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excerpts from Susannah Place oral histories

Education Unit, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, 1990

Thwossible photographs of family members and the houses were collected. The majority of the oral histories were recorded on cassette tape with a few recorded on videos.

Oral history has played an important role in the interpretation of Susannah Place museum. Much of the interpretation of the museum is based upon the information gathered in the extensive oral history programme. Oral histories have been used to help furnish rooms to particular periods in time, recreate the 1915 corner shop and produce a soundscape and audiovisual material for visitors to experience.

Patricia Thomas (nee O'Brien) lived in 62 Gloucester Street with her sisters, Mother, Stepfather and baby brother. They moved in from up the street in 1933 and left in the early 1940s.

Annie Eyers conducted the oral history in 1993 at Susannah Place.

In this extract Patricia is talking about the local boys who used to come around and chat to her and her family out the front of their house. The boys are excited about the prospect of going off to fight in the war.

Jim Young lived in 64 Gloucester Street. His Father and Mother ran the corner shop and the family lived upstairs. Jim lived there from 1904 until the 1920s. He used to help his parents in the shop. Jim was born in the Rocks across the road from Susannah Place.

Ann Toy conducted the oral history in 1990. This was the first oral history collected about life at Susannah Place.

In the first extract Jim is talking about anglicizing his name during WW1 so that it wouldn't sound so German. In the second extract he is talking about his childhood memories of going to the Easter Show.

Fred Hughes and his sister Bertha grew up in 58 Gloucester Street. The Hughes family lived in 58 from 1915 until 1930. The family often took in boarders to live with them.

Ann Toy conducted the interview in 1994 at 58 Gloucester Street.

In this extract Fred and Bertha are talking about how the flu epidemic of the 1900s affected their family. Bertha and her father were the only two in their family that didn't get sick.

When Jack and Shirly Andersen were first married they moved in with Jack's parents at 58 Gloucester Street in 1950. Jack was born in The Rocks and his family lived in Nos 58 and 64 at different times.

Joy Hughes conducted the oral history in 1992.

In this excerpt Jack and Shirly are talking about how the basement was converted into an air raid shelter during WW2.

From the interview with Jack and Shirley Anderson


JH: Only in the B7 section. So you can still remember that big thick wall. And you made that as an air raid shelter during the war.

JA: Actually as I said, the Maritime Service helped us with that, and the people from, oh grandmother, down, well we always used to use that as an air raid shelter. My father was the air raid warden, and he'd make sure everyone was in down there.

JH: And so how many people was this air raid shelter for?

JA: Well, whatever we could get in there, whoever used to pass by, just used to come in.

JH: And so did you have food supplies in there as well?

JA: No, not really, I don't think we ever really expected anything.

JH: So do you remember the submarine attacks in the Harbour?

JA: Oh, yeah. We seen the shells going over, 'cause we were all standing out the front weren't we, watching them go over.

JH: Ignoring all the air raid sirens! (laughter)

From the interview with Patricia Thomas


PT: Yes well it didn't affect us because we had… there was just four girls and my brother was too young

AE: Yes

PT: But my sister became engaged to a boy from down the street… we moved …we went to school with and he used to come up ... all the boys used to come up ... a lot of boys used to come and talk to us out on the street because being girls growing into their teens

AE: Yes

PT: Mum was always there and Girlie was there and they used to talk out on the front

AE: Girlie Andersen?

PT: and all the boys used to come along and just sit there talking too we all used to sit around talking just out the front ...and the boys when they found out the war was going to start, that's all they could talk about... "we're going to join up" and my mother tried to talk them out of it ...she said "don't be silly, you'll go over there and get killed" — all they could think about was "it'll be over in six months, we'll have a holiday over there and we'll get a cruise on the ship and be home" ...and the boy that my sister was engaged to got killed.

AE: Oh dear, and so these would be boys of what age?

PT: Oh they were only l9 and he was killed when he was 21 he'd been over there two years when he was killed

From the interview with Jim Young


Ann: Could you tell me what your full name is?

Mr. Y: My full name is James Hugo Young. That is the name I've been known by for the last 45 - 50 years. The reasons that is I shortened the name and anglicised it because of my father's being a Swede and I anglicised the name to make it easy to work with at the time being a young chap.

Ann: Was that common for people who had foreign names to try and Anglicise it?

Mr. Y: Oh that's quite true. Especially in the area where we lived because of the number of foreign people that had homes there – the local people of the Rocks at the time were mostly Swedish, German and a number of Scandinavian families and they changed their names.

Ann: Was that mainly just to fit in with the Anglo-Saxon community or was -

Mr. Y: That's true.

Ann: There wasn't any discrimination was there, at that stage?

Mr. Y: There was discrimination when I was a young boy and with the outbreak of War, which I remember quite well – the 1914 War because of the anti-German propaganda that had been beat up around the district or in the country. But the main thing was that it never quite became apparent for a long while until after 1915 when the Australian troops were to become involved in Gallipoli – then there was this anti-German and anti foreigner campaign which was felt with the little business my people conducted on the Rocks.


Ann: Mr. Young can we go on to discuss some other aspects of growing up as a child. Do you remember any of the special occasions that occurred in your family? If we could start firstly with maybe some of the events that took place in Sydney. For example was there an Easter Show? An Agricultural Show?

Mr. Y: Oh yes, the Easter Show was an event that we looked forward to because of the amount of samples that was available that were quite a novelty to we children. Bottles of Holbrooks Sauce that was no more than 4 inches high, small packets of flour – Self Raising flour – I remember one brand – Fountain Brand Self Raising flour. Of course being a grocer boy I have a recollection of these names of these products but we used to take pride in going to the Show because at that time you received the sample bags for nothing.

Ann: And was the Show held at the same place at Moore Park?

Mr. Y: Yes the Show was at the Agriculture Ground.

Ann: Was it free entry in those days or did they charge?

Mr. Y: No there was no free entry, I know because my mother used to pay or give the money for my fare out in the tram – we used to go by tram – to the person that was taking us because she couldn't possibly have the time to take us and we couldn't go out there on the Saturday or the Sunday or the Monday because of the huge crowds. The only day we could really go out was on Children's Day which was near the end of the Show.

From the interview with Fred Hughes and Bertha Grayson


Mrs G: But they were close to death's door and apparently Mum kept asking "Where's my baby?" – Iris, you see she was only a baby and she didn't realise – she didn't know that Iris was in hospital, but Dad used to say – if we ever discussed it – Dad used to say, "You and I were next door when the flu came weren't we love." Because he and I were the only 2 that didn't get it.

Ann: When was that?

Mr H: That was the I9I7 strike. That was when the plague was, wasn't it?

Ann: Well the plague was earlier – a bit earlier.

Mr H: When was that?

Ann: I900 was the plague.

Mr H: No I'm talking about the big flu plague – bubonic flu they called it. Half a dozen died in the street where we were you know. The Currans – next door to the Currans – they all died. Couple, I can't think of their names now – two or three in that terrace died.

Ann: Right.

Mrs G: I can even remember wearing masks. They made us wear masks around the streets.

Mr H: That's right. You had to wear them to school too, didn't you? I used to go to the what do you call 'em – clinic – to get mine over at the Health Department over – down the Quay there, you know near the railway. That's where I used to go there to get the mask.

Ann: So you were never – there wasn't any immunisation or injections?

Mrs G: Not that we knew of.

Mr H: Bertha was funny. She never got crook at all. Dad never got crook either. I was all right and Iris went after – she was last of the 3 of us to get it – she had a cradle and I'm rocking it like this one day – and I was getting crook sick, see – and they come and wheeled her away. I only got a little bit and they kept me home and then the clinic on the corner of Little Essex Street and they used to bring the tucker around. That's the first time I was given brains – I wasn't rapped in brains.

Ann: Was it a Government clinic?

Mr H: Yes.

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