Generations from now we will look back at the current pandemic as a hugely significant period in our history, with a massive archive of analysis and hindsight. The worldwide plague will become one of the best documented events of the current millennium and hopefully provide the lessons to prevent if ever happening again. But what about some of the lesser, often insignificant happenings of the past 50 to 60 years that have long been swept under the carpet of Sydney’s modern day profile – the kind of stuff we would prefer not to talk about anymore.
There are thousands of these incidents, tragedies and outrages that are seldom recalled but for some welcome relief from the current Covid onslaught here are just a few to jolt your memory:
WHEN THE SWASTIKA FLEW IN BRIDGE STREET: It was 1939 and Germany had just invaded Poland. An angry crowd had gathered outside the German consulate housed in the Cliveden Building at 4 Bridge Street in the Sydney CBD. A large swastika flag waved defiantly from a third floor window, well out of reach of the hundreds of protestors below, who would have gladly ripped it to shreds. The Cliveden building still stands, now an upmarket apartment block, with few of its current residents aware of its evil Nazi legacy. During the 90s, when the block was more a mixture of offices and residential the Cliveden was also home to a number of brothels, including the infamous Tokyo Steam.
TOPLESS BARMAIDS IN GENTRIFIED PADDINGTON: Sydney pubs have had their share of topless barmaids over the years, usually the more working class establishments in the West and Inner West. Yet in the late 70s, the Bellevue Hotel in Hargrave Street Paddington regularly featured topless bar staff, along with r’n’b and blues bands. Any Paddo pub that tried that these days would be not only crazy, but immediately boycotted by most of the locals.
SEX ON STAGE: Corruption and permissiveness defined Sydney in the 80s. The ‘Sinema’ in Oxford Street Darlinghurst and The Hub in King Street Newtown featured a non-stop program of adult movies (aka porno) but the main attraction were the ladies who disrobed on stage and often invited members of the audience to join them in unmentionable extra curricular activities. Meanwhile in Pitt Street the equally raunchy Town Cinema, featured a cosy upstairs brothel, conveniently located for those patrons wishing to unleash their pent-up libido.
FAUNA LET LOOSE AT THE ART GALLERY: When Lyndon Johnson visited Sydney in 1966, the first incumbent US President to do so, the then premier Bob Askin was looking for a suitably impressive building to stage a welcome. Sydney was short on monumental edifices at the time and the Art Gallery of NSW with its multi-pillar early Greek façade was chosen for the occasion. The exterior was decorated with gum trees, complete with live koalas and other Australian marsupials. It was pure Australiana kitsch and when Askin later joked to LBJ in the motorcade, “Drive Over The Bastards”, he was referring to demonstrators, not a couple of wombats that had escaped from the diorama.
MONKEY CYCLISTS AT TARONGA PARK: In a less enlightened era, captive animals were often exploited as a form of entertainment, as opposed to their conservation value today. Many will remember the elephant rides at Taronga Park, which were phased out in the late 60s, but does anybody recall the even more demeaning monkey circus that ran for some 30 years from 1936. Our fellow primates were coerced into performing stupid tricks such as roller skating, riding bicycles and balancing on the backs of dogs. One such monkey, known as Mabel was deemed the “Zoological Cycling Champion” as she hurtled dizzingly around the arena. I guess the prevailing economic rationale at the time was “you pay peanuts and you get monkeys”.
To reinvent a line from the old TV series – “There are millions of stories in the Naked City, this has been just a few of them.”