Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Instamatic Camera Lady of Kings Cross


Back in the day there was an old lady who wandered the congested weekend streets of Kings Cross carrying a strange camera in her hand. For many years this old lady was a well-known character in the Darlinghurst area, the sort of character that has now sadly disappeared forever.


For like most everywhere the Cross has become a sterile place, filled with new developments, luxury apartments, and brand name coffee shops.


And the people who live there now are not interesting people; they are professional people, rich kids and wannabe artists, people who lead incredibly vacuous lives filled with nothing but bland comfort providing uniformity.


But not so long ago these clinical automatons dwelt elsewhere and the streets of the Cross were still roamed by misfits, drunkards, junkies, street kids, poets, seers and gangsters, colourful people in other words, people with character.


And one such character was the diminutive Instamatic Camera Lady. This little old junkie was a sight to behold. Dressed like she’d just walked out of a 1940’s Film Noir and weighed down by what looked like the world’s first instamatic camera, a strange unwieldy contraption, maybe even a prototype.


And the ancient lady was always immaculately dressed, a vision of style, looking like a wrinkled version of Coco Chanel, or some long forgotten movie star of the Hollywood studio era.


How she’d survived the years of her addiction was a miracle in itself, somehow avoiding the od’s, the lifestyles diseases, and the usual fate of most junkies to die young or simply fade away. A born survivor in other words.
And she appeared on the main drag of Darlinghurst every weekend, without fail, full make-up on, and absurd camera dangling free. Weaving in and out of every bar, restaurant and café, propositioning transient revellers with her standard line.


‘Would you like your photo taken? Only five dollars!’


Most people either shook their heads, laughed, or simply blanked her, but she never complained, just moved on to the next potential punter, until eventually someone who was drunk enough, said, hey yeah, what the fuck, take my photo grandma .


It was a tough gig and the money she made must have been very little. A bad day here, a good day there, but always enough to ensure her continued survival and one more fix.


To those of a sensitive disposition it was a pitiful sight, a woman of her advanced age scraping a living in such a desperate way, but to those in the know there was something noble about the way she conducted her business and carried on regardless. Hitting those midnight streets each weekend, camera in hand, and always ready to pose the question.


‘Would you like your photo taken, only five dollars?’


And then it happened. One weekend the Instamatic Camera Lady failed to show on the main drag for the first time in decades. None of the weekend revellers noticed, but those in the know did, and when she didn’t show the following weekend, or the one after that they knew something terrible had occurred. Of course life went on, but for the locals it was a sad event, for characters like the old lady are what make a place, they are its lifeblood.


And with the passing of the Instamatic Camera Lady Kings Cross lost something vital, something enduring, like a piece of its soul had been taken away forever and the place would never be the same again.


But did she really die? Know one knows for sure, but what we do know is that up and down the country, hidden away in attics, dusty drawers, boxes and cupboards, are little reminders of the old lady. Faded photographs of younger people, long vanished nights, and faded dreams .


And there are some old-timers in the Cross, relics of a bygone age, who insist that if you look very carefully, you may be lucky enough to see an old lady, with an oversized camera, gliding along the main drag on a buzzing Saturday night. And if you blink your eyes and look again that old lady might just flash you a grievous smile before whispering hard and low.


‘Would you like your photo taken, only five dollars?’






Joseph Ridgwell



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