Dan Schaumann

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Escape From Sweethearts

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October 21st, 2009 Posted 10:48 pm

If you’re Australian, chances are you’ve heard the song Breakfast At Sweethearts by legendary Aussie band, Cold Chisel. Written by Don Walker, sung by Jimmy Barnes, and backed by the rest of his Cold Chisel bandmates, Breakfast At Sweethearts was the title track of their 1979 album that epitomized life at the time in the inner Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. Infamous for being Sydney’s red light district, a walk down the main street of Kings Cross today still takes you past countless adult shops, strip clubs, bars and nightclubs, albeit a much more tourist-influenced scene today that what it would have been back in its heyday.

I have always been fascinated by Kings Cross. As a matter of fact, my all time favourite book, Sex ‘n’ Thugs ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll by musician Billy Thorpe, was set in the Cross, which details a year of his life living in the area from 1963-64. I felt so captured by the vibe of Billy’s and Don Walker’s narratives, that for one of my English assignments in year 12, I wrote a spin-off story called “Escape from Sweethearts,” where I tried to put myself in the shoes of Anne-Maria, the Sweethearts waitress mentioned in the song. I would like to share this story with you, but before I do that I must go on a pilgrimage.

Incidentally, I am writing this from a hostel in Orwell Street, just a couple of blocks away from the main drag of Kings Cross. I’ve been based here for the past ten days since my return from the UK, and I’ve often wondered to myself whilst meandering through the streets, where did Billy Thorpe live? Where did Don Walker live? Where was Surf City, the venue where Billy played his legendary first gigs with his band the Aztecs? What kind of antics did the Cold Chisel boys get up to in the early hours of their Saturday nights, “walking into Sunday?” What was Kings Cross really like back in those days? Where exactly was the Sweethearts Cafe?!?

I jumped on the internet earlier this morning to see if I could find it. Firstly I searched for Campbell Lane, as mentioned in the song, where “through the window, curtain rain…” It seemed there was no Campbell Lane in Kings Cross, the nearest being in the inner western suburb of Glebe, about 5km away. Where to look next…? A quick internet search told me that there definitely weren’t any cafes in Sydney any more called Sweethearts, so that was no use to me. Searching for the name of the song didn’t bring up much except for the lyrics, however eventually after a bit more sleuthing I stumbled across an interview that the Sydney Morning Herald had with Don Walker:

“Khe Sanh was written on some scraps of paper at the old Sweethearts” he recalls.

Wow! The most renowned and celebrated of all Australian rock songs, Khe Sanh, was written within the walls of the Sweethearts cafe! I really needed to find this place, wherever it was, and whatever building it is today, just so I could sit there in the same spot and bask in this incredible piece of Australian music history. Then I read on:

“The original Sweethearts Cafe is where McDonald’s is now.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

McDonalds.

I nearly cried.

I ordered a chocolate sundae just a few hours ago. It wasn’t the first time I’d eaten at this particular outlet either. I sat at a table, wondering how on earth such an historical cafe could have been allowed to turn into the walls of a junk-promoting, monopolising, profiteering, greedy multinational corporation such as McDonalds. Do the kids of today who sit at these tables, guzzling down their Big Macs and extra large Coke’s realise that some of Australia’s most prized lyrics and melodies stemmed from this exact spot?

I think not.

Here is my story – my year 12 English assignment written in 2001, as spun off from that famous song Breakfast At Sweethearts, and dedicated to all who knew the ups and downs of life in Kings Cross in the 70s:


Escape From Sweethearts

Anne-Maria Smith
Hampton Court Hot
el
Bayswater Road
Kings Cross, NSW 2011

Sweethearts Café
Campbell Lane
Kings Cross, NSW 2011

Dear Sir,

I am writing you this letter to advise you of my resignation as waitress at Sweethearts Café. As of the 15th of August 1984, I will no longer be available for work as I am permanently moving away…

_______________________________________________________

It was never supposed to be like this.

I first came to Sweethearts four years ago as a naïve, innocent and excited young girl that had just moved away from home. Working here as a waitress was to be the starting point to the fulfilment of my childhood dream: I wanted to be well known. I wanted to stand out and be recognised by the community. Unfortunately though, I was too inexperienced and ignorant of what I would be in for. Although I enjoyed it to start off with, waitressing did not turn out to be the opportunistic and prosperous career that I thought it was – and I never imagined I would ever have anything to do with a murder.

Sweethearts is a popular, yet notorious coffee shop situated in the heart of Kings Cross, a suburb of Sydney reputed for its often unpleasant street-lore. Set amidst brothels, strip clubs and sex shops, Sweethearts attracts the majority of its customers during the long, drunken hours of the late night and early morning. Many people come in purely for a coffee and a chat with friends. Others see Sweethearts as a refuge to the busy Kings Cross lifestyle – as if it were somewhere to sit, sober up and think about life for a while.

On the other hand, there are the various assortments of hookers, pimps and drug dealers that come either to sort out a ‘deal’ with a potential customer or for a quiet drink during their late-night break. Many of these customers are actually sincere, caring people who work simply because they need money and cannot manage to find a more conventional form of employment. However, others are criminal and immoral scumbags who profit from ruining the lives of the innocent and uneducated by means of drug dealing and body selling.

One particular customer who I regularly served and got to know quite well was called ‘Mugger.’ Despite the unnerving name, Mugger was actually an outgoing and friendly guy who always gave me a compliment and a large tip whenever I served him. He was considerably older than me, maybe in his mid to late forties, and always looked a little scruffy with his tattooed arms and unshaven face. To the unfamiliar eye, he would have easily been seen as someone who you wouldn’t want on your bad side, but to me he was a good friend.

“Gidday, Anne darling, how’s it going?” he’d ask in his profound Australian accent. “Can you get us the usual please, love?”

The ‘usual’ was a ham sandwich, a strong, black espresso with three sugars and a large chocolate bar. After tipping me the change, he would sit at the bar and swiftly devour his meal.

“You’re gonna go far, love,” he’d tell me when he finished. “Just look at you – young and beautiful. Somebody like you shouldn’t be workin’ in a stingy old coffee shop like this.”

I liked the attention from Mugger. He was definitely a regular at Sweethearts; he usually visited after midnight around three or four times per week. I did notice that Mugger was not one who liked to talk about his personal life. He seemed to ignore questions about what he does for a living, instead changing the subject of conversation to myself. That didn’t worry me, though; whenever Mugger talked about me I actually felt as if I was being noticed. His caring and friendly attitude outweighed any bad qualities he may have had.

How little I knew.

It’s been about five months now since I last saw Mugger. I never want to see him again. Ironically enough, I never will…

My favourite shift at Sweethearts has always been the breakfast shift. It is around breakfast time that the nighttime community go home to recuperate and the daytime community get ready to go to work. The freshness of the morning air puts an end to the stale smell of alcohol that seems to emerge just after sundown. Most morning customers are drunks who stagger in to order a head-clearing coffee, but the general atmosphere is a lot more calm and laid-back than what it is during the night shift.

It was on one particular breakfast shift not long ago that I was settling into a quiet morning of work. I noticed a number of familiar faces eating breakfast after a long night, as well as a few businessmen having a meal before heading off to work. I had not seen Mugger for about two weeks, which was strange, so I was expecting to see him within the next few days.

I had just finished pouring a coffee when I heard a voice behind me. Turning around, I found two high-ranking police officers walking towards the side of the bar.

“Anne-Maria Smith, we believe you have information about the murder of Hank Powers,” one of the officers said. “You are required to come down to the station for questioning.”

I had overheard quite a few people talking about Hank before; apparently he was a notorious pimp who managed the careers of many young prostitutes. I didn’t know anything about a murder! I had tried to stay as far away as possible from sick, depraved people like Hank. Nevertheless, I couldn’t argue with the police.

When I got to the station, I was in shock. One of the officers told me that Hank Powers’ street name was ‘Mugger.’ He had been killed by a hitman who had been hired by one of the women that he managed. The hairs on the back of my neck stood stiff as I was advised of Mugger’s plan to manage and sell myself. I could not believe how such a man could gain my trust and friendship, only to be told the truth about his real life.

On my return to work, I felt sick. I could see the people around me living in their monochrome, fantasy world of drugs and alcohol. I then realised that people saw me as the typical female waitress: young, good looking and ready to be taken advantage of. That was not the situation I wanted to be in.

From that moment on, I lost all trust in the customers I served. Until now, I’ve only been working for the money. Next week I’m moving away – far away – and I’ll be starting a new life. I count myself lucky that I’ve managed to get a second chance, and this time I’m not going to waste it.

_______________________________________________________

When I first applied to work at Sweethearts, I thought I would be making the first move to becoming a well-known, respectable member of the community. Working here has not only ruined my reputation, it has also made me feel as if I was being used for sexual exploitation.


Whilst I was fortunate enough to actually obtain the position, I do not want to be working under these uncomfortable situations any longer.

Yours sincerely,
Anne-Maria Smith.



Breakfast At Sweethearts
– Don Walker

Campbell Lane, and through the window curtain rain
Long night gone, yellow day, the speed shivers melt away

Six o’clock, I’m going down
The coffee’s hot and the toast is brown
Hey, Streetsweeper, clear my way
Sweethearts breakfast the best in town
Oh, o-o-oh, breakfast at Sweethearts
Oh, o-o-oh, breakfast at Sweethearts

Hey, Anne Maria – it’s always good to see her
She don’t smile or flirt, she just wears that mini skirt

Drunks come in. Paper bag, brandivino
Dreams fly away as she pours another cappucino


Here today stands McDonalds, where once there was Sweethearts…

* if you love Aussie music and the way we tell stories about our landmarks, then check out Australia By Song for a massive list of songs written about locations all around this great country of ours.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 at 10:48 pm and is filed under Blog, Short Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Escape From Sweethearts”

  1. Neville
    10:36 pm on June 4th, 2010

    Ann-Marie never existed. A lady by the name of Maria worked the night shift at Sweethearts, and never wore a mini skirt. Francis was a more attractive lady, with long blonde hair who worked through the day, and she always wore a mini skirt.

    Maria was the only person who was at Sweethearts when both murders happened, the first one being Benny Kazawie and the second being John Pulitano.

    Maria’s son was charged with murder on the Gold Coast shortly after the second murder at Sweethearts in a totally unrelated incident.

    The original Sweethearts was at the location where the McDonalds now stands, however that building burnt down in the mid seventies.

    Sweethearts moved across the road into the building along side the Pink Pussycat. It remained there until it closed during the late 80’s.

  2. Craig Griffiths
    9:18 pm on March 9th, 2011

    Yep, Neville is right with all that. I used to end my late nights at Sweethearts in the late 70s and early 80s when it was by the Pink Pussycat. As a musician who often ended up wired and in the Cross way after midnight it was a good chillout place after gigs at the Manzil Room or wherever.

  3. Michelle
    3:13 am on April 1st, 2011

    I was a very naive girl of about 19 and I remember the Cafe next to the Pussycats well. What on earth was i doing in the cross?? I didnt do drugs or work as a prostitute..knew heaps of them..but I did love to dance .. I loved the dance club across from the pussycats and I would dance all night then go next door to the Jazz Bar..and finally to bed at about 6am…sleep all day and up again. I remember the crazy conversations that use to happen in that cafe…like a guy telling me that my new boyfriend was actually his boyfriend…like I said I was pretty naive and didnt have a clue about that sort of stuff….saw it but didnt understand it. I am wondering where all those people went? The looked after me I was seen as the one to be protected ..and the Kings Cross bikers of that time…Polite nice guys never gave me no trouble and treated me well. The memories have been with me a few years now and still I remember the faces so vividly. It really has a heart beat of its own its like a world of its own..and seems its still the same.

  4. Roosda
    11:38 am on December 16th, 2011

    Thanx for the nostalgia hit. Yes Sweethearts was next to the Pussycat. The club that Michelle referred to was the Persian Room and the Jazz club was the Paradise Nite Klub. I worked in the Paradise as a bar person and enjoyed many iconic bands come through and jam there. Renee Geyer, Billy Fields, George Benson, The Commodores, The Supremes, The Stylistics, Erana Clarke, The Harlem Globetrotters, Doug Williams (who is still performing in Sydney) just to name drop a few groups that passed through the Paradise doors. I DJed in the Persian Room for a couple of years and we were the Funk/R&B pioneers in Australia – All the Afro American navy would beeline to our club – lines down the street hours before we opened when the US Missouri came to Sydney. I was up at our door way when Cold Chisel filmed Saturday Night video…and of course Carmen who just passed away this week….don’t forget the iconic Manzil Room that was one lane behind us….damn the memories of a infamous period in Australian history serviced by expat Kiwis and Pacific Island peoples!!! Cheers

  5. Craig Griffiths
    6:20 pm on January 9th, 2012

    Nice work Dan. Ahhh… used to love the Paradise, Roosda!! Tho sometimes had more trouble getting back up the stairs at night’s end than on the way in. And the Mandrax… oops… Manzil Room. (Sigh). Yep – nostalgia. And there are plenty of musos, working girls and punters of every kind who’ve sadly dropped off the twig or ended up a tad brain dead since the 70s. Good to see some of us still keep the memories alive. And if anyone’s at all interested I’m one of those old Kings Cross troopers still making music: http://www.skullbug.com . All the best and happy new year to you all 🙂

  6. Lila
    11:39 am on March 2nd, 2013

    hi,

    ive just come across this while doing research about this song.

    Firstly, do you remember which hostel you were staying at in orwell st?

    Secondly, I’m sad too about the Mc Donalds thing but I am positive that it moved. You see, in the golden plates in the pavement, one on the corner on the street, several shops away from Mc Donald’s, says “sweethearts”.

    I don’t know if you know (or if you’re still around Sydney) but this might cheer you up a bit: on the corner of that street, there’s a pub called sugarmill (at which I used to work while living in a hostel in Orwell st, thus my first question) and on the last floor they recently opened a rooftop bbq place called sweethearts in honour of that café 🙂

    Also, do you reckon they lived in Campbell st, glebe and just came to the cross just for sweethearts?

  7. Dan Schaumann
    10:47 pm on March 6th, 2013

    Hi Lila, thank you (and everyone else) for getting in touch! Since I posted this article I too have found that Sweethearts moved from its original location, as quite a few people have commented about earlier. I went on a walking tour of Kings Cross a few weeks ago through Two Feet & A Heartbeat and our very knowledgable guide Stephen (who also stumbled across this blog) mentioned this fact to us and pointed out where it used to be. After the tour we had a drink at the new Sweethearts rooftop bar; I’m pleased to report it’s very atmospheric and worth checking out. I stayed at Eva’s Backpackers on Orwell St in 2009, which used to be the Venus Room nightclub back in the day. Good point about Campbell St in Glebe – it could well be that the boys lived there and namechecked it in the song?

  8. Sandra
    12:59 am on January 4th, 2014

    Hello I have a 1839 Directory listing George Ibbotson (a descendant of mine) labourer living Campbells lane, Elizabeth st Sydney. Kind Regards Sandra

  9. Dan Schaumann
    7:21 pm on January 7th, 2014

    Hey Sandra, thanks a lot for your comment. How interesting! There doesn’t appear to be a Campbells Lane in Sydney around that area any more… I wonder if it’s the same Campbell Lane referred to in Breakfast At Sweethearts? It’s fascinating that you’re able to trace your ancestry that far back as well.

  10. veki
    11:31 pm on March 26th, 2014

    I am friends with the family that ran Sweethearts during the years of ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’. Members of Cold Chisel were regulars, apparently. The detail Neville provides about Maria is consistent with the information the family gave me. Sad that the café has been replaced by McDonalds

  11. Nadia
    10:20 pm on April 23rd, 2016

    Hi, I just stumbled across your blog while looking for photos of some of the big names in the Cross back in the day. You see, my dad used to manage Sweethearts around the time the song was written, and as a kid, whenever I’d visit him in Sydney, we’d always end up stopping in to see Maria even after he stopped working there. It was in the old McDonalds building and also across the street from there at one stage. I remember sitting in big, black vinyl booth seats looking at weird looking people asleep at the next table. My memories are blurred, but they’re still there! My dad had many stories to tell including the time he got called in over the shooting that appears in the Underbelly series, and how he used to chat with Don Walker all the time. He was a Serbian immigrant, and the Cross became his home. He has recently moved back to his homeland as he is terminally ill, but he’s left behind quite a few photos and negatives from those days which I’m about to start going through. Just thought I’d share..
    Nadia

  12. Maddy
    4:10 am on January 28th, 2017

    Just came across this as am writing about a tine spent working as a waitress at Sweetheart s in the late 80s mostly on the night shift !! Was an 18 year old backpacker and remember some of the characters so vividly……remember the Albanian gang who used to run some kind of drug thing through there and some of the amazing people who were working in the brothels around, and some of the v crazy stuff that went on – so vivid…thanks for posting

  13. Nadia
    9:34 pm on January 28th, 2017

    Hey Maddy…do you remember a man named Ned? He was manager there for a while, worked there on and off for years (80s and 90s)…he was my dad.

  14. nikcyb
    1:52 pm on September 11th, 2017

    Hello everyone. I worked in Sweethearts in 1989, it was across the road from McDonald’s. I have photos of very dodgy people inside! I also have a photo of Ned, my boss. It was the most memorable, crazy place I ever worked in my life, I was 20 then. I found this blog because I am using my experience for an assessment at University in Scotland. I’m trying to get a hold of Cold Chizel to attain their permission to use the song to accompany my artwork. Boy oh boy do I have some stories!

  15. Nadia Waugh
    6:18 pm on September 11th, 2017

    Hey Nicky, that would be great! Sadly, Ned passed away in May last year over in Bosnia. I’ll always remember visiting Sweethearts as a child…I wonder if we ever met? Ned used to say that he had a good relationship with Don Walker (even years after his Sweethearts days), and since his death I’ve often wondered if I should get in touch to let him know Ned’s gone…I’d love to see this photo – how can I get a copy?

  16. nikcyb
    1:53 pm on September 11th, 2017

    Nadia, I just read the end of your blog, I need to send you this photo! Nikcy

  17. nikcyb
    6:43 pm on September 12th, 2017

    Hi Nadia, you can find me on Facebook Nikcy Baillie
    Your Dad was a lovely person, the only decent thing about Sweethearts really. We used to have chilli eating competitions and I remember eating a lot of schnitzel! My memories are very strong. I wonder if we did meet, in 1989 I was 20. Seems like yesterday. Look me up and I’ll send you what I have. I’m sorry about your Dad, he was a gentleman

  18. Nadia Waugh
    7:41 pm on September 12th, 2017

    Thanks Nikcy, will do! In ’89 I was 11 and living in Newcastle – Ned would take me to Sweethearts every now & then when I’d visit Sydney, so we may have met!

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