I had heard of Robin Dalton’s memoir Aunts Up the Cross but had somehow never got around to reading it, even though I live a short walk from Kings Cross. Thanks to a loan from a friend, I have now rectified that lack. It was a delightful book, full of charm, but was also packed with interesting Sydney history. A fairly recent edition has an excellent introduction by Clive James, in which he comments on the very memorable opening sentences of the book: “My great Aunt Juliet was knocked over and killed by a bus when she was eighty-five. The bus was travelling very slowly in the right direction and could hardly have been missed by anyone except Aunt Juliet, who must have been travelling fairly fast in the wrong direction.” Such precision and wicked wit – one can immediately see this redoubtable aunt making her way across the road.
The book shows us a very different Kings Cross from the one we know today. It was then a place where a young girl could go anywhere in safety, where eccentric visitors came and went, tarts plied their trade on the street outside, and bills were rarely paid. Robin’s inter-generational home stood about where the iconic fountain stands today. Robin Dalton, AM, was born in 1920, but this memoir was published in 1965. She became a literary agent and film producer, and has spent much of her life in London.
Robin Dalton’s father was Dr Jim Eakin, a much-loved medical man in the Cross. Today I went searching for the plaques she mentions in the epilogue to her book and was delighted to find them (he is the only person for whom there are two plaques). He was often called ‘the Gun Doc’ because of his willingness to attend on underworld figures.
Do consider taking a meandering stroll through Kings Cross, to read the more than 100 bronze plaques which were set into the pavements in 2004. They record some of the iconic buildings that used to stand there, provide quotes from works by Kings Cross residents, and commemorate some of the colourful personalities of the suburb. I took photos of the plaques, but the second one was too long to get into one picture, so here it is in two parts: