Thursday, August 26, 2004

Literature, neons and 'a sense of place'

The significance of Kings Cross in Australian art and literature is practically unequalled. How many books get written about Point Piper, Pymble or your average Westfield shopping mall? Very few.

Yet authors are drawn -- like, yes, flies -- to the sleaze, the grit, and the colour of the old Cross. And so are their middle-class readers tucked into their Pymble beds vicariously living the excitement!

The Cross is a clearing house for the wanderers, vagrants, eccentrics and freaks spawned by suburbia and a magnet for others who simply love its colour and excitement. Australia's most wealthy and most poverty-stricken rub shoulders in a melting-pot of humanity. It's the home of Australia's demimonde and suburbia's outcasts. Its problems are the problems of suburbia writ large; its joys are the joys of true diversity. and the big-hearted tolerance that allows all these different folks to co-exist -- and inspire the novelists.

So to 'clean it up' by destroying the physical hallmarks of its past is an exercise in denial, one section of society inflicting ignorance of itself upon its own outcasts. Imposed gentrification is the only way to describe the bland streetscape designed by people with no inside knowledge or understanding of the Cross. This, by definition, is an insult to the diverse denizens of the Cross, a one-class cleansing leading to uniform suburban boredom.

Neons are an intrinsic part of the old Cross, their flickering blatancy and colour a perfect physical expression of Australia's late night world. Particular signs might not strictly be heritage items but that's a bright red herring. The neon galaxy of the Kings Cross nightscape defines a sense of place unique in Australia. It contributes to a 'goodwill' that draws thousands of people each week.
That's real heritage. We should be adding to it, not destroying it!

[This text heads an incomplete 3-page bibliography of books about the Cross, too long to publish here. ]

And if I could work out how to post a stunning photo, I would! Soon.


Anonymous said...

I love neon. But Neon is finished. Who can afford them?

Electronic signs which are not so costly are the future.

Neon is a thing of the past. Who will pay for the heritage? All the empty shops in the Cross no doubt!

Neons are from earlier last century ( 20 th) let's light up the Cross with 21 st century displays.

McDonalds lights are great- hate the food - love Mc Flicker.

Then again Kings Cross is a thing of the past.

Who killed the Cross?

Maybe the Lord Mayor will set up a heritage fund for neons and don’t expect the bankrupt businesses of the Cross to cough up.

Anonymous said...

Hear! Hear! Catherine Keenan expressed similar sentiments in another beautiful article about KX...

"...This is the thing about the Cross: it offers extremes of everything. Twenty-four hours a day, the Cross buzzes with hope and hopelessness, pain and euphoria, indifference and care. Most of all, it buzzes with life, and a few blocks takes in everything from stylish bars to strip clubs, expensive restaurants to souvenir shops, cheap take-away joints to gay clubs

There is nowhere else in Sydney where you will find a second-hand pornography book store near an Asian grocery, or a multimillion-dollar apartment a stone's throw from a shooting gallery. Nowhere else where can buy designer furniture and marijuana in the same street, or see fashionistas sit across from backpackers and strip-club spruikers.

I love the Cross because you see more of life in a single walk along Macleay Street than you would see if you walked the length and breadth of the North Shore. It has all the layers of humanity, from the very poor to the very rich, from the deprived to the extremely privileged. It can make you feel guilty, indifferent, lucky, desolate, happy and inspired - all in a single day."

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Clover Moore for her immediate and appropriate response to retaining the Kings Cross neon signs. And to Potts Pt & Kings Cross Heritage Society for (finally!)recognising the heritage value of these.
Kings Cross holds a unique place in Australia's history and the symbols of its colourful past need to be retained in recognition of who we are whether we like that aspect of ourselves or not. Kings Cross doesn't only belong to us few residents, but to the rest of Australia - and like Montmartre-Paris, Soho-London etc; it also belongs to the tourists of the world. It would be a great shame to destroy all evidence of its wonderfully diverse fabric of life; and whitewashing its nightlife out of our history on a prudish moral stance is exactly what previous generations did, for exactly the same reasons to justify destroying evidence of Australia's convict past.