Our Place: Stories of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst & Paddington - Biographies

Our Place - Stories of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst - Irene Webber Biography


Irene was born in 1909. She recalled: “You wouldn’t do much, but you mightn’t be doing your work, you might be talking and not listening to what she was saying: you’d get four cuts. They were long, the canes, and round, and she would have her beads and a crucifix there and she would do it with that much force, the beads would be flying...and the crucifix… I was happy at Bourke Street Public School, but not at St Peter’s.” The headmistress at Bourke Street school encouraged her to continue her education. Unfortunately for Irene, her mother made her leave school and go to work at the age of 14, and Irene believed she could have had a better life if she had received more education. As a child, going to the Zoo was Irene’s happiest memory, and going to Manly. She liked to read, and she enjoyed travelling by steam train up to the Blue Mountains. She often stayed a couple of weeks with her auntie at a guesthouse at Katoomba. Then she would walk, on her own, and go right down to the bottom of the waterfalls. Irene remembered the underworld figure, Kate Leigh, who lived in Bourke Street and then Devonshire Street. Leigh was known in the district for her kindness to children. Her funeral at St Peter’s, was ‘one of the biggest’.