With its almost mythical status and its place at the heart of Sydney’s underworld, Kings Cross was always going to fascinate TV and film-makers.
We take a look at some of the ways the real and imagined Cross has been represented on both the big and small screens.
Set in Sydney in 1969, Dirty Deeds follows two Mafia men, Sal and Tony, sent from Chicago to claim their cut of Sydney’s illegal gambling, which is fuelled by big-spending American soldiers on leave from Vietnam.
The film’s opening scene introduces Barry Ryan, another Bryan Brown gangster. As the opening credits roll, we see Ryan at work, smashing poker machines at Kings Cross’s infamous Roosevelt Club. The Gazebo and the iconic El Alamein fountain also feature in the movie, before the action heads to the outback.
Juanita: A Family Mystery
In July 1974, publisher, journalist and Potts Point activist Juanita Nielsen disappeared. Many believe her disappearance and likely murder was linked to her outspoken stance against development in the Potts Point area.
During the investigation into Juanita’s disappearance, police uncovered information pointing to a possible kidnap. While the case has never been solved it has intrigued Sydneysiders for decades.
In 2021, the documentary series Juanita: A Family Mystery aired on ABV TV. In the program Keiran McGee and Pip Rey, relatives of Neilsen, attempted to uncover the truth behind Neilsen’s disappearance.
However, following its airing on ABC the program courted controversy when doubts surfaced about some of the claims made by a key interviewee. This led to the ABC removing the documentary, and episodes of the accompanying podcast, from its streaming platform.
The Witch of Kings Cross
Artist and self-styled witch Rosaleen Norton was a well-known Kings Cross local in the 1950s and 1960s.
Norton’s paintings, lifestyle and appearance attracted endless controversy. The media accused Norton of conducting satanic black masses, she was charged with exhibiting indecent images, and she played a key role in the downfall of Eugene Goossens, conductor and director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium.
Sonia Bible’s 2020 documentary The Witch of Kings Cross examines and celebrates Norton’s life. Starring Kate Loxton as Norton, the documentary intersperses recreated scenes with footage, photos and interviews with friends and contemporaries of Norton.
The hugely popular Underbelly series first hit our TV screens in 2008, focusing on Melbourne’s gangland killings.
In 2010, the series moved its attention north with Underbelly: The Golden Mile, which was based on events between 1988 and 1996 involving Kings Cross criminals and detectives of the time.
The following year, Underbelly: Razor took on Kings Cross in the 1920s and its famed razor gangs. The first episode introduces the notorious Kings Cross madam Tilly Devine and her arch-enemy Kate Leigh, with the show also featuring Lillian Armfield, Australia’s first female detective.
In this acclaimed 1999 film, Bryan Brown plays Pando, a crime boss with “possibly the worst dress sense of any Australian screen character”, according to renowned film critic Margaret Pomeranz.
A slow-motion camera panning down Darlinghurst Road leads us into the world of the film and we meet Jimmy, played by Heath Ledger, working the door of a nightclub.
Jimmy gets the chance to do a job for Pando delivering $10,000 to a Bondi flat, and he thinks he’s got it made – until he heads to the beach for a quick swim before delivering the money When he gets out of the water and discovers the money’s vanished, panic ensues.
Two Hands won multiple awards, including best film, best director and best original screenplay at the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards.
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