A unique textile public artwork that celebrates the life of Juanita Nielsen, the Darlinghurst resident and outspoken heritage activist, hangs in the Juanita Nielsen community centre in Woolloomooloo. The 10m-long, hand-painted linen curtain Woolloomooloo was created in consultation with the local community by artist Locust Jones.
The artwork remembers Nielsen and her presence in the local area. Nielsen was a vocal opponent of the redevelopment of the Kings Cross area in the 1970s, launching a vigorous editorial campaign in support of the Green Bans movement. After visiting a famous drag club called Carousel in July 1975, Nielsen disappeared. Her cause of death was never confirmed, but in 1983 a jury stated that there was ‘evidence to show that the police inquiries were inhibited by an atmosphere of corruption, real or imagined, that existed at the time.’
Artist Locust Jones spent a lot of time researching Nielsen and surveying the local area, where he lived briefly in the 1990s. As well as borrowing books and walking around from the Cross to the docks, he drew heavily on illustrations created by community members young and old, compiled during a series of workshops. Jones said the drawings of some of the primary school-aged kids – who unsurprisingly know nothing of Juanita – were the most inspiring. Insights from the senior citizens also proved a fascinating resource.
Some of the seniors knew Juanita personally, as well as her cousin. I also interviewed the head of police for the area at the time,” said Jones. “He said there’s a lot he knows and doesn’t know about the disappearance – and a lot he can’t talk about!
Jones weaved his own perspective among the personal stories of the local residents, many of whom were around to witness the Darlinghurst evictions and Juanita’s protest of these. He said this sentiment resonates well with his own practice, which often has political connotations.