I'm a Sydney-based singer/songwriter and avid traveller - you can check out my blog complete with songs, travel stories and creative musings at schaumann.com.au.
Published February 15th 2013
The historic crime and seduction of Kings Cross
Kings Cross: it's the infamous eastern-Sydney suburb synonymous with crime and seduction. A walk along the main drag of Darlinghurst Road reveals many of its remarkable facets, from the neon banners of risqué nightspots to the cuisines of countless cultures; from its thriving trade in illicit substance to the colourful, bizarre and often titillating characters you pass along the street.
Popularised in recent times by the television drama Underbelly, you can't help but feel part of debaucherous criminal history as you spend time in the Kings Cross of today. But how much do we really know about its days of old? Who were the people that paved the way for modern-day Darlinghurst?
These are questions I asked myself recently, and to find the answer I embarked upon the aptly titled Razor-Hurst walking tour, conducted by local tour group Two Feet & A Heartbeat.
A captivating Kings Cross wall along the Razor-Hurst walking tour
Winding through the Cross We met our guide Stephen underneath the iconic Coke sign at 6pm, where we commenced what turned out to be a fascinating journey into Sydney's past. The focus of the evening's adventure was on the many characters involved in organised crime during the early half of last century, as well as the architecture, local hangouts and events that ensued. As we made our way around the alleyways of Darlinghurst, Kings Cross, Potts Point and down into the charismatic lanes of Woolloomooloo, we were introduced to the likes of Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine and Phil Jeffs, all prominent members of the Razor gangs of the 1920's and 30's. For a little over two hours we were given access to a compelling and scandalous world where cocaine deals, prostitutes, sly grog shops and murder by razor were all considered the norm.
It wasn't all pre-World War II crime and rebellion, however – what I particularly enjoyed about the tour were the cultural tidbits from all eras that Stephen (a true local, having lived in the area for many years) shared with us along the way. We were given some great insight into the restaurateurs and café owners who contribute significantly to contemporary Kings Cross cuisine, and I was impressed to be shown the whereabouts of long-gone historic venues such as Sweethearts Café (made famous by Cold Chisel's Breakfast At Sweethearts). I even learnt that the backpackers hostel I lived at for a month upon my arrival to Sydney in 2009 was once a notorious nightclub / brothel known as the Venus Room.
The old Venus Room nightclub (currently Eva's Backpackers)
I won't elaborate on the culmination of the tour, but I will say that it allowed me to feel a sense of connection and a strange fondness for the legends in crime that we'd spent the evening learning about. Despite their wrongdoings, I was briefly able to transport back in time and see the world through their eyes – a world that helped secure the vibrant and eclectic community that makes up Kings Cross today.
I would recommend the Razor-Hurst tour to locals and travellers alike, although a word of caution for parents with youngsters in tow: you will encounter some fairly mature topics. That aside, the sights and stories will surely enthral those who are foreign to our city, and those who know Sydney well will undoubtedly learn something new.
Join the tour! More information on the Kings Cross Razor-Hurst walking tour can be found at the Two Feet & A Heartbeat website. The two-hour tour takes place every night of the week at 6pm and costs $40 to join.
They don't just offer the Razor-Hurst tour either – there are a few other Sydney-based tours to choose from including Sydney With Conviction and Kings Cross: Crime & Passion. And if you ever find yourself on the opposite side of the country, you'll be pleased to know Two Feet & A Heartbeat run similar guided tours in Perth and Fremantle as well.