Today I’d like to welcome L.J. LaBarthe as my first guest blogger from the Under the Southern Cross anthology. Take it away, L.J.!
One of the great things about writing a historical—at least, for me—is seeing how a place has changed over the years… or how it hasn’t. In researching for “The Body on the Beach,” I learned a lot about the buildings on Hindley Street, Adelaide, and what they were originally used for. Places that I know to be seedy, awful dives, never used to be; once upon a time, they were considered formal establishments. Other places, which I know as, for example, a McDonalds restaurants, used to be a seedy dive of a pub. It’s so interesting to see how things have changed, where a new coat of paint can liven up an exterior.
Hindley Street has always had a bad reputation for as long as I can remember. While efforts have been made in the last ten to fifteen years to clean it up a little, introducing things such as uni student housing, more restaurants and a strong police presence at night, there’s still the lingering remnants of what was considered the underbelly of Adelaide. In the 1980s, Hindley Street was home to late night cafes and falafel houses—those still exist and still make the best damn falafel rolls I’ve ever had—and there were dingy, dirty, smelly pubs with carpet that was so sodden with spilled booze and who knows what else it was like walking on a sponge. Those pubs are gone now, changed hands and cleaned up, to become pokie pubs or uni student pubs or blues lounges.
But before then, back in the 1920s, when my story is set, Hindley Street was even more diverse and interesting. There was an opium den in a building called the Hooker’s Building, which was on the corner of Hindley and Morphett Streets. Nowadays, there’s a restaurant, a strip club and a pharmacist there. (How those three relate to each other, I leave to your imagination!) But back in the twenties, there was a large Chinese furniture factory, a garage, and upstairs, a joss house, Buddhist temple and a room for opium smoking and illegal fan-tan games. There was also the Adelaide office of the Kuo Min Tang, and later, the Communist Party.
Further up Hindley Street, travelling east, the old Eagle Hotel which had a rather unsavory reputation, is now a McDonalds. I don’t remember the pub at all, but I do remember that it was known for its reek of stale alcohol and that it had to be gutted to the walls before McD’s moved in. The Princess Berkley Hotel, a few doors down, is pretty much a dive, with just as interesting a fragrance as I imagine the Eagle once had—back in the twenties, it was a high class establishment, serving both tea and alcohol.
With the Six O’clock Swill in place—the curfew for last drinks—there was also a rush to buy that last pint or bottle before being kicked out and sent home. Subsequently, the pie cart developed in Adelaide, and did a roaring trade. There were half a dozen pie carts back in the day, drawn by horses and laden with hot meat pies, sold for a shilling or a few bob, and devoured as men made their way home from the pub. Nowadays, there’s only one pie cart, and it’s drawn by a van and is found at night by the railway station on North Terrace. The staple delicacy that became hugely popular is still served, however. That’s called a pie floater, and is a meat pie in a bowl of green pea soup. To me, that’s revolting, but a lot of people seem to like it!
Even though some of the places that were part of the early days of Adelaide and the establishment of our history are now gone, destroyed in favor of university buildings or hotels or apartment blocks that sit empty and unleased, there’s a still a lot of the history remaining. I have fond memories of nights spent seeing live bands in the various pubs on Hindley Street—the Royal Oak, now World’s End; the Century, now the Rosemont Hotel and Bar; The Toucan, which became Absolute Infinity and is now Jive. There are small art galleries and specialty bars and hipster clothing stores, and most of the old, familiar establishments are long gone.
Hindley Street still has an air of the forbidden about it, although it’s much less now. Still, it’s interesting to look back on the history of it, on the history of anywhere, really, particularly if it’s somewhere you know and can easily visit. And that was one of the great joys of writing “The Body on the Beach.”
“The Body on the Beach” by L. J. LaBarthe
In 1920, a body is found on Brighton Beach, Adelaide. Billy Liang has been living a respectable life as the representative of Adelaide’s Chinese community—with his lover, lawyer Tom Williams, discreetly at his side. When evidence seems to implicate the people Billy represents, he steps up to help solve the murder. He and Tom deal with illegal opium dens, fan-tan games and gambling, racism, and being shot at. Though Billy’s family accepts the love he and Tom share, Australia’s laws against sodomy and homosexuality pose a constant danger. Now, the body on the beach brings a whole new threat to Billy and Tom’s life in Adelaide.
Purchase “The Body on the Beach” here at Dreamspinner Press.
Part of the Under the Southern Cross anthology.
L.J. LaBarthe’s website is here: http://www.ljlabarthe.com/
Billy and Tom dodged the traffic, managing to avoid refuse from horses with the ease of long practice, and safely reached the other side. A few cars were driving up and down Hindley Street but most of the road traffic was either bicycles or horse drawn.
The loud chime of the clock in the tower of the Adelaide GPO informed Billy that it was ten in the morning. Children, save for the homeless or the truant, would be in school, and those who were taught by governesses or tutors would no doubt be sitting in hard wooden chairs, shifting with boredom and discomfort. He noted a party of children with a young woman wearing a bright yellow cloche hat, and nodded to her, touching the brim of his fedora as they passed. She smiled and bobbed a shallow curtsey to him in return, even as she grabbed one of the children and pulled the boy back from the edge of the footpath.
“Always busy,” Tom remarked.
“Pardon?” Billy asked.
“Hindley Street. It’s always busy.”
“Oh.” Billy smiled. “It is, but I like it. I could not imagine living anywhere else in Adelaide, you know. I am very glad Father gave me the business to run while he and Mother went to the market gardens to work. I am not made to live and work in the country.”
Tom laughed at that. “No, indeed. I cannot imagine you raking dirt and harvesting potatoes.”
Billy pulled a face. “Not I. I will live and work here in the city for as long as I am able.”
“And then retire to the seaside? Brighton, perhaps?”
Billy burst out laughing. “Ah, no. I believe I have had my fill of Brighton for a while.”
Tom laughed as well and they continued to walk up Hindley Street. As they neared the Eagle Hotel, situated on the corner of Bank Street and Hindley, Billy slowed and then stopped.
The Eagle was painted a dark, unwholesome shade of grey, and its windows were dirty, grime smeared leadlight with soot stains on the glass. The door was firmly closed, although there were people entering into the front bar, indicating that the Eagle was open for business. Those walking down Hindley Street moved to the far side of the pavement as they approached the hotel, walking as far away from it as possible without walking on the road itself. Several young ladies raised their hands to cover their noses and mouths; Billy immediately understood that the fragrance wafting from the Eagle Hotel was unpleasant.