City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Darlinghurst morning

Written in


0830 14 November 2011, Kirketon Hotel, Darlinghurst Road, Sydney / 0930 Kings Cross & Darlinghurst / 1130 Kirketon Hotel

Ed. This piece was first published at on 14 November 2011.

Kings Cross and Darlinghurst is the most Sydney bit of Sydney, perhaps. At least that kind of Sydney, anyway. The streets are small and tight, but busy with cars anyway. Cars are poured through this city as a kind of sealant, filling all available gaps. Straight off the flight through the night from Singapore, the sunlight is on full beam. It’s ridiculous. The kids are Eurasian and effortlessly hip, dressed in Sydney Skinny Black and shades, somehow slouching and taut at the same time, like slender cats skulking around the shade of the street, (black) asymmetric t-shirts, (black) strappy tops, neon-shades of flip-flop.

In between a few choice examples of faded glamour it’s scruffy as hell, and far from beautiful. It’s noisy, hot, a bit dirty, dusty, but the place feels busy, alive.

The apex of Kings Cross, under the Coke Sign, is a nasty tangle of heavy traffic from all directions, but still fairly thrilling. Ironically, as a side-effect of all these arteries converging, the built fabric suddenly drops back and the overhead opens up and the streets fall away down William Street towards city’s skyline, framed against a rich blue sky above and various strata of traffic below.

The pavement here is all movement: a drug-addled girl on crutches calling out “Mac!” as she skitters along; languorous businessmen without jackets strolling in to work, carrying themselves with the self-important air of resources wealth, barely bothering to pull off a mild swagger; various distended hulks lumbering out of the Fitness First above the Coke sign; the aforementioned hipsters, slinking around, presumably waiting for the sneaker stores to open. Amidst the movement, a few static characters: I’ve already seen more homeless people in three hours than I have in six months in Helsinki.

Off the main streets, down in the winding lanes around St. Vincent’s hospital, the foliage is just impossible. Canopies of ferny trees virtually glow lime green, jacaranda create pools of purple, draped over parked cars. The trees are full of screeching birds, so raucous after Northern Europe’s timid and well-behaved avian life. I’m reminded again of how Australian urban terrain always felt like a Ballardian fantasy; overgrown, crumbling, reclaimed by megaflora. The jet lag, combined with the early morning heat, is making me a little woozy, I’m sure.

It’s genuinely nice to be back. I realise elements I miss, things I’d forgotten I missed. The hole-in-the-wall coffee bars and bakeries, predictably, but also the muscular CBD in the distance, the small, curving, climbing streets and tight patterns of housing around here, painted in bright colours, crumbled and pastel-ed by the intense light and heat. That peculiar mélange in the common architecture: English colonial, South Pacific and sub-tropical, European émigre modernist, European émigre vernacular, Featurist Americana, corporate Asian, and somewhere underneath, or emerging from within, Actual Australian. It’s so distinct.

Bill’s is a totally predictable stop-off for sure, but it’s difficult to argue with a bowl of poached pears and home-made toasted granola. Plus the first real flat-white in half a year. The occasional waft of cool air from the open doors and windows. Only sunshine can create all this. It’s bloody seductive. Service is predictably excellent. The chatter around me is Mandarin mum, American tourist, and generally Aussie. It’s set to a musical backdrop that is disappointingly Americana (though at least good: Bonnie Prince Billy, Beirut, Low, O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.) This soundtrack is off-set by the outside soundscape coming in, the stop-start snarl of combustion engines idling at the lights and then roaring up the hill.

The idyll is shattered by a sudden crump across the road. A couple have spun off their Vespa, which is now a great lump of red metal lying on its side. Around 10 people had quickly rushed to their aid, kindness of stranger-ing them out of the road and onto the pavement next to the noticeboard for Darlinghurst Public School (“WE STRIVE TO ACHIEVE AND WE ACHIEVE EXCELLENCE”).

Minor cuts and bruises, no real harm done, though the woman is appropriately wobbly and has to sit on a bench outside the adjacent recycled designer fashion store for a bit. Though it’s a bit cruel to point it out, particularly right now, they’re both old enough to know better.

On the table, Smith Journal looks like a good brand new (Melbourne?) mag. All the other papers are full of the usual nonsense, instantly reminding me why I no longer live here. But while I’m waiting for my hotel room, this bit of Sydney is reminding me why I did live here too.

Ed. This piece was first published at on 14 November 2011.


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