People Share Their Stories

Beth Thorpe was born in 1939 and is able to talk about life in Woolloomooloo from the mid 1940s and into the 1950s.“I thought Woolloomooloo was absolutely wonderful – only a walk away from the heart of the city and from the Domain swimming baths; a tram ride away from all the beaches in the city … we had running water and we had sewerage, and that was probably better than what 70% of the rest of Sydney had.” The Playground was the social focus for the women and children of the community. Beth took physical culture lessons there (Bjelke Petersen Physical Culture), and played basketball: “We came straight home from school, then straight down to the Playground”. Whoever went to the Playground became part of the community. Her mother worked long hours, returning to work three weeks after Beth’s brother was born: “she was able to do that because of the Woolloomooloo Day Care Centre”, that was council run. Her mother was active in the Miscellaneous Workers Union and was an office bearer in the Communist Party, East Sydney branch. When she commenced working, Beth joined the Union of Australian Women. When she was about nine, she joined The Eureka Youth League, and their camps became her only holidays away. The League introduced her to notions of sex role equality and to Australian music and songs, including the musical Reedy River. Beth also describes: the Italians; World War II and evacuation for the mountains; housework; prostitution; Arbor Day; Cracker Night; the Woolloomooloo Progress Association; Rosaleen Norton; the power strikes; the waterside strikes; industrial accidents on the wharves and morbidity: “a lot of men died in their 40s”; the “awful pubs”: the Fitzroy and the Frisco; and the small houses: “We could hear people washing, bathing, singing in the bath, toilets flushing. If you couldn’t hear an argument that was going on next door, and you wanted to get the gist of the argument, you’d go put a glass up to the wall and your ear to the glass”.

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