I learnt two things before I even left home this morning. Kings Cross is not a suburb. It’s an area of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. And the public can access Garden Island Naval Base via ferry. It is north of Potts Point and worth a visit. So, today I’m off to Garden Island first, then heading back to Kings Cross, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay.
Every time I set off to discover a suburb, I have a sense of anticipation. And a little anxiety. Today this feeling is particularly strong. Six of us alight at Garden Island Ferry wharf. A group of grey-haired, probably retired navy personnel and me. The security guard greets them by name. He greets me and explains where I can go and what to look out for. I may take photos but not of navy personnel.
I am here to visit the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Heritage Centre. Housed in a large exhibition hall the displays represent over 100 years of Naval history. I am surprised that part of one of one of the Japanese midget submarines involved in the Battle of Sydney in 1942 is here. I wander through the exhibition getting a feel for life as a naval person. I smile on reading that each new naval recruit is issued with a ‘Housewife’ – in effect a sewing kit. Out in the gardens, once the original kitchen garden for the navy, groups of naval staff in grey camouflage are involved in teambuilding exercises. I bid them g’day and continue along the path to the first known graffiti in Sydney Town. It takes the form of initials carved into sandstone in 1788.
There are over 100 stairs to an observation deck. The 360o view from the viewing area is well worth the effort. I have time for a quick coffee at the café before boarding the ferry back to Circular Quay. It’s exhilarating standing at the bow of the ferry with the wind blowing through my hair.
A quick walk takes me to Martin Place Station and the train to Kings Cross Station. Having read a few walking guides I decide to wander the length of Potts Point (less than one kilometre long and 200m wide). Starting at the recently refurbished Coca Cola sign, I can just make out what is thought to be a 1970s mural behind it. Strips of brass plaques embedded in the pavement hint at life as it was in times gone by. Stories of sly grog, cocaine and prostitution. Of windmills, creativity and controversy.
A couple stumble past me. I notice the night clubs, strip clubs and backpacker hostels. Camera round my neck, I feel self-conscious and out of my comfort zone. I’m drawn to ask a Mauri man sitting nearby about his fine facial tattoos. He tells me they are ‘moko’. But his demeanour discourages further conversation. I would love a photo, but decide not to ask.
Down Roslyn Street I find the Piccolo Bar. A Kings Cross institution, it recently featured in an episode of ‘Rake’ and its history has been told in a cabaret performance. I am enjoying my lunch, when the owner, Vittorio, walks in. In his 80s, he has worked here for many years and met many a well-known Kings Cross identity. He knits a colourful scarf as he chats away. Amanda Keller walks in to tell Vittorio that she has been complimented on the scarf she bought from him. I leave, the richer for a chance encounter with a warm and interesting man.
There is a seedy side to the area. There is also beauty. In the buildings. In the people, famous and the not so famous. The well off and those down on their luck, live side by side.
A woman is sketching the El Alamein Fountain. Another in a bright yellow hat waits with her large suitcase at the bus stop. On level 2 of the Kings Cross Car park I find something I’ve read about but never visited. An art space run by the Alaska Project. The thought provoking installation brightens up the dinginess of the car park.
The Wayside Chapel in Hughes St is hosting a community lunch. A clean, neatly dressed woman approaches me for spare change. She then scratches in the gutter for cigarette ends. A man calls out, asking for a cigarette. I admire the restored woodwork on the verandas of Tusculum House and seek out Elizabeth Bay House. I stroll through the small Arthur McElhone Reserve with its neat garden beds, ponds and extensive view of the harbour.
I return to Macleay St, down to Cowper Bay Rd and meander back to Kings Cross station. Apart from a couple of steep flights of stairs built around 1870 to connect Potts Point with Woolloomooloo, this is a rather boring stretch of not much at all. I notice that the woman in the yellow hat is still waiting at the bus stop and wonder about her story.
I’ve had an interesting day exploring Potts Point, Kings Cross and Garden Island. I expect that when the neon lights come on at night, the area has quite a different feel. I am not sure my camera would be quite as well accepted.
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Next stop: Harris Park (Little India)
You cannot access Potts Point from Garden Island. The Heritage Centre is free of charge.
Strip on the strip booklet of the brass strips on Darlinghurst Rd.
Walking tour: Passion
And a map to assist you:
(If you would like a pdf of the map, email me via the contact page, and I will send one to you).
(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):