Hanging out at The Cross

kings cross sydney

The iconic area of Kings Cross in Sydney’s east inner city has long since been known as having some of the most exciting and varied nightlife of anywhere in Australia. The introduction of the Sydney lockout laws designed to curb alcohol fuelled violence in the city has sanitised the area somewhat but my experience there in the winter of 2005 was that of zone buzzing with life of all sorts.

I was staying in a place called Kings Cross Hostel on Darlinghurst road, just a few minutes’ walk from Kings Cross underground station so I became acquainted with the comings and goings in the area. From early morning starters to late night revellers you could see anything once you walked out the hostel door. I had arrived in Sydney with little money so had to find the most economical accommodation I could, and that turned out to be a packed hostel right at the heart of The Cross.

Standing on the upper floors of the hostel there was a view of the famous red and white Coca-Cola billboard to the left while the right had a mixture of bars, nightclubs and any other type of late night entertainment venue you can think of. Walking down Darlinghurst road away from the Coca-Cola sign on a Friday night there was an air of seediness mixed with a real sense of energy.

I can only compare it to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn where I spend some time working in a bar in the late 90s. A red light district mixed with rocking music venues and bouncing nightclubs this was the place to find excitement in Sydney.

Also like Hamburg’s Reeperbahn the Kings Cross area has had a chequered history with powerful underworld figures running the drug trade and owning many of the businesses in the area. Their endeavours were aided by the fact that many of police were corrupt and were in business with the criminals, taking payoffs to turn a blind eye to illegal activity or provide information on police raids. There were also cases of drugs seized by police being sold on to other criminals for distribution. The Australian television series Underbelly: The Golden Mile tells the story of the level of police corruption in Kings Cross in the late 80s and early 90s. The series looks in-depth at the activities of two police Graham ‘Chook’ Fowler and Trevor Haken and gives a factual and entertaining look at how things were run in The Cross back then.

Budget accommodation as it is, I was in a dorm room with five other people, one of them a tall curly haired Liverpudlian named Stuey. He certainly had the Scouse sense of humour we used to spend the weekends on the Cross drinking cheap beer and living it up after a week at work.

Like me Stuey was working on the building sites so was up at 5am and we looked forward to the weekend when we could spend our earnings.

“Free red bull and vodka in the bar across the road,” Stuey said to me one Friday evening after I got back from work.

“Nice one when is it?” I asked.

“Seven til eight, you better get your skates on mate and get ready,” he answered.

“Are you sure its free?” I asked.

“Ya defo mate,” he replied, showing me a flier.

“I didn’t think we would put away that much in a hour,” I said to Stuey as I sat drinking the last of my red bull and vodka just after 8pm.

“Ya mate, I’m proper buzzing now,” Stuey replied.

Filled with energy from the red bull after a long week at work we started a pub crawl at the Kings Cross hotel making our way slowly down Darlinghurst road stopping wherever the music or the vibe inside seemed good.

By midnight both the street and the venues lining it were electric. The energy of  a Friday night on the Cross was like few I have ever experienced. People now free of the constraints of a weeks work were ready for a good time as the worries of the week melted away.

“An hour of free red bull and vodka really kicked the night off,” Stuey said to me when I saw him the next afternoon, both of us the worse for wear.

“Haha, it turned into a full on night,” I replied.

This became our routine for the duration of my stay on the Cross. Stuey, me and whoever else was around hit the free red bull and vodka on a Friday night before seeing where the night took us in the Cross.

In typical Kings Cross fashion the owner of the hostel was another standout character. An obese Australian man called Barry in his mid fifties with short dyed black hair, he sat behind his desk and ran the establishment from there. This wasn’t a hostel with the usual young and bubbly reception staff who looked like their previous work had been as a model. No, this was a no nonsense place which was cheap and unpretentious.

“Jeez Barry never sems to move from the reception desk, he even bloody eats there,” Rebecca a young backpacker from England said to Stuey and me one evening as we stood outside the hostel for some fresh evening air.

“Ya I think he has been running this place for decades,” Stuey replied.

“Its hard to believe he was in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976,” I added.

“Get lost he was never in the Olympics,” Rebecca said.

“He was, he told me all about it last week,” Stuey added. Stuey and I were on the same wavelength humour wise and often took up each other’s tall tales as a way of giving them credibility.

“He was there as part of the Australian tennis team, mixed doubles I think it was,” I continued with the story.

“He still keeps the racquet he used at the Olympics behind the reception desk, he will show it to you if you ask him,” Stuey said.

“Piss off, Barry didn’t play tennis at the Olympics,” Rebecca said laughing and walked back inside.

“Ask Barry about the time he was in the Olympics,” Stuey called after her.

“Piss off you lunatic,” came the laughed reply.

The hostel had the Cross written all over it. An eccentric owner providing accommodation to travellers who had no interest in frills and felt at ease in the atmosphere of the area. A great place to experience the manic side of Australia, but only for a short time!