Invigorated by the article The First Sydney Mardi Gras: What Happened on the Night of 24-25 June 1978? by noted historians Gavin Harris and John Witte which was recently published on the Kings Cross Arts & Cultural Festival Inc website, the KXACF Inc staged an event called Candles in the Cross in Kings Cross on 25 February 2018. Candles in the Cross commemorated events which occurred 40 years earlier in Kings Cross:
The 40 years that elapsed since 1978 have seen significant changes in Kings Cross:
In May 2012 there were problems with the only 24-hour public toilets in Kings Cross. The public toilets comprise three cubicles situated under the Police Station in Fitzroy Gardens. Some people approached Paul Wagner, co-Convenor of the Friends of Fitzroy Gardens and me, asking for help for the community. They wanted “a fix” to the public toilets. They wanted clean safe and reliable public toilets in Kings Cross.
Paul and I set out on a course which we thought at the time was a simple task. Achieving what was wanted seemed like a ‘no-brainer’ at the time. Little did we know at the time it would be six years before a common sense solution would be proposed by the administration at the City of Sydney.
Fast forward to September 2017 and problems were still being experienced with the toilets. Paul and I determined that we needed help to achieve the brief given us way back in May 2012.
We tweeted to all serving councilors (except Clr Kok – not on Twitter & Clr Professor Kerryn Phelps AM as we were unable to locate her twitter account at the time) and basically asked for help.
Within days we received a response from Clr Craig Chung who offered to help. He came up to Kings Cross from Town Hall and inspected the toilets and mapped out a course of action.
Soon afterward Clr Professor Kerryn Phelps AM and Clr Christine Forster came on board with support.
At the suggestion of Clr Chung we set about carrying out daily inspections of the public toilets and meticulously recording our findings.Clr Chung obtained documents under a FOI request and asked questions on notice.
On 11 December 2017 Clr Chung moved a motion calling on the CEO of the City of Sydney to investigate the feasibility of replacing the existing toilets. This motion was voted down by the ruling #Team Clover Moore councilors. One #Team Clover Moore councilor, Clr Philip Thalis, described the motion as “small-minded”.
In January 2018 an overseas visitor was using the toilets when without warning, and automatically of its own accord, the toilet door opened on him. He was literally caught with his pants down.
Journalist Christopher Harris of the Daily Telegraph picked up on the “pants down” incident and investigated. The City of Sydney informed Mr Harris all was well. The council had recently inspected the toilets and all were operating correctly. What a lucky find! Our inspections, carefully recorded, showed that only about 30% of the time all toilets were operating and that about 30% of the time all toilets were inoperable and the toilets were unusable and closed.
Fast forward to 11 April 2018 and we were delighted but surprised to learn that despite the #Team Clover Moore councilors using their weight of numbers to vote down Clr Chung’s proposal to investigate the installation of new toilets just 5 months earlier, new toilets would be constructed underneath the Police Station, with work to commence in mid 2018.
Clr Chung issued a statement:
The City of Sydney has finally responded to my campaign and the tireless work of the community surrounding Fitzroy Gardens to fix up and improve the conditions of the three public toilets.
The automated toilets (1 wheelchair accessible, 2 mobile accessible) will be totally refurbished with work intending to commence mid this year.
In the meantime, the frequencing of cleaning will go from 5 to 8 cleans a day commencing immediately. There will also now be three security patrols per night beginning immediately in an attempt to decrease vandalism and antisocial behaviour.
This is fantastic news! Its to great to see that after 6 years of campaigning the community has been heard. Great work Peter Young and Paul Wagner and thanks also to Christine Forster – Liberal Councillor for City of Sydney and Clr Kerryn Phelps for their continued engagement on this issue!
This is not the end of the matter. We will need to monitor the situation and hold the council to account, to ensure what has said will be done is done and on time.
Already community members have expressed concerns about some matters and we will need to liaise with the council to ensure these concerns are addressed in the construction and operation of the new toilets.
Was the campaign worth it?
The amenity of residents (and visitors) will be enhanced and that gain to the community makes it worthwhile. The cost in terms of time, effort and money to both Paul and me makes one wonder. Against that is the invaluable insight we obtained into the true character of some of the serving councilors at the City of Sydney.
The 2018 Kings Cross Dog Show was held on St Patrick’s Day – 17 March 2018. Despite the awfully hot day, the show was a success. The crowd was estimated at double previous years and competitor dog entries were up 40% on previous years.
Refine Media produced a short video which is accessible at https://vimeo.com/260634983
Kings Cross Arts & Cultural Festival Inc has a video of each of the 10 events on its Youtube channel
Smoking tobacco cigarettes in the streets of Kings Cross is a wealth hazard. As soon as one lights a cigarette the bludgers swoop: “Do you have a spare cigarette?”
Today I went out with Bella to buy a packet of cigarettes. I had just one cigarette left and could see a long night ahead. I needed to get a new packet, and I could kill two birds with one stone. Take Bella for a needed walk and feed my addiction by having a ready supply for the night ahead.
After I bought the new packet, I had two packets. The old one with one cigarette in it and the brand new unopened one. So I lit up the remaining fag in the old packet and tossed it in the street garbage bin. After a few puffs I was approached by a woman, possibly 35 yo and dressed like a skanky hoe. I had not seen her before. Her face had the scratch marks that signified to me an ice user/addict. She asked for a cigarette. The way she stood and looked at me indicated to me that this was just an opening gambit for an attempted financial transaction of the naughty kind. Now my usual line with street girls who interrupt my train of thought contemplating the meaning of life as I walk along Darlinghurst Road Kings Cross by asking “Do you want to see a girl?” is to reply ” No, but if you have a younger brother I might be interested” (such is often met with a shout “Filthy ped” by the disappointed entrepreneur) wasn’t available to me with this new subtle approach. It required a fresh approach.
As I opened the new packet, peeling away the cellophane, I looked the woman right in the eye and said:
I hope you realise how lucky you are. You are indeed the luckiest person in Australia. I’m giving you a cigarette from an unopened packet. You must thank God for this.
She smirked a smile, indicating she thought I was joking. So I said:
I’m not kidding. You are the luckiest person in Australia.
As I handed her the cigarette I said:
If you don’t praise and give thanks to God for this cigarette, you won’t ever get another cigarette from me – and you can go f..k yourself.
I walked away. I looked back.She was still standing there. She was completely dumbfounded.
Meanwhile Kings Cross residents are gearing up to develop a “lean mean fighting machine” in one battle – which is sure to be just a part of a long drawn out war with developer greed.
The odds are stacked against the residents in this battle – as they will be in the long drawn out war which will inevitably follow and take its toll on residents – but we know from history that when a people have their backs against the wall, the human spirit can lift them to their “finest hour”.
Meanwhile on another front, the long running skirmish with Team Clover Moore and the City of Sydney, started in 2012 by residents who merely sought and still seek – clean safe and reliable public toilets – continues.
Richard Torbay was first elected to the NSW Parliament in 1999 as the member for Northern Tablelands, a seat centred on the University town of Armidale in northern NSW.
I first encountered Richard Torbay, a year or two before 1999, when he was the guest speaker at a dinner of a professional organisation I was a member of at the time, held at Austin College at the University of New England. He was young, the Mayor of Armidale and CEO of the University Union. At the end of his address, I said to my colleagues that was the speech of a person who was seeking a seat in Parliament, and I thought he would be standing as a Labor candidate. My colleagues, not being politically savvy, dismissed my comments.
In 1999 he stood as an Independent and won the seat – beating the incumbent MP. Just before the election, polling was showing the incumbent retaining the seat and when I mentioned this to a well connected Armidale resident, he laughed at me assuring me Torbay would win. What I didn’t know – and what was apparently an open secret, but kept under tight wraps – was that Eddie Obeid was the back-room man supporting Torbay, that the ALP candidate was running dead and that traditional Labor voters were being encouraged to vote 1 Torbay.
In 2001 Tony Windsor resigned from the NSW Parliament, and the circumstances of his final speech to the NSW Parliament caused some controversy. Torbay publicly invited me to contact him so he could tell me the “true circumstances”, something he apparently wasn’t prepared to tell the media. I suspected his invitation was a rouse – and that he didn’t envisage me actually accepting his invitation, but I did. During our telephone conversation Torbay refused to disclose information which would have corroborated his story so eventually I asked him to make a statutory declaration regarding it. With that he told me “You have no credibility” and hung up. Never one to be deterred, I then started publishing an advertisement each month in the Armidale Express newspaper (at considerable financial expense to myself) asking certain questions, which Torbay studiously ignored.
Those advertisements didn’t illicit an answer from Torbay- but were a lightning rod for people with grievances against Torbay to contact me. There were many and the factual circumstances were so out of sync with a highly popular MP, a Mayor and a person who had had a meteroic rise from University kitchen hand, they seemed fanciful (later many of them proved to be true) There were so many – and they all needed proper investigation before they could be published – the task seemed overwhelming for a single person with limited resources and nothing to gain from doing so, I didn’t progress them any further.
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Kate McClymont, years later, has written about some of these things. Here and here.
The most serious one, still remains unresolved, but it did prompt a NSW magistrate, Roger Prowse, to make a public statement – a most unusual course.
On the other hand the grievance Torbay was a walking art gallery but went to extraordinary lengths to cover his tatts up by always wearing long sleeves, even in the middle of summer, was proved by Torbay “coming out” as an inked man during his period as Speaker of the NSW Parliament.
In Sydney, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, Cr Jess Miller a Team Clover councillor has a tattoo on her right shoulder.
It is not known whether she is an out and proud walking piece of art, or whether like Torbay, she is involved in a cover-up. In public appearances she seems to favour a long sleeved outfit.
In any event the Daily Telegraph has outed her in an article published on 4 December 2017.
Kings Cross is a diverse and tolerant society. The Spirit of Kings Cross includes being respectful of the views of others (whilst at the same time being free to robustly debate the correctness of that view).
NSW Senator Sam Dastyari will thus always be welcome in Kings Cross.
In 2018 the Senator will be presenting the award to the winner of the Best St Patricks Day Combo (Combination of dog and handler together who capture the soul and essence of St Patricks Day) at the Kings Cross Arts & Cultural Festival Inc dog show.
It seems entirely appropriate that a person of Iranian/Muslim heritage should present a prize associated with the Irish/Catholic tradition.
After all we are all Australians.
It demonstrates that the people of Kings Cross are a fun loving lot.