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An art and history project of more than one hundred brass plaques telling the stories of Kings Cross received a high commendation at last month’s National Trust Heritage Awards.

The series of more than a hundred plaques, called ‘The Strip on the Strip’, were embedded into the granite footpath along Darlinghurst Road during 2005, and completed late last year.

The plaques, telling the stories of art, poetry, sleaze, humour and some of the upstanding residents of the year, impressed the judges.

“The idiosyncratic nature of the quirky stories told on the plaques … are a clever and contemporary way of telling the stories of people whose voices are rarely heard,” the judging panel said.

A small group of local history experts worked with eminent City of Sydney historian Shirley Fitzgerald to come up with the ideas.

For Ms Fitzgerald, the 18 month project came as a unique opportunity that she says took her well out of her comfort zone. With “as much research as I would to write a book”, she says the biggest challenge was only having 600 words to tell the story.

Some plaques mark literary figures such as Kenneth Slessor, artists such as William Dobell and benefactor David Scott Mitchell, who left us the Mitchell Library. Others mark social campaigners like Juanita Nielsen, who disappeared in 1975, and Dame Mary Gilmore, poet, writer and journalist, who lived at No 99 Darlinghurst Road until her death at age 97.

Soapbox orator Ada Green is commemorated, in the spot where she used to enliven Friday nights by preaching damnation to revellers and there’s a plaque for Jessie Street, the social reformer who collected money for sheepskins to send to Russia in World War II.

Bea Miles, who contributed to the intellectual life of Sydney’s pavements with her poetry recitals and discourses on philosophy is remembered, as is George Sprod, cartoonist and journalist, whose observations were so good at capturing the humour of the place.

“Kings Cross is full of interesting, colourful and creative stories and is one of the City’s most famous villages,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“The stories on the plaques are interesting to everyone, but were primarily designed to interpret Kings cross to its residents and Sydneysiders,” Ms Moore said.

“Gradually over time, people can absorb and understand more about the area by simply walking over the plaques on their daily travels.”

An accompanying booklet was also produced to extend the experience and explain the brief words and complex ideas behind them.

The free booklet is distributed at Kings Cross library, local events and is available to download on the City of Sydney website:

http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/AboutSydney/VisitorGuidesInformation/HistoricalWalkingTours.asp

Linda Daniele

*First published in the South Sydney Herald, July 2008.

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