A number of lesser-known – and often debauched – histories of Australia’s convicts, colonial characters and first settlers are being brought to life at Hidden Histories, a new true-crime storytelling event series taking place in Sydney’s newest nightlife neighbourhood, YCK Laneways – the cluster of small bars around York, Clarence, and Kent streets. You’ll be regaled by leading scholars and raconteurs digging deep into Sydney’s past and the underbelly that ruled the streets during the crime-filled decades of the 19th century, covering everything from sex, gambling and booze to real-life unsolved murder mysteries.
Taking place throughout 2021, on the third Tuesday of each month, historians and performers will take centrestage at hidden bars, drawing from local newspapers, journals and court records to tell juicy untold stories of days gone by. The line-up includes “Historyteller” Max Burns-McRuvie, a Sydney-based historian and co-founder of Journey Walks, a history, crime and culture tour company. He’ll be hosting a talk in the historic courtyard of Since I Left You (SILY), tucked off Kent Street.
“I believe these types of events sex up the way history is delivered and received, taking it out of the classroom and off the page so that it can be enjoyed as a live show in small bars such as Since I left You,” he tells Broadsheet. “It’s a new kind of entertainment which showcases history-based performative storytelling.”
His event, Sin and the City – True Tales of Crime and Debauchery From Sydney’s Peculiar Past, recounts secret stories from Sydney’s old pleasure houses, gambling haunts and opium dens. Burns-McRuvie takes the audience through the CBD’s seedy history while musicians play jazz and swing songs from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. There’ll also be a cocktail menu inspired by Burns-McRuvie’s talk.
Storyteller Jo Henwood will take the stage at Papa Gede’s to deliver Hatches and Dispatches – Stories of Abortionists, Midwives, Poisoners, Secret Babies, and Baby Farmers in the Back Alleys of Early Sydney. There’s also history with a bit of burlesque at The Barber Shop by femme fatale and husband poisoner “Dorris Donnit” – aka Sophie Cook, perhaps better known as her burlesque alter ego, Legs 11.11 – and tales at the Prince of York from historians Lisa Murray and Laila Ellmoos about buried bodies and historical plagues. Later in the series, hear from architectural scholars and attend never-before-seen photo exhibitions exploring the City of Sydney’s dark past.
History High Tales is part of a wider series of events and cultural happenings taking place in the nooks and crannies of Sydney’s CBD as part of the YCK Laneways Block Party. More than 75 events – from fire dancing and DJ sets to drag bingo and wheelie-bin art – are taking place across Sydney’s CBD, all paying homage to the city’s creative talents and small-bar scene.
Tickets for Sin and the City on April 27, are available here.