Heiress with the beehive hairdo

By Denise O’Hagan.

Heiress with the beehive hairdo
After Juanita Nielsen (1937–1975)

Taking the short-cut from the station at the Cross to the leafy end of Victoria Street, I must have hurried past the tiny terrace at number 202 innumerable times, one eye on the stroller, the other on the alert in the way of new mothers. Juanita never entered my thoughts. I’d never heard of Mr Sin nor his slippery henchmen, and the Carousel Club wasn’t even called that any more. Mine were the supposedly more salubrious destinations in the Golden Mile—the playground, the library, the cafés where small flocks of lycra-clad women chirped and sipped skinny lattes across from the fountain where the junkie with the dress the colour of dirty mustard lay curled up, brushed by a fine spray of droplets with the change in the wind. It was my neighbour who told me about her, the heiress with the beehive hairdo turned conservation activist, unlikely defender of the working-class tenants. I began to notice, behind the clothing-strewn backpackers and jumble of second-hand shops, the graceful Victorian terraces with their arched doorways and lacework balconies, and through the windows of side-street dwellings, pots and pans and children’s toys, the stuff of all our lives. These had been the people, persistently absent from the developers’ plans, for whom she’d fought in her newspaper, and been intimidated more than once. She’d known, of course, that with every passing day the developers were haemorrhaging money, that in trampling on toes she was courting danger, but no one ever thinks it will happen to them, least of all at a business appointment at ten-thirty in the morning. Her body was never found, just her handbag cast by a distant freeway. Nearly half a century later, the seedy glitz of the Cross is being gradually gentrified, though on a quiet day her presence may still be felt sliding between the remaining terraces, or heard in the sigh of the breeze through the plane trees lining the street. And the developers are still circling, just as on the day she disappeared.

Note: Great-granddaughter of businessman Mark Foy, Juanita Nielsen was a key figure of the mid-1970s conservation movement in Sydney. Through her newspaper NOW, published from her home in 202 Victoria Street, she fought to save historic residential terraces in Kings Cross from demolition for a multi-million dollar high-rise project by developer Frank Theeman, associate of Jim Anderson (‘Lucky Jim’) and Abe Saffron (‘Mr Sin’) of the Kings Cross underworld. Nielsen disappeared on 4 July 1975 at the Carousel Club. The case remains unsolved.