The mean streets of Darlinghurst are a long way from the glamour of
Pittwater – but that’s where Pittwater Mayor and independent candidate
for this weekend’s by-election Alex McTaggart runs a boarding house at
300 Palmer Street.

I’d take Darlinghurst and the Cross over Pittwater any day. That’s why
I’ve lived there on and off there since 1988. Like my great-uncle Lennie
Lower who chronicled life in the area for Smith’s Weekly and the Telegraph back in the thirties, I’m “intrigued by the quaint, old-world, worn-out, bashed-in atmosphere of the locality”.

Others disagree. They’d like Darlo to be as polite as Paddington. The
area has been ferociously gentrified in the time I’ve known it – but
street girls still operate less than three minutes walk from Baz
Luhrmann’s mansion and in full view of the residents of Harry Seidler’s
Horizon tower, home to many of the inner city’s beautiful people.
Deros, druggies, down-and-outs and the desperate still live on the
street – and that’s where McTaggart’s property comes in.

Crikey spoke to Mr and Mrs McTaggart today. He says the site has
operated as a boarding house since the 1880s, and that he has owned it
since 1997. The premises provide a roof over the heads of its all-male
occupants, an alternative to life on the streets.

There’s no doubt that the area needs cheap accommodation – and that the
pool of available space for this purpose has been shrinking.

Crikey, however, has been contacted by an individual claiming to be a
local complaining about the activities of McTaggart’s tenants and the
administration of the business.

The McTaggarts say they work closely with the St Vincent de Paul,
Anglicare and local services such as the Matthew Talbot Hostel and St
Vincent’s Hospital. They also add that a social worker visits the
premises daily – and that problem tenants are asked to leave.

In the Telegraph today, Piers Akerman
describes McTaggart as “a political one-trick pony who was elected to
the council after blocking Baywatch’s plans to film at Avalon, where he

Darlinghurst certainly has its own nimby brigade, too. Just down Palmer
Street from McTaggart’s property is a yuppified pub named The East
Village Hotel. Few of the well heeled crowd it now bids for would know
that between the wars it was one of the most infamous hang-outs for the
denizens of the sly grog and prostitution world of “Razorhurst”.

Old habits die hard, but a spokesperson for the Eastern Suburbs
Neighbourhood Association told Crikey this morning that 300 Palmer
Street had never been brought to their attention.