Review: Kings Cross walking tour shares the story of crime and passion in Sydney

Colourful Kings Cross has been home to Sydney's seedy side for decades, but it wasn’t always this way. The Cross started out as a leafy enclave for the burgeoning city’s wealthy elite, and today it's firmly on the verge of re-gentrification. This engrossing walking tour of the precinct will give you the backstory. Review: Cindy Bingley-Pullin

Kings Cross walking tour

Kings Cross walking tour. Image courtesy of Urban Adventures

4.5 stars

Kings Cross walking tour with Urban Adventures

Join this informative Kings Cross walking tour through inner Sydney’s most infamous suburb. Learn the history of Kings Cross and hear tales of fame and fortune, and murder and mystery. This is a Sydney walking tour with a twist! Duration: 2 hours (approx.)

‘The red globe of light, the liquor green…you find this ugly, I find it lovely,’ wrote the eminent Australian poet Kenneth Slessor in his William Street poem.

Slessor’s words – penned in 1939 – pay homage to Sydney’s Kings Cross, which even then was awash with garish neon signs and fast gaining a reputation as a seedy red light district. Anyone who has been to Sydney is likely to have visited the notorious Cross at least once, but few are aware of the rich and vibrant history that has shaped the area.

From the empires of colourful underworld figures to the favoured haunts of musicians, creatives and bohemians; to being the site of one of the nation’s biggest crime mysteries and the first high-density dwellings in Australia – the Cross is full of both expected and surprising revelations.

The best way to get a feel for the locale’s fascinating past is to join Urban Adventures on their two-hour Kings Cross walking tour – Crime & Passion – which will transport you back to a grittier, more salacious era.

Kings Cross walking tour

Kings Cross walking tour. Image: Bigstock

This Kings Cross walking tour starts below the mammoth Coke sign (possibly the best-known landmark in the area) on the bustling intersection of William Street, Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street – the reason Kings Cross has its name.

‘It was originally called Queens Cross after Queen Victoria, but renamed Kings Cross when King Edward came to the throne,’ explains our guide Kirsty.

Kings Cross walking tour

Kings Cross walking tour. Image courtesy of Urban Adventures

We head off to Victoria Street where a discrete brass plaque in the sidewalk outside No. 202, a nondescript terrace, is the only hint of its historical significance. Juanita Nielsen, heiress to the Mark Foy’s department store family fortune, ran a local paper entitled NOW from her home here in the 1960s.

Nielsen was an anti-development activist, and used her publication to write about unscrupulous property developers, whose antics included physically displacing tenants from local terraces in order to build Sydney’s first high-rise apartments. Neilsen received an invitation to the nearby Carousel Club to discuss paid advertising in her newspaper. On 4 July, 1975, she left her home for the Carousel Club and was never seen again.

‘To this day, no one really knows what happened to her. No one ever found the body and no one was ever convicted,’ declares Kirsty. ‘It’s one of the biggest and most well-known unsolved crimes in Australia.’

Kings Cross walking tour

Kings Cross walking tour. Image courtesy of Urban Adventures

The tale of the missing heiress is simply a prelude to colourful anecdotes of other characters that pepper the Cross’ history: Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, female criminals and bitter rivals who led the menacing Razor Gang Wars in the 1920s and 30s; the infamous Abe Saffron who ‘ran’ the Cross for over 40 years and whose legacy endured even longer; and Donny ‘The Glove’ Smith, a standover man who relished fighting with a lead-lined glove and was eventually shot dead on the doorstep of a local pub, now a backpackers’ lodge.

This Kings Cross walking tour also introduces us to local architecture of historic importance, including St Vincent’s College, the oldest Catholic school in Sydney and still a prominent educational institution.

We also learn why the Chevron, hippest hotel in town during its time and now an apartment block, refused to let the Beatles stay during their Australian visit in 1964.

Overall, this Kings Cross walking tour is an engrossing experience – enhanced by our well-informed guide. One can’t help but echo Slessor’s poetic words: ‘I find it lovely.’ Indeed.

Cindy travelled as a guest of Urban Adventures.

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Cindy Bingley-Pullin considers herself a writer, wanderluster, corporate bee and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office and washing cot sheets at home, she pursues her combined passions of travel and freelance writing. Her work appears in publications such as Virgin Australia’s Voyeur, International Traveller and Fitness First magazines, and the Sydney Morning Herald. To date, her travels have taken her everywhere from the ancient Angkor Wat temples at dawn to the soaring skyscrapers of NYC at dusk, and from sleeping under the stars in central-west NSW to dining at Michelin-starred restaurants in the south of France. She has volunteered at an orphanage in India, bathed elephants in the river in remote northern Thailand, waved glow sticks at an underground rave in San Francisco and cautiously navigated an active volcano in Hawaii. The first thing she does when she comes home to Sydney is pop by her local cafe for a decent flat white.

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