Elaine Ellis is a true Potts Point local – she’s been coming here since the 1930s.
Elaine recently popped into my office for a chat and taught me quite a few facts about our mutually favourite suburb and all of the celebrities that she’s encountered here over the many decades she’s lived in, and visited Potts Point.
Elaine graduated from the National Art School and worked as an interior designer as well as for the ABC.
What is your first memory of Potts Point?
I remember visiting my auntie, who was also called Elaine and my uncle Kurt, in their home in the late 1930s, when I was six years old. They lived on Challis Avenue. It was all very Bohemian at the time and people wore their dressing gowns to buy a newspaper at the shops, which was never done in the suburbs.
I thought my aunt was married, but in fact, they were not married, which was hush and a bit controversial. I suppose Potts Point was the kind of place where you could live out of wedlock.
My uncle was a concert pianist at the ABC. He had a white grand piano. As soon as we arrived at their place, my aunt Elaine would say “send the children down to the Finger Wharf and let them have a look around down there.”
Their block was two doors down from the Merivale Brasserie and looks exactly the same today. I knew Merivale Hemmes when she first started out as a dressmaker and I sold her a treadle Singer Sewing machine because the electric ones wouldn’t sew leather.
Who were some of the other personalities that you had met in this area?
Chica Lowe was very memorable. She ran boarding houses and all of these artists and painters used to live in them. One of her places was an old mansion in Elizabeth Bay and the artist Ray Blaxland, who later became my friend, lived there. He told me how he got behind in the rent and when he got home all of his items were missing.
She said: “Ray, I’ve moved you out of your room and I’ve moved you into Lolly Lodge.” This was a car shipment container that she had painted pink. It was in her garden and she called it Lolly Lodge!
John Olsen lived here in the fifties. He was in Victoria Street in one of the houses that I call the witches’ houses. They are three stories high with a pointy roof. I once saw a painting of his on the easel and I said: “Oh John, I love it.” It looked like a variation of Madonna and Child.
He said, “have it!” I still have it and I look at it every day.
Another memorable person was Dulcie Deamer. She was Australia’s first female boxing reporter and she was a founder of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. Now this was during the period of “six o’clock closing” so the pubs closed at six and that was that. We used to go to the writer’s centre then, not because of our interest in writing, but because they served a glass of wine at the meeting. I saw her at the Art Student’s Ball and I said let’s get a photo together.
What’s your favourite memory of Potts Point?
We loved the Katherine Dunham dancers, who were a mostly African American troupe [and toured in the 1950s]. After seeing their performance, we went backstage and met everyone, because that’s the kind of people we were.
One of the dancers, Elijah Hodges, lived in a row of terraces on Bayswater Road. He was in a rented room on the first level. I can’t remember why we were there but I remember he looked across the room at me and said: “I’m going to grab you and make violent love to you.”
I said “oh get away,” he was gay of course and it was all in good fun.
How has the area changed over the years?
Before I moved to London in 1957, Kings Cross was very Bohemian. We used to go to The Arabia and drink tea and write poetry and tell stories.
I remember a young man stood up and read his poem:
Roads cannot be said to exist
Nor can they be said not to exist
But when many people pass one way
A road is made.
I still remember it today.
When I returned to the Cross in the sixties, it was all very different and everyone was into folk music and John Hayes. So instead of writing poetry, we were all listening to music. The Bohemians had wafted back and in came the guitarists and so on.
Of course, it’s very different now too.
What do you love about living here?
The apartments in the Gazebo are lovely because they are levelled. I don’t have any mobility problems at all but it’s good to live in a level unit because you can continue to live here into your senior years.
It’s very convenient. We’ve got Harris Farm nearby and all the restaurants up and down Macleay Street and Darlinghurst Road. The amenities are lovely with Woolworths and Coles nearby. We’re a short ride to the centre of Sydney and within easy reach of Double Bay and Watson’s Bay. The high prices of Potts Point properties reflect the fact that it’s a very desirable area.