Kings Cross: A Sacred and Profane Literary Site


  • Penelope Nelson


In the 1920s, the old days of Sydney bohemia, journalists from 'Smith's Weekly' used to play a literary game in the pub. One drinker started off a poem with a line of lewd verse and the next drinker wrote the next, and so on. An entire ribald ballad might result. Adam McCay, successful journalist, alcoholic, and my great-uncle, wrote the first line of one notorious verse: "The loveliest whore in Darlinghurst is in the family way", and another drinker capped it with "In spite of her diamond pessaries and jewelled whirling spray." McCay's line is good old ballad metre, sexist attitudes jostling with a bit of fun about the euphemism "family way". The one that follows it is infinitely more sophisticated. Because Adam McCay and Kenneth Slessor were good friends who both worked at Smith's, and because that second line is metrically perfect, witty in its detail, and in its tone both a generation younger than the first and in keeping with Darlinghurst Nights, I've always liked to think of it as by Slessor.