Sydney Crimes and Passions Walking Tour

January 30, 2014 by

Australia & the Pacific, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

The famous Kings Cross intersection

The famous Kings Cross intersection

Walking tours are an ideal way to get the lowdown on a city, and our Sydney Crimes and Passions Walking Tour delivered on its promise to expose the underbelly of Sydney’s notorious past. We met our guide, Valentino, under the oversized Coca Cola sign at the famous intersection known as Kings Cross. He explained that in the 1800’s, this area was an exclusive suburb known for its posh Victorian homes.

Striking view of downtown

Striking view of downtown

Valentino described how life changed dramatically in the early 1900’s when a Navy base opened nearby, and a new law forced bars to close at 6:00 p.m. Interestingly, two women became the first crime bosses of Kings Cross. Kate Leigh established ‘sly-grog shops’ to sell liquor illegally afterhours (eventually expanding into drug peddling as well), and Tilly Devine created Sydney’s largest brothel system. These Queens of the Underworld hated each other, and their gangs were constantly at each other’s throats (literally) using their weapon of choice: the cheap but deadly razor. Their gangland-style feuds became known as the Razor Wars. Eventually the tax man caught up with the ladies and ended their wicked reigns in ‘The Cross.’

The once endangered Victoria Street

The once endangered Victoria Street

Knowledgeable Valentino shared other stories of murder and mayhem as we strolled along lovely Victoria Street, a street whose charms were almost destroyed by a crime boss named Abe Saffron aka ‘Mr. Sin.’  Abe planned to bulldoze the marvelous old Victorian homes on this street and make a fortune putting up ugly high rise buildings.  However, he didn’t count on the vocal opposition of a local journalist named Juanita Nielsen.

One day, Juanita went to a meeting at the Carousel Club (which just happened to be in the same building as one of Abe’s nightclubs), and she was never seen again.  The case is still unsolved and remains one of Australia’s most famous missing person cases.  After Juanita’s disappearance, the public outcry prevented Abe’s demolition plans, and Victoria Street remains a graceful gem lined with backpacker places.  However Victoria Street has not totally changed her stripes – Valentino pointed to a pretty house called ‘The Golden Apple’ and told us it’s a famous brothel.

The Bourbon, formerly known as the Carousel Club

The Bourbon, formerly known as the Carousel Club

Next we headed for the heart of the action along Darlinghurst Road, known as ‘The Golden Mile.’ Despite being in the red light district, our walk took us past gentrified private homes and even a convent school for girls (talk about a diverse neighborhood!). Soon alluring neon signs touted the names of nightclubs like Bada Bing, Porky’s, and The Bourbon which was formerly known as the Carousel Club, the place where Juanita Nielsen was last seen alive.

Nightclubs along ‘The Golden Mile’

Nightclubs along ‘The Golden Mile’

The crime boss tradition still continues, and the current ‘King of the Cross’ is John Ibrahim who reputedly owns 18 venues in the neighborhood. However, he denies any involvement and leaves no paper trail which has earned him the nickname ‘Mr. Teflon.’ In some ways, ‘The Cross’ has cleaned up its act with police corruption a thing of the past, legalized prostitution, and a Legal Injecting Room offering a clean environment for drug users. But after the sun goes down, party-hearty crowds still throng the streets around the landmark El Alamein Fountain, and scandalous stories, both new and old, are just waiting to be told.

The El Alamein Fountain

The El Alamein Fountain

 – Anne Supsic

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