THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

KINGS CROSS

It’s easy to be brave when you’re young because you’re totally naive about the cost to oneself. You also have no idea about mortality and the fragility of life. I guess that’s why wars are declared by old men, the decision-makers, but are fought by boys. And now, of course, young women.

Hanging out in Kings Cross was a real eye-opener to a young lad. It felt like Luna Park for grown-ups. All the music pumping out from the bars and nightclubs, the flashing coloured lights, the friendly girls, the drag queens, etc. Of course, once you got over the initial excitement and your eyes adjusted to the lighting show, you glimpsed the circus up close with all its thinly veiled seediness, human despair and danger. Still, to a young guy, away from my home for the first time, it was an adrenaline rush. Illegal casinos, prostitution, organised crime and police corruption were at its height during this era. Heroin had been brought in by American servicemen on leave during the Vietnam war years, and soon became the drug of choice by many Australians. Soon after the major drug rings took its import over and the influx into Sydney of this “product” was huge. Much of these illicit activities were allegedly linked to businessman Abe Saffron, known as “Mr. Sin” or “The Boss of the Cross”. Police were paid off and the most notorious illegal casinos seemed to operate with an impunity. Business was booming and everyone was in on a cut.

I spent many hours in the bars, clubs and strip joints during this time, soaking up the atmosphere and observing how they were run. I guess it was always an interest to me how such places operated. Especially the successful ones. Me and my buddies paid through the nose for drinks so we could sit and be entertained by the, mostly, beautiful strippers. But what’s youth if you can’t mis-spend it? Meeting these girls in private was an extra negotiation and a frustration for young boys on a limited budget.

While I was coming of age and getting a taste of the night club scene, another young man named John Ibrahim had his sights set on becoming the King of Kings Cross. A Lebanese Australian boy John started out working security for a Cross nightspot but was fueled with an ambition to become the top dog. He worked his way up the ladder learning everything there was to know about the running of successful clubs and making all the right contacts.

At the age of 16, John had witnessed the brother of Bill Bayno, a power broker of the Cross, being attacked by two men and went to his aid. During the ensuing shuffle John received a large knife to his torso. He was rushed to Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital and placed in a coma for three weeks. Due to the extensive damage to his liver, lungs and intestines, it took John six months to recover. To this day he still bears a large scar from the incident. He was tough, fiercely ambitious, very intelligent and possessed razor sharp instincts about people and situations. Operating in Kings Cross, with the cast of characters who held power at that time, your instincts were your lifeblood. One misjudgment or sloppy decision could get you killed.

By his eighteenth birthday John Ibrahim had acquired a 20% share in his first nightclub, Tunnel Cabaret, By the height of his career it’d be alleged he was involved with a minimum of 17 clubs in the Cross. The media dubbed him “Teflon John” and “The Teflon Man of Kings Cross” due to his knack of avoiding conviction of any illegal activities.

Eventually we would meet and I found John to be a very charming and savvy man. I was brought up not to pre-judge people on hearsay but rather on how they treated me, and I found John to be a very classy guy. He now manages the career of TV and radio personality Kyle Sandilands.

In the 70s and 80s there seemed to be a very thin line between legal and illegal and this line was usually defined by who your friends were. Corruption in New South Wales was rampant and ran all the way from the cop on the beat to the State government. Certain activities seemed to be in the blind spot of authorities.

One brave journalist, Juanita Nielsen, decided to do something about it by writing a series of expose articles regarding a certain property development in the Kings Cross area. One day she received a call from a gentleman who wanted to have a secret rendezvous so that he could give her some explosive inside information. She kept the appointment but was never seen again. Speculation was that she had been killed and her body put through a meat mincer. A colonial inquest determined that she’d been murdered and the case remains unsolved.

The meat mincer disposal of bodies has long been a favoured solution for the Mafia and other gangland czars. I once asked Chopper Read why he never ate dim sims to which he replied, “I have too much respect for the dead”.

One beacon of light in the darkness of the Cross in those years was the Reverend Ted Noffs whose church, The Wayside Chapel, was open 24/7 as a drop-in inn and counselling service to the many itinerants who’d found their way to the Cross only to lose it. He helped save many lives and kept families together, guiding young runaways, as well as drug, drink and gambling casualties back onto a responsible path in life. Although Ted has passed on now his Ted Notts Foundation still continues today giving a helping hand to those who find themselves in desperate situations.

I was shedding the skin of a young lonely kid and being turned into a man, and the rebirth was at times painful. But that’s another story.

(c) Frank Howson 2013