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Published: August 4th 2009
Backpackers are everywhere in Kings Cross...
Every city in the world has “that” part of town. You know, where all the problems are. Longtime listeners to ABC Radio Sydney lament its downhill spiral into squalor and social breakdown. No one goes there anymore, they say. It’s not safe for children. Whatever you do, warns one caller, don’t go there after dark. There might be trouble. Fashionably dingy yet decomposing Kings Cross is the antidote to spic-and-span Darling Harbour and the Central Business District. It is where the populace prefers tie dyes over business attire. Within minutes of surfacing from the subway station it was clear to me “that” part of town is where I needed to be. Change the language and add a few red neon signs and it could be Amsterdam or Hamburg.
Kings Cross makes perfect sense. I belong here, or once did many years ago. Those who would never fit in on the escalators of the Queen Victoria Building or the posh apartment towers of North Sydney have a home here. Call them what you like: misfits, drunkards, outcasts, and vagrants. Thank goodness! To my left an adult novelty store, to my right…trash, and lots of it. A plethora of communal accommodations simply known
Aboriginees sit idle on a city bench...
as backpackers house hoards of worldly and frugal budget travelers. They hide during the day’s long shadows in the bohemian cafés and avant-garde bars. Free WiFi abounds in Kings Cross. Youthful interlopers update their Facebook pages to their family and friends on thousand-dollar laptops, though willingly bunk up twelve to a room and share run down dorm rooms with perfect strangers. One Calgarian in a Che Guevara t-shirt complains about the connection on her Dell while taking a bite out of an oily spring roll. She then takes a sip from her eight-dollar and very hyphenated lattè.
A tawdry prostitute asks me if I need company. I decline and I check the wristwatch of another pedestrian on Darlinghurst Street. It is barely eleven in the morning. Though having recently had a sandwich on the go, the aroma of melted goat cheese on focaccia floating from an air duct makes my mouth water. In front of me steps a thuggish man of maybe twenty. He crosses the street to catch up with two girls he was out with last night. In a soiled tank top he yells at them, his babbling words laced with threats of violence and profanity. The streets
A Dose of Reality
This scene would be prohibited elswhere in the city...
are busy with pedestrians. No one pays him any attention, much less the hulky Pacific island man standing sentinel at the entrance to a private sports club.
I doubt Kings Cross could stack up to urban blight on other continents. The opening line for beggars when they accost pedestrians is one dollar. One dollar! In other cities, European and American, the going rate is “spare change”, whatever you can muster. One man approached me and asked for four dollars! Peddlers elsewhere would be delighted with as much shrapnel in their pocket as they could amass and never overbid what the market is willing to concede. Even the down and out have expenses to meet. Inflation has percolated to the park benches, fire escapes, and doorways where the rough uncombed fringe of Sydney society lurks.
I do not expect an episode of COPS to be filmed here anytime soon. Yet it proves that Sydney has a less savory side and in doing so it validates its slick smooth image has indeed encountered its share of bumps, dents, and bruises. Kings Cross may not make Sydney a better city, but it does make it more of one.
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