Arts Review: Mayhem Kings Cross 1945 – Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney (15.02.16)

Black and white image of a woman lounging on a love seat in a gown.

Inspired by events in and around Kings Cross at the end of the Second World War, Mayhem Kings Cross 1945 at the opulent Elizabeth Bay House was a celebration of the end of the war and a way to bid farewell to American GI’s returning home. A coloration between Sydney Living Museums and The Festivalists, guests were encourage to attend decked out in their best 1940s garb or service uniform and explore the stunning rooms of Elizabeth Bay House. There was a secret cellar, admittance only permitted after using the secret code word, where you could view illicit “pornographic” photographs and purchase goods on the black market. In particular, the room set up with a television and headsets where you could view short news reels from the war, was especially interesting.

Upstairs you were shown how to make a garrison cap and participate in a workshop on 1940s tattoos. In the upstairs morning room a guide told of the history of the building and how during the 1940s it was artist apartments and that particular room was occupied by Donald Friend. Letters were read and firsthand accounts given of the midget sub attacks that had occurred in the bay and seen from that room. This was definitely a highlight of the evening but was difficult to hear as the poor guide was competing with the dance lessons occurring below.

Speaking of dancing – the reoccurring comment of the night was that there should have been more of it. Aside from the very talented Sydney Swing Katz showing off a few moves, there really wasn’t a space for people to dance. The Salon was a main thoroughfare between the back where the food and drinks were and the rest of the house, making any dancing difficult. It would have been lovely to see a live band – even a three piece set – playing some Glenn Miller Orchestra or the Andrews Sisters.
There was more than enough seating and you couldn’t fault the food and drinks.

While I understand the need for numerous activities spread out amongst the venue to keep people occupied and not all congregating in the one place, in a venue as spectacular as Elizabeth Bay House the history and sheer grandeur of the house really speaks for itself. Guests appeared to be the most engaged with the elements that focused on Sydney’s history and tapped into this sense of nostalgia. I would have loved to have heard more real life accounts of Kings Cross during the 1940s.

It was difficult not to be swept up in the glitz and glamour of an evening spent at Elizabeth Bay House. For one night guests were transported to a time of balls and post-war celebrations, where the men were dapper and the women wore gowns. As the cool breeze blew off the water and through the open windows the revellers lingered on the lawns basking in the glow of a party well spent, and it was exceedingly difficult to step out of the past and into the far less glamourous present.

For more information about Elizabeth Bay House, head here.