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.

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