Kings Cross has always been a place of exaggerated realities. Once it was called 'The Glittering Mile', yet it is barely a quarter of a mile long. Eighty years ago 100,000 people crammed into its narrow lanes and streets. it was proclaimed with bigoted pride that it was the most densely populated area of WHITE people in the world. in those days pride could be taken in poverty stricken families of six or more stuffed like sardines in tiny Kings Cross rooms. It was a ghetto of the dispossed, the homosexual, the political activist, the artists and writers, and generally those who couldn't fit in elsewhere. It was the Australian version of Monmartre.
Like Monmartre it started life as a place of Windmills, but unlike Montmartre where the windmills remained to become the famous centers for bohemian excess, in Kings Cross the windmills had long gone and replaced by high rise tenements by the time bohemianism arrived. Here and there, however, some remnants of an older Cross do survive in the form of some the grand mansions that once housed the elite of a young city.
Kings Cross has always flourished on change. Mass migration started in the early twentieth century and accelerated with the mass displacements of the second World War. The big ships with hundreds and thousands of migrants docked down at Woolloomooloo and Kings Cross was close and cheap. It was the place where many new arrivals staked out a new life in a strange new world. it was said that if you stood on a corner in Kings Cross for a day you would hear every language in the world. No one tested the theory because no one stood still that long in Kings Cross. The streets were a brew of coffee smells and the arguments between poets and anarchists competed with a thousand different voices in the street.
Nowadays it is the home of the metrosexual, that cafe society loving single household, or childless couple. The population is down to a bit more than 10,000. The stories are different, yet somehow much the same. The street is still the center of life, a life that is at times challenging, always exciting.
I love to walk through The Cross late at night, music loud on my iPod. One day Suzi Quatro is about right. Another it is Fatboy Slim. The mood changes always, sometimes because of the street, sometimes because of me. These are the moods of Kings Cross, constantly changing. It is gawking romantics hand in hand one minute, a drunk hopeful of begging a dollar the next.
At breakfast time the Picolo fills with those who have been reminded by the sun that it might be time to go home after a coffee. At any time of day or night there is life to be found. A burger at Macdonald's, a newspaper can be bought, a drink can be had. Only the banks and places like that demand that some kind of conventional hours be kept.
I love to sit in a cafe and watch the life in the street. Kings Cross is full of the sort characters that look like they might have escaped from a Carné film. Considering how The Cross is surrounded by beautiful apartments one wonders where all these people might live. Watching them stream by like a river it is possible to begin to suspect that maybe they really have no existence outside of the vignettes that happen before your eyes.
Perhaps the secret of Kings Cross is the streets themselves, the streets that change so much, that have individual characters. One is noisy, one is peaceful, yet both lie right beside each other. It is such a small place in many ways, I guess it must be that way to fit in all those different personalities of person or pavement. Kings Cross is like no other place, a living being, with a heart and lungs and soul. And like in a body its streets have roles that suit its need to live. Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is the people who are being moulded by the street, or whether it is the street being moulded by the people, the connection between the residents and their street is so intimate.
Kings Cross seem to intimidate the uninitiated. There is no place to hide from its extremes unless you actually live here. Visitors are surprised how a Kings Cross room is a haven from the frenetic world just downstairs. For those of us who have learned to surrender to the seductions of the Kings Cross life we enjoy our refuge from the world as much as we enjoy the excitement of the street. We love that everything important from galleries to libraries to universities to theatres to work is just a short walk from the front door. There is nothing nicer than a French breakfast at Le Petit Creme, or a model arriving at 6:30 and artists arriving to draw and paint. Ten minutes away is the greatest botanic gardens in the southern hemisphere, the swimming pool just down my street. And everywhere, passionate people prepared to indulge in the pleasures of being alive.