1 April 2021 Susannah

Aunts Up the Cross

Robin Dalton

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:

How long is it since you’ve visited Kings Cross? Have you seen these plaques in the pavement? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Robin Dalton, photo by Natalie Martinez, from https://www.textpublishing.com.au/authors/robindalton
Body images credit- Dr Jim Eakin plaques at Kings Cross, photo Susannah Fullerton

Comments (8)

  1. Dear Suzannah, When I was 21 (1960-61) -in addition to my full-time clerical job in Sydney, I worked for a year to save to go overseas, and my part-time job was waitressing in the ballroom of the newly-opened Chevron Hilton in Kings Cross. Many jobs finished between 1am and 3am, and when walking to Town Hall Station, through the Cross, I never once felt unsafe. though smetimes the last train had gone, and either I caught “the milk train” or got a taxi all the way home to Meadowbank. A golden era!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for sharing that memory. I think then people in the Cross all knew each other and so there was safety. The day before horrible drunkeness and king hits and other ghastly things.

  2. Maria

    Thank you Susannah for introducing me to this book. I’d never heard of it before and there aren’t too many books, so far as I’m aware, set in mid-twentieth century Kings Cross. I grew up in Paddington and know the Cross fairly well. I look forward to reading a book set in an area rich in history, with its share of “colourful Sydney identities”

  3. Susannah Fullerton

    You are right – there is little set in Sydney in that era. I so enjoyed it – hope you do too.

  4. Janne McDonald

    Have you read Angel Puss by Colleen McCullough set in the Cross, again, lots of very colourful characters. It was all starting to change in the late 60’s early 70’s but always felt a safe place to walk around. We used to frequent a little continental cake shop and bought the most delicious Rum Babas!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      No, I’ve never even heard of Angel Puss, so will look out for it. The rum babas sound delicious! What a pity that shop has gone.

  5. Expressly directed towards Maria, here in the comments, from April 3rd – may I recommend ‘Pagan’ by Inez Baranay. From Goodreads: “Set in 1950s Sydney, it focuses on the relationship between Sir Eugene Goossens, a conductor with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the wild and wacky Rosaleen Norton, the self-proclaimed Witch of Kings Cross.”

    Thanks for your wonderful site Susannah!

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