Review: Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross shares tales of crime and passion

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. This engrossing walking tour will give you the backstory. Review: Cindy Bingley-Pullin

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross. Image courtesy of Sydney Urban Adventures

4.5 stars

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross with Urban Adventures

Join a fascinating guided stroll through the infamous Kings Cross precinct in Sydney’s inner-east. You’ll hear tales of crime and passion in the name of fame and fortune as you explore what was once Australia’s red light capital. This is a Sydney walking tour with a dark twist! Duration: 2 hours (approx.)

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

‘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 poem William Street.

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 visited Sydney is likely to have passed through the notorious Cross at some point, but few are aware of the rich and vibrant history that has shaped the area. Colourful underworld figures, musicians, creatives and bohemians have all called the precinct home. It has been the epicentre of high profile crime cases, and housed the first high-density dwellings in Australia. It’s a district that offers no end of unexpected and surprising revelations, and one of the best way to get a feel for its fascinating past is to join Urban Adventures on their two-hour Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross. Called Crime and Passion, the tour will transport you back to a grittier and more salacious era.

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross

The tour starts beneath the mammoth Coca Cola 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.

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross. Image courtesy of Sydney Urban Adventures

We head off along Victoria Street, where a discrete brass plaque in the sidewalk outside No. 202 is the only hint of the nondescript terrace’s 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 printed stories in her publication 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 attend a meeting at the nearby Carousel Club to discuss paid advertising in her newspaper. She left her home to go to the club on 4 July, 1975, and was never seen again.

‘To this day, no one knows what happened to her. Her body was never found and no one was ever convicted of her murder,’ says Kirsty. ‘It remains one of the most high-profile unsolved mysteries in Australia’s history.’

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross

Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross. Image courtesy of Sydney Urban Adventures

The tale of the missing heiress is the beginning of a litany of stories about intriguing local characters, including 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 gunned down on the doorstep of a local pub.

Along the way, Kirsty points out local architecture of historic importance, including St Vincent’s College — the oldest Catholic school in Sydney and still a prominent educational institution. We learn why the Chevron Hotel (once the hippest hotel in Sydney, and now an apartment block) refused to accommodate the Beatles during their Australian tour in 1964.

Overall, this Sydney walking tour of Kings Cross is an engrossing experience — made all the more engaging 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 Sydney 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 New York City at dusk.

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