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DAY 339: Pootling down the Brisbane River

5 Aug


DAY 332: Rooting ’round Razorhurst

30 Jul

TIlly Devine and her curious hat.

I’M no rubbernecker, but I’m not averse to snouting around a crime scene.

The next Underbelly series sees Sydney’s Darlinghurst tagged Razorhurst, as it was back in the 1920s and 1930s. The series will focus chiefly on vicious brothel madam Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who ran flophouses and gambling dens. The pair racked up multiple assaults and manslaughters between them

Tilly Devine’s main beat was Woolloomooloo, where I’m sloping down Cathedral Street – at which local gangster Guido Caletti, according to my Time Out guide to the burb, slashed someone to pieces.

Daily newspaper The Argus reported after Caletti’s death: “Some Sydney gangsters of his time dressed like Savile Row at Randwick racecourse and like lumberjacks in their night haunts. Guido was always well tailored, in the glitter of a night club or in the darkest gulch of East Sydney. He could be suave and polished in speech and he could plumb the lowest ooze of language for forcible idioms.”

Also, if you’re curious to know what ‘gingering’ involves, look here.

I have a mosey around Woolloomooloo and stop at the gloomy, gorgeous East Sydney Hotel, est. 1860, for some gruesome pâté on toast. The joint smells of Gluhwein, and favours those mournful, callous-thumbed sort of troubadours. It boasts “interesting mixed clientele” and, unusually for the area, no pokies.

The other end of Cathedral Street is Skid Row, with the interesting mixed clientele hovering their bums out of bushes and taking dumps. If I lived round here, my crim name would be Mad Ginny Bung-Eye.

You can do a more hardcore tour of Razorhurst here.

Keeper? Cross-referencing neighbourhoods with the history books is fun.

DAY 331: Pressing my nose up against the Justice & Police Museum

29 Jul

Captain Moonlite

CREAKING with grizzly paraphernalia, the Justice & Police Museum celebrates 230 years of lowlife scumbaggery around Sydney Harbour, which is sparkling innocently not 100m away.

Here, you can window-shop prison masks and gags from the 1800s, marvel at handcrafted knuckledusters, shanks and maces, peer at reconstructions of murder victims’ skulls, and rifle the files of Communist sympathisers, targeted in a spate of pointless espionage by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (their website today looks like they’re trying to sell you home and contents insurance).

There’s also an intriguing little clipping on world yarn-spinning champion Tall Tale Tex Tryrrell, which led me to this.

Some ASIO records are available through the National Archives of Australia, so I take a seat at a computer and type some ‘persons of interest’ into the search function, just for shits and giggles, you understand.

You are then invited to sign the guestbook next to the computer. As IF! Not five minutes ago I listened to a recording of a former ASIO agent giving his tips on how spies can blend in (don’t wear a trench coat). I don’t think his equally blindingly obvious advice for the general public would be “leave your signature wherever possible, particularly when looking up your dubious mates in databases.”

Next I stumble across the invariably handsome bushrangers. It’s enough to make you want to take a death mask home.

My favourites:

Captain Moonlite: A university-educated lecturer in prison reform, turned bandito and confidence trickster. And an ‘incurable romantic’.

Joe Byrne: Kelly Gang member, fluent in Cantonese, a poet, opium addict, liked to dress in tweeds. You don’t find many of them to the pound on RSVP.

Joe Byrne. He's dead here, unfortunately.

Keeper? Love police museums and jails. I like going back out onto the street and seeing everyone as a crime scene photograph.

DAY 330: Recreating Puberty Blues

28 Jul

I HAVEN’T been back to Cronulla for 10 years. I lived here while on a working holiday, which was my attempt to clean up my act by leaving England. And coming to Australia! A-HA-HA-HA!

Anyway, not much has changed, other than Paddy’s Bar – at which I had to tolerate The Cranberries on repeat and dodge eight-year-old Irish dancers trundling across the dance-floor, all while bearing an armful of steak plates – now reborn as JD’s Bar and Grill.

Oh, fun fact: the lowly waitstaff of Paddy’s Bar were continuously monitored and grilled about money that kept wafting off from the till, resulting in an environment of heightened paranoia and unpleasantness. The mystery was solved one morning when I turned up to work and discovered that Paddy himself had fleeced the entire joint, right down to the kegs, cutlery and pats of butter, doing a diddly on his business partner.

I give that fine establishment a miss and head to the beach for a modern-day reenactment of Puberty Blues. This iconic Oz novel and film was co-written by Kathy Lette, pre-churning out chuckles days. In essence, a pair of dispirited teenage girls, back in the late ’70s, waste away summer days by gawking at surfers and minding their Chiko Rolls as they zip around arrogantly on the waves. My puberty, by contrast, was spent pining after a sulky lifeguard at Slough Swimming Baths, dodging floaters and perverts in goggles.

Keeper? Will think about what book to recreate next. I’m wearing hot pants in Debbie and Sue’s honour, by the way.

DAY 329: Visiting 52 Suburbs

27 Jul

Louise Hawson: Brighton-Le-Sands

I STUMBLED across a fantastic book, 52 Suburbs, by photographer Louise Hawson, which was borne out of her blog,

It’s a photo essay of Sydney in all its glory, finding beauty and intrigue (and patterns, as Louise’s eye picks up the minutiae of the architecture around her) where you might least expect them.

It was worth coming to Louise’s exhibition at the Museum of Sydney (incidentally, if any curator from the MoS is reading this and would like to feature my blog, get in touch and we’ll talk $$), as I get to hear her take on the project.

“This was one of the most fulfilling years of my life,” she says, piped through the walls, “a reminder not to walk through life on fast-forward.” You betcha!

Remaining as wide-eyed as though she were a tourist overseas, Louise got to know her home city more intimately. She preferred, she says, the western suburbs, as their perceived ugliness made them all the more interesting. Although I notice she didn’t cover Rooty Hill.

Louise Hawson: Brighton-Le-Sands

Keeper? Yes, will visit more random suburbs while I am here.

DAY 327: Going somewhere that sounds interesting* just for the hell of it

25 Jul

There's the IGA.

WHEN I spot Rooty Hill on a Sydney CityRail map, it’s a given I have to pay the joint a visit. It just sounds so… jaunty.

Upon boarding my Emu Plains train, a sense of foreboding settles upon me. I notice Rooty Hill is right next to Mount Druitt. That’s the neighbourhood always targeted by the cops in Channel 9’s gripping series, RBT. The Mount Druitt residents are universally outraged that meth shows up on the breathalyser when they haven’t even taken pause to pop a can of Bundy.

Anyway, there are plenty of merits to Rooty Hill: the art of the meringue is not dead, you can buy a house for $250k and there’s a nice big pub. It’s out of postmix, but that’s likely to bother only me.

And there's the hill.

Keeper? No. Not as glorious as yesterday’s venture

* but isn’t.

DAY 326: Marooned on my own island

24 Jul

“OUT of interest, what are you going to do on Shark Island?” the skipper of the Captain Cook Cruises boat smirks. I’ve just picked the joint at random, back at the ferry terminal at Circular Quay, and handed over my twenty bucks.

From the distance, Shark Island looks to be a lump of rock with a couple of trees on it. It’s a good thing I brought a book.

While Shark Island’s a popular wedding location (I find the odd champagne cork), it’s a 250m-long, deserted beauty spot all other times. Today I’m the sole inhabitant, and I let loose with a couple of cartwheels as the boat pulls away. It’s mine alone for two whole hours. I can’t find my lighter, but never mind, never mind.

Over the next couple of hours, I entertain all my childhood Swallows and Amazons fantasies. I duck a fence and go for a paddle, which is English for wading, and find a bit of ancient crockery. I scratch my name on the bulbous sandstone formations with a jagged shard of clay (the forensics team will find that, should it emerge I’m not alone on the island after all), pick a path between aloe vera plants and palms, sit among the oyster shells on the beach, and plot the various routes out of here if I had to make a break for it (top choice: swimming to nearest buoy and sitting sheepishly on it).

Between 1879 and 1975, Shark Island was used as both an animal quarantine station and a naval depot, which explains the sinister, dilapidated stone buildings dotted around. I feel a lot like I’m being watched – you can’t tell me those rich kids in Rose Bay across the way don’t all have telescopes – but this is without doubt the best way to spend an afternoon in Sydney, or anywhere ever. And luckily the skipper remembers to pick me up again.

Keeper? Yes. I don’t reckon I’d go mad alone on an island, either. Not like Tom Hanks.

DAY 317: Booking a flight at random and letting Mum take the rap

15 Jul

I’VE got some Qantas frequent flyer points stored up and I decide to pick a destination at random, to bugger off to in September.

It can’t TOTALLY be at random though, as I don’t have a driver’s licence and I don’t fancy my chances taking in the delights of Conclurry or Olympic Dam without wheels, let alone Paraburdoo, est. 1970 (“other facilities provided in town are a supermarket, newsagency, bottleshop, pharmacy and gift shop”).

So to randomise it up a bit, I ring Mum in England and get her to pick from three destinations she’s never heard of, which is a bit mean, since she’s not allowed to read the blog and has been told I will be able to tell if she does. She opts for Hervey Bay in Queensland, but here are her reasons…

Hervey Bay: “Yes, I gathered it was a bay. That’s why I chose it.”

Bundaberg: “Didn’t like the sound of it. It sounded a bit rough.”

Port Lincoln: “Sounded a bit serious.”

Now if Hervey Bay turns out to be shit on a stick, I can just add it to my list of grievances.

“Well we know that, you’ve been blaming me for a long time.”

Keeper? That was quite good, and it was nice of Mum to pick a bay. She’s not picking my outfits or boyfriends, but maybe other things.

DAY 310: Visiting the Castlemaine Rock Factory

8 Jul

IT was closed.

Keeper? No.

DAY 305: Goin’ down the Royal Derby

3 Jul

THIS pub’s laid pretty dormant in recent years, but in the ’80s and ’90s it was the hub of the Melbourne rockabilly scene.

It’s now relaunched its Rockabilly Sundays. First day’s already packed. Good job, Royal Derby!

Keeper? Yes.