The blame game: What’s next for Kings Cross clubbing?

If you’ve roamed Darlinghurst Road, the main artery of Kings Cross, you’ve probably noticed the bronze plaques set along the footpath. I’ve lived in the neighbourhood for three years and only recently stopped to read them. It was a bright weekday morning in early winter and there was nothing all that seedy going on in the Cross. Backpackers smoked outside the internet cafe that promises Games For Serious Gamers and Poker 24/7. Over at the Vegas Hotel, the early-bird drinkers sat at the open window with their 8am beers. McDonalds had its usual quota of strung-out sit-ins. No one else, though, was staring at the footpath.

The plaques, laid down by the City Of Sydney from 2005 to 2007 as part of a project called The Strip on the Strip, sketch out a history of the Cross. It’s a colourful story, from the 1930s hotbed of free-thinkers to the arrival of American servicemen during World War II looking to do the obvious, and then the jazz scene, the drug scene and the sex scene. There’s no shortage of people doing bad things, too, stretching back 80-odd years. “Sleaze, nowadays, is celebrated only when it’s historical,” Linda Jaivin wrote of the Cross in a 2005 issue of The Monthly magazine.

Kings Cross has long assumed the role of Sydney’s badland, but there’s been nothing romantic about its front-page prominence in 2012. At 4am on a Saturday morning in April, two teenagers were shot by police after driving a car onto the footpath in the Cross. While pedestrians scattered to avoid the careering car, one woman was pinned under its front wheels. There have been other incidents, of course: a shooting at the Bada Bing strip club, 3am brawls, stories of nearby St Vincent’s Hospital inundated with Saturday night’s boozed and bloodied hordes.

However it wasn’t until the recent death of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly, king-hit in an unprovoked assault on Victoria Street, that the bad press coalesced into a media movement. The Sydney Morning Herald launched its Safer Sydney campaign. ABC’s The 7:30 Report decided to “spend a Saturday night in Australia’s most notorious night-spot, with its mix of music, booze, drugs and sex.” The Daily Telegraph cycled through alarmist headlines. Always-quotable former PM Paul Keating quipped that the city “has become an inebriate’s spittoon”. Not for the first time, a state of emergency was declared for the Cross.

The seemingly indiscriminate attack on Thomas Kelly happened around 10pm on the street. What has followed in the media, though, is an examination of how culpable bars and clubs are in the area’s combustible weekend atmosphere, as well as deficiencies in policing and late-night transport. While the broadsheets sought quotes from politicians, councillors, statisticians and police spokespeople, there hasn’t been much heard from the promoters and club owners in the Cross. It seemed a logical avenue for inthemix to look at. What I found was a raw nerve, and the shared feeling that only one side of the story had been broadcast.

On a Tuesday evening ten days after Thomas Kelly was blindsided, the Sydney Morning Herald hosted a public forum on ‘Action For Kings Cross’ at the Sydney Town Hall. As the after-work crowd filled up the seats facing the stage, it was soon standing room only. Among the speakers were Hospitality Minister George Souris, Lord Mayor Of Sydney Clover Moore, Australian Hotels Association CEO Paul Nicolaou, Assistant NSW Police Commisioner Mark Murdoch and Federal Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate includes Kings Cross.

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