Just a twenty-minute walk east from the centre of Sydney, passing along Hyde Park and the traffic sewer of William Street, you will reach what is arguably the most infamous precinct in all of Australia. Kings Cross, or more informally “The Cross,” is not a suburb in the traditional sense of the word; rather, it’s an informal neighbourhood of Sydney, located at the junction of the inner-city suburbs of Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Elizabeth Bay. Its geographical center sits around Darlinghurst Road, where the enormous Coca-Cola sign at the intersection has been beckoning revellers and tourists since 1974. Finding the right words to describe the true depravity that this area once represented is difficult, but to borrow a phrase—at Kings Cross, you would never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
It’s easy to forget now that the Cross was ground zero in Australia for the promotion of sin and the commercial exploitation of sexual vice. As Australia’s red-light and nightclub district, this was once the congregation point for all the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s and the most morally bankrupt people in the country, but little of this is evident today. Walking along Darlinghurst Road, the collection of supermarkets, fast-food outlets, fitness studios and ordinary shops make the area look nearly identical to other commercial strips in the city. Gone are the large flashing neon signs of the strip clubs and the parading prostitutes; drugs and criminal gangs have been largely cleared out; and the gays and transvestites have now become seemingly accepted parts of Western society who no longer feel the need to huddle in safety in disreputable locales. Only the more conspicuous-than-usual massage parlors, sex shops and the occasional nightclub still hanging on in the face of gentrification give away its lurid past.
While untangling the history of this place, this writer was reminded of a story often told by a family friend, an incident of culture shock that occurred to her on the first day she arrived in Sydney in the mid-1960s. Onboard the cruise ship that slowly made its way to Circular Quay via the Suez Canal, she and her friends had heard from other foreign passengers about somewhere in Sydney called Kings Cross; apparently it was the place to be for nightlife and partying and well worth a visit. Upon arrival, they were determined to find this place, and whilst walking through the city, they struck up a conversation with a middle-aged woman going about her business and asked her for directions. Instead of responding, the woman recoiled in shock at the thought that these smartly-dressed young women would actively seek out such a depraved place and briskly walked off without answering. Such was the reputation of Kings Cross for the respectable and morally upstanding Sydneysider of the time. As the history of the West in the twentieth century will tell you, where sin and vice of the sexual variety prosper, especially where there is profit to be made from this, you can be almost certain to find Jews prominently involved. Kings Cross had been home to Australia’s bohemians since the early 1900s, and turned into a magnet for Jewish migrants and refugees during both ends of World War II, attracted to its cosmopolitan nature compared to the rest of Australia. This influx bore fruit during the 1950s, as Jews stand out above anyone else in the transformation of Kings Cross from a bohemian district with a criminal edge, into the sex capital of Australia. Furthermore, with the notable exception of Elvis, just about every big music act of the 1950s and 1960s came to Australia via Jewish promoters, most brimming with sexually (and racially) subversive music styles, and the hotels and nightclubs of Kings Cross were always the first port of call.
Vice has obviously always existed in Australia, and even before Kings Cross truly came onto the scene, Australia’s live entertainment industry was steadily getting more risqué under the leadership of David Nathaniel Martin. Martin, born to a Jewish family in Perth, took over ownership of the Tivoli vaudeville entertainment circuit in 1944 with a mind to modernize the circuit and counter the growth of Hollywood films (and later television) that were draining audience numbers. However, the degree of vice and sexual perversion that took root at Kings Cross during the 1960s, which soon discharged into the Australian psyche, escalated to new and unparalleled heights of depravity. Sitting at the heart of this nexus were the Jews responsible for much of this depravity, the trailblazers in bringing sex, Blacks, and Rock & Roll music to Australia. Their subversive story is told here.
The King of the Cross
The name Abe Saffron can always be found in close proximity to any mention of Kings Cross. Many monikers have been applied to this man over the years, from “Mr Sin” or “King of the Cross,” to “The Boss,” “Gentle Satan,” and “Gomorrah,” but his influence over Australian politics and culture goes far beyond the confines of Darlinghurst Road. Above board, he was a venue operator, landlord and property developer who practically owned Kings Cross and had no moral compunctions about the immoral and illicit ongoings on his properties. Behind the scenes, Saffron was a towering figure in the Australian underworld, with deep connections to criminal networks, the police, business figures and even those in the highest ranks of government, who more often than not were blackmailed or accepted bribes to turn a blind eye to his activities. Saffron’s property empire grew to become Sydney’s largest vice operator and he practically invented adult entertainment in the country, establishing Australia’s first strip clubs in Kings Cross. Before his downfall and imprisonment for tax evasion in 1988, he was taking a cut in seemingly every form of vice inflicted on Australia.
Abe Saffron in 2002. The Star of David-shaped menorah necklace was an ever-present companion, dutifully cropped out of his Wikipedia headshot.
Abraham Gilbert Saffron was born in Sydney in 1919 to a moderately observant Jewish family, the fourth child of Samuel Saffron, a draper who arrived from Poland in the early 1900s, and Annie née Gilbert (Gilovitz). Saffron appeared drawn to seedy business conduct from even his earliest adult years, holdings jobs as a runner for gambling bookkeepers and fencing stolen car radios. After the war, Saffron took up investments in a number of pubs, where he took part in the flouting of liquor laws by illegally selling liquor after-hours. At the time, temperance laws passed in 1916 restricted alcohol service to the daylight hours, and the 6 pm bar close invariably led to a crush of patrons, the “six o’clock swill,” just before sales ceased. The illegal alcohol trade (“sly grog”) flourished in pubs around Australia, and Sydney underworld figures like Latvian-born Phillip “The Jew” Jeffs bribed police and furnished liquor to cosmopolitan patrons at his Sydney clubs, 50-50 in Kings Cross and the 400 Club in the city, providing the example to Abe Saffron.
Saffron’s big break came in 1947 when he purchased the Roosevelt club and restaurant at 42 Orwell Street in Kings Cross. Originally opened under a different name in 1939 by Jewish rag trader Bernie Roth, The Roosevelt was a popular haunt for American GI’s stationed in Australia who came in search of “recreation” and local women. The venue was promptly sold to Sammy Lee, who operated it throughout the war years, and by the time it came under Saffron’s control, The Roosevelt had become the place-to-be for Sydney socialites and cosmopolitans, while also earning a reputation as a center for sly grog. Saffron hired American talent co-ordinators to magnify the glamor of the venue, becoming one of a new breed of Las Vegas- or Hollywood-style clubs, replete with showgirls, burlesque dancers and all the latest music and dance crazes imported from America. The Roosevelt began to decline following the end of temperance restrictions in 1954 and Saffron cast his eye to other more provocative ventures. Saffron was, as identified by his son Alan, “always on the cutting edge of adult entertainment,” and in 1959 he opened the first strip club in the country, Staccato, down the road from The Roosevelt, at 6–8 Orwell Street.
Saffron took advantage of ambiguities in the law as it related to performance art—the law was not equipped to differentiate between types of stages and performances. The risqué theatrical productions that got a pass on the grand Tivoli stage were a world apart from the new strip acts performed on the small, intimate and demurely lit stage at a seedy venue like Staccato, where strippers undressed to almost total nudity right up against patrons. Early performances were supervised to remain within the law, and the performers got away with the bare minimum of tasselled pasties and g-strings to cover their modesty, but by the late 1960s, other Saffron venues at Kings Cross had reduced it to full nudity. As pornography seeped into society, the teasing strip shows were soon no longer titillating enough for patrons, and it degenerated further into live sex shows and other sexual acts. Even performances of bestiality were not out of the question at the Cross.
The 1960s were Saffron’s golden years, where he rapidly grew his local property portfolio in Kings Cross and made further nightclub and hotel investments throughout Sydney and around Australia. Staccato was followed by more pioneering strip venues like The Pink Pussy Cat, The Pink Panther, Crazy Horse and ShowGirls, many within properties Saffron purchased along what later became known as the “dirty half-mile” of Darlinghurst Road. At his height, Saffron had six strip clubs in his Kings Cross portfolio alone of a total holding of around 50 nightclubs, including other famous Kings Cross venues like the Persian Room and the Venus Room — a glorified brothel during the 1970s, which used child prostitutes. He also had interests in countless brothels throughout Sydney, which traded in the young women Saffron’s underlings had procured through contacts with the white slave trade, and was a silent partner in Dennis Wong’s Chequers, another prominent restaurant and nightclub of the era.
Sex and liquor were always Saffron’s main game, and he was ever the promoter and financial beneficiary of the latest forms of sexual vice. Sex shops soon became fashionable at the Cross, most of them owned by Saffron. Sex shops of course need sex products, and Saffron again had the goods. According to Reeves, he had been mass-importing pornographic magazines to Australia and distributing them since at least 1958:
Saffron took delivery (my source told me) of four tons (more than 4000 kilograms) of pornographic books, paying just 2s [shillings]…per book, for a total of more than 35,000 books! He later sold them all at £2 apiece, turning a cool profit estimated to be more than £66,500.
There are also strong connections between Saffron and the Jews that began importing and distributing X-rated VHS films in Australia during the 1980s — events and personalities to be exposed in Part IV of this series.
Of the other types of vice that were flourishing in Kings Cross, drugs were apparently not part of Saffron’s repertoire, but when it came to gambling, Saffron took a cut in some illegal casino operations; however, he had a gentleman’s agreement with the gentile crime bosses that he wouldn’t intrude onto their turf if they stayed out of the liquor trade and the sex business. Saffron’s regular supply of cash from these ventures also turned him into sought-after lender for people wanting discreet sources of funds. The extent of his clients will never be truly known, but they included many of the prominent Jewish property developers explored in a previous essay.
Kings Cross was Saffron’s largest investment area, accounting for 40 percent of his property portfolio, and his holdings expanded over to Oxford Street, which was to become the heartland of Sydney’s gay scene. Once again Saffron had a hand in this, providing the floorspace and taking the rent for many of the venues established by gay icons Dawn O’Donnell and Roger Teyssedre. Their prominent homosexual nightclub Patches operated on the second storey of a Saffron-owned building at 33 Oxford Street. At the same time, the ground floor tenancy of the building was a rented to a children’s amusement parlour, Fonzies Fantasyland, a business founded and operated by Alan Saffron.
What made Saffron practically untouchable was his use of sexual blackmail, a tactic shared with the Jewish mob in America, notoriously utilized by Roy Cohn and Meyer Lansky. Saffron recorded the private orgies that he arranged at his properties and secretly plied Sydney’s rich and powerful with prostitutes (their age and sex depending on the sexual proclivities of the target), then photographed them in the ensuing act via a two-way mirror in a Saffron-owned hotel room. Notable victims included Attorney General Lionel Murphy, but the tactic was used on anyone who was causing Saffron grief or those he felt he could extract favors from.
On a personal level, Saffron was as deeply depraved as his business dealings, utterly captive of his vices. He had a rapacious and masochistic sexual appetite and cheated on his wife throughout his life with the array of shiksas he had at his disposal. Women may have held his attention, but Saffron’s one true love was money. This was the verdict not of anti-Semites, but of both his wife and his son. By Alan Saffron’s estimate, Abe was sitting on a fortune of $40 million AUD by the time of his death in 2006. Direct confirmation of much of the extent of Saffron’s illegal dealings came after his death from Alan, who worked in the business as his obvious heir before cutting off direct ties and involvement in 1979. Alan ends his book with a crass exposé of how Saffron divvied up his fortune in his will to largely exclude his son. Alan’s lament that he never received his “fair share” of an inheritance earned from the proceeds of crime, tax evasion and the exploitation of the worst kinds of sexual vice is Jewish chutzpah and avarice at its finest.
 The joke in the Cross at the time was: ‘Tell Hitler he can have Danzig, if he’ll give us back Kings Cross’ – L. Nowra 2013, Kings Cross: A Biography, NewSouth Publishing, Australia, p.222.
 Infamous acts imported by Martin include the French revue Folies Bergère in 1952. Much to the consternation of church leaders, the performances featured a number of “artistic nudes” (topless girls) on the stage. These sorts of nudes reappeared on the Tivoli stage a number of times during the 1950s, though they were little more than scenery in portions of the performance, sitting to the back of the stage, and laws at the time required them to stand stock-still, lest they arouse any passions. – F. Van Straten 2003, Tivoli, Lothian Books, Melbourne, p. 191-192.
 D. McNab 2005, The Usual Suspect: The Life of Abe Saffron, Pan Macmillan, Australia, p.36.
 Alan Saffron 2008, Gentle Satan: My Father, Penguin Group, Australia, p.130.
 Nowra, Op. Cit., p.377.
 T. Reeves 2007, Mr Sin: The Abe Saffron Dossier, Allen & Unwin, Australia, p.75-77.
 Ibid., p.104-106
 Ibid., p.67.
 According to Alan Saffron, his father left the drug trade to others. Though this didn’t stop drugs from being, produced, sold and consumed at his venues.
 Saffron, Op. Cit., p.139.
 McNab 2005, Op. Cit., p.169.
 Reeves, Op. Cit., p.59.
 Ibid., p.166.
 Saffron 2008, Op. Cit., p.176 & 180.
 Ibid., p.298