Thursday 19 March 2020

Remembering the Great Depression

The coronavirus crisis is serious threat to the health of many people across the world. The virus is also a potential catastrophic threat to the financial markets across the globe. Many predict it be the biggest financial threat since the Great Depression that started in 1929 and lasted to around 1933.

One of my predecessors, Lorna Humphreys, interviewed a number of elderly Campbelltown residents in the 1970s. A question she often asked her interviewees centered around what Campbelltown was like in the Great Depression. I thought I would include some snippets of these interviews that talked about those Depression years.

       We didn’t do too bad in the depression at all. One lad came in here a while back and wanted to know we had suffered and that. I said we didn’t suffer, our relations helped us. – Florence Allen

        It was depression time. We advertised for a sawyer and there were about 10 or 12 men standing at the gate in the morning. In those times you asked them to show you what they could do. This man was a great big handsome fellow, and he just had a pair of sandshoes on, he didn’t own a pair of shoes. Anyway he got the job. – Rita Brunero


Did you have many nights when there was hardly anyone there (Macquarie Cinema)?
        Yes, but if there were only two there we would still show it. Then there were the days of the depression. The poor devils would be lined up outside the theatre. Nobody had any money and they would ask if they could come into the pictures. They would be filthy and walking the streets. I had a special place down the front.
I never heard of people going hungry or being put out of their homes or anything. But the hordes that used to come through and would ask for food.
      We used to put them in the front of the theatre. It was hard for us. We used to run dances and do other things. – Fred Eves

What was the depression like here in Ingleburn? Did it affect people very much do you think?
       Well it didn’t affect father, he kept his job right through. And we weren’t very conscious of it in a way ‘cause you’re only kids you know, a lot of things go over your head. But, I can remember a lot of people saying, you know, how hard up they were, and that sort of thing. They used to go into the city on Fridays for two and sixpence, return for two and sixpence,  and they’d go to the Town Hall and you’d pay threepence I think it was to go in, and you’d sit down and sing.
Did they have dole queues in Ingleburn or did they have to go somewhere else?
      Ah, they had men working on the roads, solicitors and all kinds of chaps they had, I remember they cleared this, when we first came here you couldn’t see down the Cumberland Road, now I can see right the way down to the pines down there, but before you couldn’t because it was only just a dirt track, sort of three ruts, the horse goes in and the two wheels down there. Well then during the depression they had these chaps working, and they cleared the road, they opened up all this here, it used to be all bush from here to the railway, and right back. We had these chaps, they cleared the roads, just cut down the scrub and stuff. I remember the chaps working, it sort of didn’t worry us. – Margaret Firth


When you lived in Campbelltown during the depression years, how did people pay you for delivering their babies?
       They didn’t pay me. Do you know Milgate Lane? Somebody found out that I was on a case down there and told me that I would never get paid. Women had funny husbands in those days. They had to hide their money. – Emily Jane Kisbee


How did the Depression affect around here in Campbelltown? Do you remember?
         Well later on when we came back it was still bad. People, two or three a day, would come to the house for food. Men mostly. Well the women weren’t used to working. See the women weren’t used to having jobs. There were no jobs for them. I remember Marie trying to get a job and she put an ad in the paper for a lady jackeroo. – Angela Lysaght


What do you remember about the depression years in Campbelltown? You would have been old enough to have been aware that there was one.

        It was during the depression years that we moved to Campbelltown. The reason for my father leaving the farm was because he became ill. That was around 1923. I don’t know why it was so hard to get labour. He couldn’t get labour on the farm. He would even take people in off the roads. There were a lot of swaggie type people in those days. They would take the job and they had their own room on the farm and you would get up the next morning and they would be gone. It became such a problem to employ anybody. He decided that he would become one of the employable instead of being a boss.
      He worked for my uncle in the butcher’s shop part of the time. During the depression years we were lucky because we owned two or three houses. We had a couple in Picton and we had a couple here so we had rent coming in from those. We were lucky we had railway people who were not out of work and could pay the rent.
You were at school, but do you remember things getting worse in the depression years? Were there scruffy children and hungry children?
       I think there some poorly dressed children. I don’t know that anyone really wanted for food. There was a coupon system.

I haven’t come across anyone yet who lived in Campbelltown and was terribly aware of the depression; it seemed to have almost passed them by.

        Maybe it did, because in those days it was largely a farming community and they grew what they needed to eat. – Leila Spearing


How about during the depression, I have been told that people camped out under the bridge at Menangle along the river.

      Yes, I used to walk to school every day along the river to school and they would be there.

It has been very hard to find out anything much about the depression years in this area.

       The locals seemed to manage all right. They grew their own food. I can remember in the war years we were growing our own vegetables. I was a child in the depression and I can remember that well. I can remember the banks closing. I was thinking the other day about the building society and people were panicking but that was what happened in the depression. People rushed to the banks to get their money and they closed the banks. – George Taber

No-one seems to have mentioned how the depression affected Campbelltown.

         I can remember when Leumeah opened up as a residential area and people could buy a block of land for around £5 and put up anything. It was a real shanty town. It was quite an area with one room shacks.

 How long did the shanties stay?

          For many years, Leumeah was a real shanty town.

 What about the other side of the railway line, the other side of Broughton Street?

       Yes, there were a couple of old houses the other side of Broughton Street near the old Milk Depot. There were some further opposite the railway which they called Struggletown. – Miss E. Triglone

Written by Andrew Allen

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