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Kings Cross in the 1960s

Home > Sydney > Places of Interest | Museums | Unusual Events
by Roz Glazebrook (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published December 14th 2022
How two teenage girls almost ended up in a brothel
How a young woman's Maltese heritage saved her from a life in a brothel in Kings Cross.

The Glittering Mile
The Glittering Mile

When I was 17, I went on holiday to Sydney with two of my nursing colleagues in 1965. We stayed with my friend Aileen's sister and her husband. They showed us around town and we visited all the tourist spots including Taronga Park zoo, Luna Park and Bondi Beach. We went on ferry rides around the Bay, shopping in town and even went in the audience for a live show with Don Lane. The most exciting thing we did was go to Kings Cross.

Kings Cross
Kings Cross

We were from the small town of Launceston in Tasmania. I remember how exciting and scary it was to visit the "Cross". I remember walking around at night there and being amazed at all the interesting people, loud music coming out of venues, and men trying to lure us into nightclubs, sex shops and the fountain. We felt safe because we had Aileen's sister and brother-in-law with us.

I recently heard a story about two other young girls who also went to Kings Cross about the same time we were there. I met Sophie (name changed) a couple of years ago at my local writer's group. I joined the group after I stopped full-time work.

At the group, we read out stories we had written the previous month. We were usually given a topic to write about, but one month we were able to write about any topic we wanted. Sophie read a true story that happened to her when she was 15.

Her story was great and I encouraged her to try and get it published but she wasn't interested. She is very shy and still a bit scared by what happened to her. She and her friend travelled down from Brisbane to Sydney for a short holiday to stay with her friend's brother. He was a lawyer and took the two young teenage girls on some great outings to the zoo, Opera House and museum.

The brother promised to take the girls to the movies to see Ryan's Daughter, which had just been released. The girls were very excited, not only to see the movie but also because it was showing in Kings Cross. They were very keen to go and visit there as they had heard all the stories about how fascinating it was.

The girls were getting ready to go to the movie when the brother rang and said he couldn't get away from work in time to take them, so they would have to leave it. They were very disappointed but after finding the movie tickets in his flat, they decided they would go on their own.

They rang a taxi and went into Kings Cross. It wasn't crowded when they entered the movie theatre. The girls loved the film. When they came out though, the atmosphere in the Cross had changed dramatically. It was noisy and crowded and there were lots of people walking around who looked like they were on drugs. There were also a lot of prostitutes walking up and down the street-soliciting customers. The girls tried to hail a taxi but they didn't have any luck. They didn't know how they could find a public telephone and they were scared. This was in the days before mobile phones,

Colourful Kings Cross
Colourful Kings Cross

They walked around the corner and entered a dark alleyway to get away from the crowds. They were trying to work out what they should do when suddenly a large car pulled up beside them. A well-dressed man hopped out and started walking towards them. Sophie grabbed her friend by the arm. He looked a bit menacing and they were terrified.

Just before he got to them he tripped on the footpath and swore in a foreign language. He said "Jesu" which is the swear word for "Jesus' in Maltese. Sophie recognised the language as Maltese because she was Maltese herself. She said to him "Malta" and he looked up and smiled at her. He started talking to them in English and said he was Maltese. His whole demeanour changed and he suddenly became very supportive and caring about these two scared young Queensland girls. He spoke to them quietly and walked them back up to the main street. He flagged down a taxi and paid the driver to take them home He had introduced himself as Joe Borg, which didn't mean anything to them at the time.

When they arrived home, the brother was furious with them. He had arrived home from work and found them missing. He was very worried and didn't let them out of his sight for the rest of their Sydney trip. Like everyone in Sydney, he knew who Joe Borg was.

Joe Borg was the well-known King of Vice of Kings Cross. He was a Maltese migrant who arrived in Australia in 1950 as a twenty-year-old. Joe systematically bought up or leased a series of little terrace houses on Palmer Street. They were known as 'The Doors' because of the practice of prostitutes displaying themselves in the doorways. He had purchased six of the area's narrow-fronted terrace houses between July 1963 and February 1965, and as the prostitutes returned to the area in late 1967, Borg quickly obtained title to another eight. By merely renting the rooms to working prostitutes at $20 per eight-hour shift, Borg began to enjoy an income of $8,000 to $10,000 per week. He was kind and gentle to the women and they felt secure under his protection.

The Pink Pussycat
The Pink Pussycat

He was so successful that other migrants from Malta were jealous of Joe's power and wealth from the sex industry. On 28th May 1968, Joe walked out of his house on Brighton Boulevard in North Bondi and climbed into his 1961 Holden utility van. As he turned on the ignition, a canister bomb placed under the driver's seat and containing three to five pounds of gelignite exploded, destroying the lower half of his body and severing his right leg.

Although police arrived almost immediately from the Bondi Police Station only four hundred metres away, Joe died en route to St Vincent's Hospital. Police eventually charged three suspects in August: Keith Kellior, a waiter at the Commodore Hotel and two Maltese men, Paul Mifsud, twenty-nine, waiter and Paul Attard, twenty-four, a painter and docker.

In court, a detective said he had been told by one of the accused men "All the Maltese men are angry with Joe. He rob all the boys and girls who were in the Doors. He 'King Joe".

On Friday 21 February 1969, Paul Mifsud and Paul Attard were found guilty. Keith Keillor, was charged with being an accessory before the fact. He was found guilty and remanded for sentencing. The charge against Keillor read that he had incited, moved, procured, aided, counselled, hired and commanded Attard and Mifsud to commit the felony. Mr Justice Taylor told the jury it was part of the Crown's case that Keillor had advised the other two men on how to make a bomb and then later had helped construct it.

A story in the Canberra Times on 30 May 1968 read "A woman associate of Borg's said today that he had made a will only a few weeks ago, leaving proceeds from the sale of his property, worth $250,000 to the RSPCA. The woman had said he did not trust any human being, and that he trusted only his Alsatian dog Caesar".

In his final will, Joe Borg left all of his assets to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) on condition that the society care for his Alsatian dog and his four cats. While the RSPCA's Victorian chapter refused any share from the sale of the fourteen brothels, the New South Wales chapter accepted the bequest and eventually received $50,000. The largest of the twenty-three floral tributes at Borg's graveside was sent by the State RSPCA and bore the inscription: 'In Gratitude from all the Homeless Animals'.

Joe's wife must have contested the will because an article in the Canberra Times on Saturday 8 November 1969 stated Joe Borg's widow, Mrs Lorenza Borg of St Venera, Malta was awarded $15,000 and her two children George 18 and Maria 17 were each awarded $1,500 from his estate. Mr Justice McClelland, the Chief Judge in Equity, upheld an application by her to the NSW Equity Court contesting the will.

There was a Queensland connection to this story too. Joe Borg's business partner in the Sydney brothel business moved to Brisbane after he was murdered. Simone Vogel (real name Norma Pavich) reorganised the prostitution business in Brisbane and made a lot of money through illegal massage parlours in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. She mysteriously disappeared in 197. She was last seen leaving her Kon Tiki studio at Kedron on Brisbane's northside.

Her husband, Stephen Pavich called around his wife's massage parlours later that evening. He spoke to her employees. Her manageress overheard her on the phone with an unidentified caller. She heard Ms Vogel say "I'll meet you in the same parking spot that I met you at before - about half past six". She disappeared that night with $6,000 in cash, after making withdrawals from her parlours.

Mr Pavich employed a private investigator to try and find his wife. He found her abandoned brand new Mercedes at the Brisbane airport carpark the following day. It was unlocked and the keys were missing. There were no signs of a struggle. Five years later a coroner's report found she most probably met with foul play. There were suggestions at the time that corrupt police were involved.

Sophie and her friend could have ended up in a Sydney brothel, which would have changed their lives forever. They were very lucky Sophie was from the same Mediterranean island of Malta as Joe Borg.

You can read more about Joe Borg at the Sydney Crime Museum website.

I obtained the photos from a documentary on the internet made about Sydney in the 1960s. If people are interested, you can join an information walk through the city to learn about how exciting Kings Cross used to be back in those days. I haven't been there for a very long time, so I'm not sure what it is like now. Maybe some readers could tell me.

Kings Cross: The Glittering Mile 1960s.

In the mid 1960s a documentary was made on Kings Cross. Its opening narration illustrates what "Sin City" meant to Sydney at the time. This is still one of the greatest descriptions of the fantasy land that the Cross had become in the eyes of Australia and the world. I have added imagery of the area and its local eccentrics from the 1920s - 1980s.

If you'd like to re-enter a world of good times, glamour, murder & martinis, join the Kings Cross Golden Age tour.

I changed the name of the woman who told me part of this story. She is still affected by those events so long ago.

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Why? An exciting story about Kings Cross in the 1960s
When: 1960s
Where: Kings Cross, Sydney, NSW
Cost: Depends on what you do there. Free to walk the streets
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