Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fractured memories of first Sydney visit

The first time I visited Sydney was in the early 1980s. We drove up the Hume in my Chrysler Valiant.

We stayed one or two nights in Canberra at a modern YMCA. It was ok, but many residents were with social problems.

We saw Lake Burley Griffin, Mount Strongbow Observatory and got lost in the suburb of Belconnen. There was a brand new shopping centre not long opened.

Canberra was very quiet back then. It was early week and we found one place open for dinner. The owner was drunk and flirting outrageously with us. She was good fun. I think she was quite well known in social circles.

Leaving Canberra a huge roll of paper fell off the back of a truck and almost landed on my car. It would have killed us had it hit.

There weren't wonderful freeways, the M5 or the Eastern Distributor. We fought our way along the very grungy Paramatta Road. I suppose we had maps. I can't recall finding our way being a problem. Paramatta Road stretched on forever.

I remember driving along Bondi Road and having to hit the brakes, four wheel drum, very hard to avoid running into a car in front of me. I don't think I made the tyres smoke but it must have been close. I had been distracted by a stunning topless guy with gorgeous legs crossing the road. Whoa, I think I will like Sydney, and I did.

We had booked our accommodation at the NSW Government Tourist Bureau in Melbourne. It was $19 per night with a bathroom shared with a few others on the corner of Campbell Parade and Francis Street, Bondi Beach. It was pretty crappy, but is still there, now a backpackers. We did have nice views though and our own wash basin and kettle. It was enough for us back then. We parked the car in Francis Street and unimaginable now, there were no parking restrictions. Fire escape was very rusted metal and falling apart. I think I would take my chances with a fire.

Bondi had a large number of Maori residents. The Campbell Parade shops were very sleazy looking. It felt like a pretty rough area.

One day we drove to Balmain to see the house where the Bolter lived, my paternal grandmother.

We must have driven over the Harbour Bridge, I would guess going to Manly, as we were stopped by a bridge being raised up to let a boat go pass by. I guess it was the Spit Bridge.

I have a very old photo of the Alamein Fountain, so we must have gone to King's Cross.

Did day trip to the Blue Mountains.

Would The Rocks as a tourist attraction have been around then? I think we went there. I have a photo of me trying to climb a wall beneath some high rise housing commission flats. The wall was very overgrown the last time I saw it.

One night we ate in a quite posh upstairs restaurant in Oxford Street. Total waste on me as I drank too much and ended up throwing up in the basin back at the hotel. Drunk and trying to squash the contents from your stomach down a narrow plug hole. Charming.

We were on a bus and I now know it was following an old tram route near Bondi. It was turning in many back streets. The driver must have taken a wrong turn. We wouldn't have known. The passengers all yelled out to the driver.

Lots of buses showing the destination Dover Heights. None seem to show that now. I think the 380 has been extended from Dover Heights to Watsons Bay?

Sauna in the City, maybe Roman Spa? Another near the bottom of Oxford Street. Another called KKK, dirty and with broken lockers. Which one was King Steam?

Numbers in Oxford, like our Club 80. Opinion in summary: Sydney gays are very free and easy about sex.

Ride on Monorail? Was it built then? Fare $1.20.

City, buses buses buses everywhere, noisy, spewing our black diesel fumes. Queues at bus stops with ticket sellers walking along selling tickets.

Back stage tour of Opera House. Very interesting. Guide quite critical of interior design. Learn about fabric on walls and music, and accoustic clouds.

Return from Sydney via the coast. Tolls to pay near Woollongong?

Stayed one night at beautiful brand new motel with views from our room out over Lakes Entrance. $28 including breakfast.

There is much I have forgotten. Now I keep brief notes.


  1. thats a lovely memoir, i remember the Rocks before they were a tourist attraction...this bought some of it back

  2. The 380 mostly terminates at North Bondi but selected services go to Dover heights and others further on to Watsons Bay.

    That twisting bus service along the back streets sounds like the 389 which as you know still runs today.

    KKK was at Kensington and became Kens at Kensington.

    King Steam is just around the corner in Oxford Street from where you stayed recently.

    My exposure to sex on premises venues was the reverse of yours in that my first ever visit to one was at St Kilda during a trip to Melbourne - on a street corner where the tram terminates and all the cake shops were located - and it was only after then that I became aware of, and had the courage to explore, the equivalent Sydney venues.

  3. Thanks Poet. I did study a pit of The Rocks history. I love the triangular pub in Cumberland Street is it?

    Ok Victor. I would have thought a different number would have been used for the different terminii.

    King Steam is still there then? Didn't notice it. What about the one in the city? I am sure it was Roman something.

    That would be what is now Club X in St Kilda I suppose.

  4. Andrew - I think you are referring to the Australian. It is on a corner in Cumberland Street.

    We used to have lunches there regularly in the late 1980s early 1990s when I worked near Circular Quay and then in Cumberland Street itself. For a modest old style pub it had a terrific kitchen in those days.

    The pub was often the site of movie/television making for scenes that required images of Australia that reflected the 1950s and earlier.

  5. I could well be wrong Victor, but I think it is the Glenmore. I wrote this post about it. There is another hotel a little way along the street.

  6. The Glenmore is at 96 Cumberland St and the Australian is at 100 Cumberland St but it is the Australian that is triangular in shape. Both are old style pubs (or at least were when I last entered them years ago).

  7. Defective memory on my part then Victor. I must have been in the Australian too.

  8. Anonymous8:30 pm

    KKK (Ken's Karate Klub)now Ken's of Kensington - and days gone by was Sydney's first gay club called The Purple Onion. Kings Steam is now at bottom end of Oxford Street but originally was in King Street in City towards Darling Harbour end. The sauna in Pitt Street, City was called The Roman Baths and is now a straight brothel called The Penthouse. A bit of sauna history for you.

    Mind you there are a lot more in Melbourne then in Sydney and you can still get a drink in yours.

  9. Wow Anon. That was the Purple Onion! That is it, Roman Baths, in Pitt Street. It was quite good. Cheers. WOW seems to be on the lips of most sauna goers in Melbourne.

  10. i googled cumberland st in the rocks but my memory is very hazy, and i dont think i ever had a drink there..just used to wander around in the afternoons after work sometimes. it was pretty decrepit then.

  11. Poet, it is not the most attractive area, but the pubs are not 'poshed up' which make for a nice change.