding the tableaux they presented. We had of course smoked something. Well, no self respecting person went out without being stoned. It was the '70s after all!

I think this lot bought their stuff at Vinnies (St Vincent De Paul charity shop) or somewhere because they had really lovely 1950s shoes - but to my uncultured eye they looked as tho' they were wearing just old women's clothes. A few weeks later it turned out that some of these people were "Sylvia and the Synthetics"5.

I got to work with them later on. I was dressed as Judy Garland, miming "Singing in the Rain" and half way through they threw a bucket of water over me! Well that's OK, but the bit I did not get was why they had my boyfriend, a Mr. South Pacific, standing behind me all oiled up and beautifully glistening - ripping the arms and legs of dolls, and making out to eat their heads. Drag in the day time. I still sort of feel uncomfortable going out in daylight, full-stop!

These days all I remember is the Kings Cross of the past. It was safe. Actually, the Les Girls dressing room was the safest place to be in Kings Cross...well that is until Carlotta sat on the wash basin, pissing, and broke it.

Anyway, it has long gone. The old Cross where no one would dare touch you. Any tourist was fair game tho'...

1, 2 Sammy Lee (1912?-1975), celebrated night club and restaurant owner, founded Les Girls and the Latin Quarter, both with Reg Boom.

3 The "White Shoe Brigade" was used as a term in Australia, to describe a group of Gold Coast property developers who backed, and benefitted from, former Queensland State Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

4 Phillip Mills was a performer and artist, stage name was Doris Fish. Born in Australia, he later resided in San Francisco from 1976 where he had a successful career, and died there in 1994.

5 "Sylvia and the Synthetics", were a groundbreaking performance art troupe of the early 1970s led by Phillip Mills, that used drag as "political theatre". It had a fluid member line-up - but with three mainstays: Doris Fish, Miss Abood (Daniel Archer), and Jacqueline Hyde.

Transcribed from emails and Facebook chats with Phaedra Nunn-Smith between 2008- 2011.

© 2011 Darian Zam. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature,

without the written permission of the copyright owner.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I lived in the Cross on and off, and the first period was 1961. It was very much a cross-over period in it's history - the "old" Cross and the advent of "new" Australia. I went on to have a long career as an administrator in the arts, and as a playwright; but at the time I was what you'd call a "knockabout" - just someone looking for anything that wasn't "suburbia" - looking to have fun, like we all were. I was an anarchist.

Before the Cross, in the 1950s, I was a self-professed "Bodgie" 1, The uniform was particular style of pants tight at the ankle, pegged, we called them, and big drape jackets; an arrow tie, and crepe soled shoes ( the style known as "Brothel Creepers"). We were interested in style.

That was over by the early 1960s when I came to Kings Cross from Perth - By then "Bodgiedom" had finished. The "Bohies" and the "Larroes" (Larrikins) ruled. The Bohemian scene was select, I think there was a paranoia of being exposed as having that suburban background. there was a huge fear of the police, who targeted anyone with unconventional behaviour, unconventional appearance - like the gays.

It was a small community. Perhaps a few hundred people who were influenced strongly by French Existentialism, and the Hipster culture of the U.S. This was characterised by a cool demeanour and lack of expression - being "cool."

But there was also a good-heartedness; and kindness. I have to stress that. We were battlers in a world of adventure. It was a village in the true sense. If someone was in trouble, that hat would be passed around.

A small community of knockabouts would turn up at the Abe Saffron parties that he used to hold in a house, I can't now remember exactly where it was. There was a crossover area between the Bohemian crowd and the "underworld". You would be asked to take a package somewhere and not be told what was in it, or something like that.

Rowie (Rosaleen) Norton bridged that gap between the criminal and bohemian milieu. She had a cafe on William Street in the basement opposite the fire station, downstairs. (This later became Tatlers, a private gentlemen's club eventually turned exclusive early hours habitué of the Nouveau Riche in Darlinghurst Road). I went to her house once in East Sydney, she was celebrating a black mass 2 . It was full of criminals!

Danny was an older gay Italian man who owned the "Toohey's Mansion" 3, which was a boarding house at the bottom of Barncleuth Square ("The Tor", which was at 10 Barncleuth Square). He had a restaurant in it. And at that time, the restaurant was not open to the public, only guests and their friends. Of course he had a mortgage to pay and still he really looked after everyone. Lots of the lodgers were writers, they were probably having a lot of novels rejected at the time!

The first time I ever smoked Marijuana was at the "Toohey's Mansion" with a bunch of Jazz musicians. We would often have a "Cockatoo" posted outside, which was someone who looked out for the police and would give a signal if it looked like they were coming!

Another venue was "Jackie's" and it was run by a very tough Lesbian woman. It was a place you could go and everyone knew everyone. It was in "Ricky's Arcade" built by a guy named Rick Marshall who kept sending himself to jail because he loved to run the dramatic society!

It was a hard life for the small gay community. They would tell you of the hardships, it was difficult to get a job, they would get beaten up a lot, all that kind of thing.

There was a lot of discrimination and punishment.

"Sweethearts" 4 was another cafe like Jackie's where everyone knew each other. Everyone would sit at a semi-circular bar and converse.

Lance Carolli 5 was a painter, and quite a good one. He was also what they called a "hoon". It didn't mean what it does today, someone who speeds in a car and does wheelies and that kind of thing; in those days it meant a pimp - living of the earnings of hookers. At one time he sold me a Hudson Hornet with a crack in the windscreen and when I asked, he told me that a piece of gravel had hit it. As it turned out it was a bullet hole from somebody trying to shoot him! I was advised to get rid of it as soon as possible, so I sold it immediately before the car ended up being recognised! He gave up his business as he stole a girl from a competitor and ended up being pushed against a wall and had boiling oil poured down his back.

Gordon Mutch was an artist I had known in Perth before I arrived in the Cross. He painted murals on café walls. We shared an apartment where he painted murals on the walls because he said "it would attract women." I don't know why he thought that would work!

I remember he devised a machine to flick paint and make abstract expressionist paintings for tourists. It was a turntable with these bowls stuck on it. He would set it up in the street somewhere, like Lankelly Lane, say to people "would you like an abstract expressionist painting?" and he would take their one pound and spin the machine, which would put paint on the canvas but at the same time it would also put paint on everyone else around!

Vicky Reardon was a jazz singer who sang in a club in Orwell Street. She was very tall and kind of haughty. She was as good as any international singer and could have had a real career in my opinion. A golden voice. Only the best musicians could get into "El Rocco", which was in Brougham Street. It was a jazz club we went to in the early 1960's. It has re-opened recently. The black American musicians inspired and taught the others.

I got to know some of the "crims" - Paddy O'Neil was one I knew well. He ended up dying in Fremantle Prison, murdered. I was excited to meet a real, professional criminal. He walked a lot like lurch. He was sitting in a chair overflowing, he was so big! He literally had to get up in sections! A paranoid man, he carried a Smith & Wesson. "everyone's laggin' me!", he would constantly complain.

Peter O'Malley 6 was another petty criminal who would break open the box at church after service!

"Sexual Slim" who was a big guy, hence slim, who constantly bragged about his conquests with younger women. He and a mate had a scam where they would turn up at a shop wearing white coats, with a trolley and a clipboard. They would present a fake invoice "we're here to pick up the fridge..." and wheel out an appliance, and sell it down the pub! People who were engaged in illicit activities would call themselves "professional gamblers". I went to a couple of those infamous Baccarat clubs that flourished at the time. there was a lot of money involved. Drinks were always free. They were decorated in the most grotesque taste!

Even "Consorting" was a criminal offense. If you were just seen three or four times associating with "undesirables", you could be arrested. So, I knew all the people, but was not expected to get too involved in their shenanigans!

1Bodgie (Australian English) (slang) a member of a 1950s rock subculture. An unruly or uncouth young man; teddy boy. According to Clem Australian Bodgies were not associated with "Teddy Boys"

2 Rosaleen Norton was known for giving parties to celebrate this occasion and was famous for the sign on her front door "Gone to mass. be black in an hour."

3 Clem remembers the mansion he refers to as being at the bottom of Barncleuth Square, which is located on a 1948 map as "The Tor" at 10 Barncleuth Square, almost opposite "Kinneil". There is a building named "The Tor", that was built during the R&R period which still stands adjacent at 51 Roslyn Gardens that obviously took it's name. The Toohey family - who owned Toohey's Beer - had lived in Sydney from 1869 but no evidence has been found to prove any connection to ""The Tor", perhaps there were boarders that resided during a period whose preferred tipple was Toohey's and perhaps "Toohey's Mansion" became a nickname. Advertisements show a long history of "The Tor" as a boarding house , from at least 1930.

4 "Sweethearts" was a legendary Café in Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia in the 1960s -1980s, but has since been demolished. It was located where the present-day McDonald's is now, in the middle of Kings Cross. It later moved to near the Bourbon & Beefsteak. Cold Chisel wrote their famous hit "Breakfast at Sweethearts" about the venue and it's regular inhabitants.

5 Lance Carolli's real name witheld for privacy reasons

6 Peter O'Malley's real name witheld for privacy reasons

Transcribed from notes taken during Clem Gorman's talk at Memory Lane, Kings Cross Arts Guild on 16 February 2011.

© 2011 Darian Zam. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature,

without the written permission of the copyright owner.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Stan Munro Davies remembers meeting notorious artist and writer Rosaleen Norton, "the witch of Kings Cross", at a private party, albeit briefly. Stan is a performer who started in show business at thirteen as a singer, dancer and acrobat. He arrived in Kings Cross in the very early 1960s to work at Les Girls. He just turned 70 and is still working today.

I only met Rosaleen once, at a party. It scared the pants off me so to speak. Not literally! It was after a show. so I was dressed in men's clothes, I wasn't dressed for work.

It was before Les Girls opened in '63, but the "6 O' Clock Swill" was definitely not a thing of the past (closing hours weren't extended to 10 p.m. in NSW in 1967). In those days the routine was - stand out side the Hilton with a flagon and look for a party to go to.

It was a gay get together we ended up at. I was taken there, me an innocent coal miners son! It wasn't her apartment, she was a visitor to the party if I remember correctly. She was sort of the guest of honour really. It was near the Les Girls club, in a flat down the back of some shops. I can't rememeber who else was there really... I'm sure Carlotta (the star of Les Girls cabaret show) was.

I was introduced and Rosaleen just sort of nodded to me and that was it - just a sort of hazy look of acknowledgement she gave me. I could describe it as a drugged look, if anything. I think she was pretty out of it, there was a lot of hooch around and oh yes drugs were around at that time of course. I remember she had really long fingernails Of course, she was a scary character - she looked intimidating,

Naturally she took an image, and she rode it. And she sounded intimidating too, from what I had heard - I had heard so much about her from the queens. I do remember she was reading cards for the boys that were assembled around her like flies. The queens adored her, she was a bit of a legend. And I just think she liked the odd types, and we certainly were at the time!

Transcribed from a Facebook chat interview on 15 January 2011.

© 2011 Darian Zam. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, photocopied, transmitted, or stored in any retrieval system of any nature,

without the written permission of the copyright owner.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Redrawn by Darian Zam from photo of John Olsen by Dave Swift.

My family moved to East Sydney in about 1935, to Bondi. I probably started being involved in the Kings Cross area in around 1955, 1956, and there were no galleries to speak of at the time. And let it be clear that there were very few galleries for us to exhibit in. The few galleries were concentrated in the CBD area. Macquarie Galleries (1925-present - showing Gleeson, Smart, Bunny, Coburn, Drysdale, Fairweather, Friend amongst others was the principal gallery, but was small at the time compared to today. David Jones Gallery was bigger, and another that was centred around what I'll call "The Gumtree School" (a disdainful nickname, 'The Gumtree School,' was used to describe most domestic landscapists).

It's for hard people these days to realise how small a society the Art world was back then. We didn't really go to any of the nightclubs because we didn't have money! (laughs) Nor were we really that interested, art was what we were passionate about!

We would go to gallery openings in the evening though, all the ladies with big hats on, you know - it was a (high) society situation. Everyone drank appallingly bad sherry and we'd be there and..,get half smashed and go down to Dixon Street and have Chinese! (laughs). Very cheap, everything was very cheap in those days. That's the way it was.

The Kings Cross area for many years from the 30s, the 40s, was like the bohemian centre of Sydney. If things happened there - there was a broader impact throughout culture. It was the only area that people had access to cosmopolitan coffee shops and cheaper restaurants. It was a case of a much more open society in those days. And also the rooms were cheap!

As far as the more notorious people... Rosaleen Norton was a distant figure, but very notorious with her witchcraft (laughs). Dulcie Deamer I did not know but of course she was a well known figure in The Cross. Frank "Bumper" Farrell, well I was aware of him. I was never arrested! (laughs).

I got a scholarship to go overseas in 1956, and then I came back, spending time living in the Kings Cross area from 1960. So I can only contribute so much when it comes to memories specifically of Kings Cross. Then after that we (I presume by "we" that John indicates the whole family) went to at Watson's Bay, East Sydney.

Spanish Encounter, 1960. (Collection of AGNSW).

I lived in 109 Victoria Street from 1960-1965. I had the attic and I painted an enormous picture named "Spanish Encounter" inspired by the travelling I'd just done, the memory where I'd lived. It is now in the AGNSW collection, you'll find it there. I painted it in three pieces on masonite, I did it like that because I had to get it up there somehow because it wouldn't fit up the tiny staircase! No way! (laughs)

Willliam Rose lived in the same building, and Clement Meadmore lived towards William Street, and Peter Upwood whose work is also in the AGNSW collection, was also in William Street ...also Stanislaus Rapotec. John Passmore and Drysdale were down on the corner of Macleay and Challis Avenue (Bernard Smith described them as 'the Victoria Street Group' of Sydney abstract expressionists). I painted a picture from the attic window named "The People Who Live in Victoria Street".

The People Who Live in Victoria Street, 1960. (Collection of AGNSW).

It was a real community, we were very close, hung out, ate together, went to pubs and restaurants in Victoria St. Chewed the fat. The Piccadilly was one place, and there was a German Restaurant diagonally, which I can't remember the name. "Sydney 9" was an exhibition we were all in that was held in Melbourne. It was a lively time.

So Victoria Street, which ran all the way through was the heart of the Cross at that time, as far as Visual Arts, and stretched from one end to the other with Plane Trees - it was very beautiful. Macleay St, you sort of have to give it it's own part (of significance) as well, as far as (the) writing (community), as you got further down to that area.

From 1960 to 1965 it was suddenly burgeoning, oh yes - very much. There was a lot of activity everywhere, with Rudy Komon in Paddington (showing Gleeson, Nolan, Klippel, Fred Williams and others) and Kym Bonython (Dr Hugh Reskymer (Kym) Bonython 1920-) opening big galleries. As well as many other smaller galleries which I can't remember the names of. I guess it really happened for the rest of the nation as well and everything opened up for us.

But before that things were really limited for artists in those days as I said, it didn't seem like there was a great future except for Dobell, Drysdale and Nolan...and then suddenly things were really happening from thereon.

The Hungry Horse was a restaurant on the corner of William Street and Elizabeth Street in Paddington, opposite The Windsor Castle Hotel. Now Lucio's. Yes, they were very Jolly times! (laughs) Kym Bonython was involved, he leased the upper level and Betty O'Neil was manager of the gallery. There's that well known image - Robert Hughes, Klippel, John Coburn, myself and a number of the others standing out there. If that balcony had collapsed that would have been the end of the Sydney renaissance! (laughs) That's why that photo of us is so iconic! (laughs). Madeleine Thurston ran the restaurant. People tend to think that it was one entity but it is important to get it right, make sure the referential point is correct, because it just gets compounded. There was no real connection between that and the gallery.

The Hungry Horse was a brief period really, it was a couple of the years. Kym Bonython had big ambitions and ideas! He built a magnificent space for the next gallery (1966 -1976, 52 Victoria Street, Paddington. A sister Bonython gallery operated in Adelaide from 1961 to 1983).

McElhone Steps, 1964. (Collection of AGNSW).

By 1963 Brett Whitely was back in Australia and had an enormous show there. I knew Brett very well.

Terry Clune Gallery was opened about 1960 (it actually opened 1957). That was a good gallery. There were important shows there for the time. And worth looking into as far as the variety of artists. As far as I recall the Clunes were renting space to artists, but perhaps only Drysdale and Passmore were lodging. I could be wrong on that. Frank Clune was a writer. Really the principal figures of the gallery was his wife Thelma, and Terry who was their son, after which the gallery was named. I came back from Spain and the gallery looked nice, it was a nice space and so I just went in, which is how I met them, I didn't know them before that. And I liked them. The exhibition I had was big and absolutely crowded, and people were spilling out on to the street. Sydney had decided that it was OK, it's not very profound, but Sydney has excitement. Quite different from Melbourne people and when Sydney is enthusiastic - my word, they remain so (laughs). Oh yeah, it's a mark approval alright. What Sydney likes it loves. And when they don't like... It's a great people place for young people - its fabulous. They all talk at the top of their heads, there's spontaneous juice about it! Yes, spontaneous juice! That's poetry just for you! (laughs).

I went back to Spain in 1965 and when I returned we had a house near Victoria Barracks in Paddington, very small. I had one more show at Terry Clune and then that's when we moved out to live in Watsons Bay.

I had no involvement in The Yellow House because I was away at the time. But that was quite an important thing, I'm uncertain about the group of people (involved). Martin Sharp was there of course, yes a brilliant cartoonist and a very clever young man. Well, not so young now, but then...(laughs) and then I knew all of all those other people involved. Greg Weight, a brilliant photographer, hugely talented - and a nice man too. They had a show there called "Muffled Drums" as I remember. It didn't last long but that's how it seems to go.

I'm 83 in February. well, I'm astonished, it a gift that's been given to me. It can be called "genes" but at the end it's a gift. Art is my obsession - I'm still working and doing the things I love to do!

Transcribed from a phone interview on 11 January 2011. Thanks to John Olsen, Louise Olsen, Art Gallery of NSW Collection, Dave Swift and Tim Olsen Gallery.

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