“Dark, dusty and suitably spooky”, is how many would remember the Kings Cross Wax Works, first opened in the heart of what was a lively central hub in 1960s Sydney.
The Wax Works opened in 1967 in Kings Cross Village Centre in Springfield Avenue, a spot described as having a European feel with an outdoor cafe culture, a big drawcard for visitors.The figures were supplied and franchised by Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum in London, using “real human hair imported from Italy” and beeswax hardened with a “secret” chemical compound.
When it first opened, school groups toured the exhibits, some of which left lasting, and in some cases, disturbing memories.
The Algerian hook exhibit depicting a form of torture was unforgettable, according to one member of the Lost Sydney Facebook page.
“Part of the wax works was dedicated to ancient forms of torture. It was really creepy as a little kid. I loved it and I loved the Cross and still do to this day,” the post read.
“The figure of the fellow impaled on a large hook was in a darkened display area and you had to push a button to illuminate it. The light was on a timer so gradually the figure returned to the darkness. Pretty frightening but irresistible to a kid.”
A cosmopolitan part of Sydney
A souvenir guide book shows photos of dioramas ranging from The Beatles to Queen and Prince Phillip with prime minister Robert Menzies, but it was the horror scenes and partial nudity that left the most powerful impressions.
“It was almost like a Ghost Train except you walked along darkened corridors from exhibit to exhibit. Used to scare the hell out of me as a kid. The body on the hook, the boy half inside a sharks mouth! Ew! Stayed with me until today and I’m 52!”
“Odd sliding doors and secret stairways which were tricky and confusing to navigate,” said another.
Vanessa Berry, author of the book and blog Mirror Sydney, said when the Village Centre was first established Kings Cross had a reputation as a very cosmopolitan part of Sydney.
“You could go to a café there and have a cappuccino sitting outside, which now doesn’t seem like a very revolutionary or exciting thing perhaps but back then that wasn’t how things worked,” she said.
“It was a place that had a very strong European café cultural centre influence, so that’s one of the reasons people went to Kings Cross.”
“There were ones like the African Lion Safari, Bulleen’s Animal World, Australiana Village, Paradise Gardens. Another one that was popular was Old Sydney Town near Gosford, but a lot of them were not in the centre of the city, a lot were in the suburbs,” she said.
“It was a particular era of entertainment that now has pretty much passed but if you were watching TV in the 1980s you couldn’t escape the ads for El Caballo Blanco or African Lion Safari.”
Manager Nanette Rudge defended the museum’s content to the ABC’S This Day Tonight program in an interview from 1967.
“With the Algerian hook for instance, the children won’t see it because it’s in darkness, unless they press a button then they can see it,” she said.
“A lot of people will be rather interested in that [the Algerian hook exhibit] because there’s plenty of gore and most people are a little bit, well, masochistic shall we say, they like to see a bit of blood around the place.
Where did the infamous wax displays go?
Cameron White remembers visiting the wax works when he was a child so he asked Curious Sydney to investigate what happened to the wax figures.
“I think we even went on a school excursion as well but I remember going with my parents,” he said.
“It was this darkly, slightly disturbed place, wax works were always a bit odd anyway but there was this sort of dark, interesting world off the streets of Kings Cross.”
James Cockington, author of Mondo Weirdo,specialises in pop culture and visited the wax works when it was on its last legs in 1986.
“I think it would have [made a big impression] when it first opened. It would have been quite exciting because it was our own version of Madame Tussauds but by the time I saw it was looking very tired and outdated,” he said.
“It was dark, dusty and suitably spooky but curiously fascinating for someone like me who is interested in the obscure and the exotic.”
He wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald when the wax works closed, and remembers finding file material confirming the wax figures had gone to New Zealand.
“What ever happened to the Kings Cross Waxworks? They sold out this year  and all the wax models (including Bob Hawke) have gone to New Zealand. Another piece of our cultural heritage disappears without trace,” the article said.
“I did find out a couple of years later [after I visited] that it had closed and found some information that the wax models had gone to NZ, so there’s a remote possibility they are in NZ,” he said.
“You’d like to think that a performing arts museum would buy them and put them in storage but I guess they’re not the sort of things you’d have in your living room.”
The ABC contacted Madame Tussaud’s in Sydney as part of the research for this story, but no-one was able to confirm the final resting place for the Kings Cross Wax Works figurines.