Bev Karonidis was born in 1936 in Redfern. It seems miraculous to me, but she remembers waking up early as a child to watch the elephants and animals of Wirth’s Circus walk down the street into Exhibition Park [now Prince Alfred Park]. The circus came to town every Easter. The local Redfern kids – considered to be disadvantaged – were given a free show, as well as ginger beer and hot cross buns, on Good Friday.
Henry Brown was born in Erskineville in 1919. He talks about some of the mischief local Erskineville kids got up to in the 1920s like stealing lumps of coal of the back of horse and drays to go under the copper or in the fuel stove.
Zena Sachs was born in 1913 in Darlinghurst and moved to Newtown when she was 4 years old. One of Zena’s earliest memories of Newtown is the end of the First World War. I think it’s amazing how little kids have these very specific memories. An event of global significance such as the end of the Great War and Zena’s memory is of a little boy stealing her treasured peace medal!
Glad Willis was born in 1917 in Kings Cross. Unlike other interviewees from suburbs such as Newtown and Surry Hills, Glad does not remember Kings Cross being a suburb with lots of kids to play with. She remembers it as a suburb where the very poor were scattered in amongst the very wealthy. Not having many friends, Glad talks about creating an interior world in her imagination – a world that can be glimpsed through her description of playing in the then un-restored Elizabeth Bay House (pictured).
Image: Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney, New South Wales / photographer unknown, c1902. Copyright the Historic Houses Trust
Leo Hannon was born in 1923 and grew up in Newtown. His earliest memory of the suburb is of poverty. Leo talks about how poverty breeds competitiveness. He remembers racing with his billy cart after school to beat his friends Tippy Hanshaw and Whopper Wessel to the Stewart Brothers woodyard on English Street, Camperdown, where he would collect wood scraps to sell.
Les Cross was born in 1916 in Newtown. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, Les would have been 16 years old. He recalls the thrill of walking across the bridge just “for the sight of it” and because it was “brand new”.
Compared to Ted McDermott’s excitement at the fights that used to break out around 6 o’Clock in many South Sydney pubs, as a child Grace Schwebel was horrified at the sight of men brawling as she walked home from the Hub Picture Theatre in Newtown on a Saturday afternoon in the 1920s.
Grace worked at the IXL jam factory in North Newtown/Darlington around the age of 16. She remembers women coming to work after having a ‘backyard’ abortion performed by a Mrs Hunter who worked from a house at the junction of King Street and City Road in Newtown. Even though she describes this process as “brutal butchery”, in the interview she goes on to admit that women were grateful that Mrs Hunter existed because there were not many people around willing to perform abortions.
We’ve all heard of the Six O’clock Swill, but I had never heard of the phenomenon of men challenging each other to fight by placing their empty beer glass top down on the bar. Ted McDermott was born in Redfern in 1925 on what was then Castlereagh Street [now called Chalmers Street]. Ted describes with relish watching the fights that went on around his childhood neighbourhood – fights that spilled out of pubs such as the Australian Eleven Hotel and into Redfern Park and surrounding streets. He goes on to speak about a hotel on the corner of Redfern Street and Walker Street called the Albert View, which was nicknamed ‘The Bloodhouse’ because of the “terrific” fights that went on there – maybe five or six fights on at the one time.
Living in ever-gentrifying Redfern as I do now, it’s hard for me to imagine just how industrial the suburb must have been in the ’30s. Ted describes big factories – such as Hunter’s Shoes and F. H. Fauldings – and horses and carts making their way along what is now Chalmers Street.
Jane Lanyon was born in 1920 in Balfour Street, Chippendale. Growing up poor in Depression-era Chippendale, Jane would busk out front of the Glengarry Hotel (on Lawson Street, Redfern) for spare change. I love this story of her singing for ha’pennies because I can imagine it so vividly, perhaps because I often drink at the Glengarry myself. In fact, we’ve nicknamed it the ‘People’s Pub’ – but I’m not quite sure why… I think because it has an amazing old table in the centre of the front bar that fits a lot of people! You can definitely imagine members of the Unemployed Workers Union sitting around that table and talking politics in the ’30s.
Nowadays we might say that we were ‘born’ in a particular suburb, but we really mean it as the place where we grew up. But Jane Lanyon was literally born in Balfour Street – in the front room of one of three two-story terraces between Queen and Henrietta Streets. Seeing as Balfour Street is just around the corner I took a little walk to see if the house Jane describes in the interview is still standing – and it is! Jane was born in the middle terrace.
Jean Jurd was born in 1925 and grew up in Darlinghurst before moving to Woolloomooloo at the age of 11. She had a pretty traumatic upbringing in Woolloomooloo in the ’30s. The original interview is very difficult to watch – the tape is switched off a number of times as she breaks down recalling her mother throwing drunken parties fueled by sly grog and filled with part-time gangsters and sailors who walked right off the wharfs and into their house in Bland Street Wooloomooloo. This excerpt gives just a glimpse of what growing up in that environment might have been like.