Potts Point, Kings Cross and Elizabeth Bay have long been revered as a bohemian heartland, attracting artistic and literary residents since the 1920s.
It comes as no surprise that the area has played home to more than its fair share of world-famous musicians over the years too.
Dame Nellie Melba
Dame Nellie Melba’s connections with Melbourne are well known – after all, her stage name is a contraction of the city’s name. However, after a lifetime performing around the globe, it was Potts Point where she spent her twilight years. The world-renowned soprano lived out her final years in a gracious apartment in the Manar building at 42 Macleay Street. Sadly, she contracted paratyphoid fever in Cairo in 1930 and died of complications the following year in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst.
When the biggest rock band in the world came to Sydney in 1964, they stayed in Potts Point. 40 Macleay Street, now the Astor Macleay Apartments, was then the Sheraton Hotel. It’s eighth floor played host to The Beatles on the Sydney leg of their first world tour. Hundreds of hysterical fans blocked the street for long periods during their stay, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Fab Four. On Paul McCartney’s 22nd birthday, the 18th June 1964, they threw a party at the Sheraton after their concert. Amongst the guests were 17 girls who had won the Daily Mirror newspaper’s ‘Why I would like to be a guest at a Beatle’s birthday party’ competition.
Dinah Lee and Lyn Barnett
Dinah Lee has been touted as Australia and New Zealand’s most successful female singer of the 1960s. Best known for her hit ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo’ and her cover of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’, she lived in an apartment in Potts Point after moving to Sydney from New Zealand in 1965. At one time her flatmate in Potts Point was fellow NZ popstar, Lyn Barnett. Both Lee and Barnett appeared on the iconic music television program Bandstand, and Lee entertained troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s. Lyn Barnett became something of a recluse towards the end of her life and died in Sydney in tragic circumstances in 2017.
Don Walker, the pianist and keyboardist from Cold Chisel, was also the band’s creative songwriting force. Considered to be one of Australia’s best songwriters, he spent years living in and around Kings Cross and immortalised the area in song. In the late 1970s, while living in the Cross’s Plaza Hotel, he penned the Chisel songs ‘Plaza’ and ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’. Sweethearts was a small café in Kings Cross run by a Yugoslavian family on the site now occupied by McDonalds. Although he now lives overseas six months of the year, he continues to visit the area regularly and likes to eat at Bistro Rex and Maggie’s, both in Potts Point, or the Old Fitzroy Hotel in Woolloomooloo.
When he came to Sydney from Melbourne in 1984, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly stayed with Don Walker in the Cross. He began composing new music on Walker’s piano and it was here he wrote the iconic song ‘From St Kilda to Kings Cross’. The song was written during a bleak period in Kelly’s life following the breakup of both his band and his first marriage, but it is beloved for its portrayal of both Kings Cross and St Kilda. Kelly later lived in Elizabeth Bay, sharing a flat with Paul Hewson, the songwriter and keyboardist from New Zealand rock band Dragon.
In 1983 David Bowie bought a luxury apartment in the Kincoppal building in Elizabeth Bay. Until he sold it in 1992, he used it as a base for trips to the outback and the rainforests of far north Queensland. Film clips for his early 80s hits ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl’ were both filmed in Australia. He spent more time at his apartment in Elizabeth Bay than many realised, telling the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003, “I would come over for a month or so at a time, it was really, really fabulous. I loved being there. It was just a great place to be.”
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Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles