Our City

A collection of interviews about different places in the City of Sydney

Our City
City of Sydney Archives SRC76

The City of Sydney is characterised by diverse neighbourhoods, each with their own personalities. Locals reflect on different places in Sydney in which they have participated: their significance, meaning and transformations.

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  • Michael Cuomo 2

    Michael Cuomo

    “If you put a hundred per cent into it, Redfern itself will turn around and put a hundred per cent effort into supporting you, Redfern itself will do that”. So says local business owner Michael Cuomo of the inner-city village he has supplied with fruit and veg since around 2010.The side-by-side fruit shop, deli and flower shop which bear Mickey’s name have enlivened what used to be the shadowy corner of Pitt and Redfern Streets. In this oral history interview, Michael talks about Redfern with fellow resident Geraldine O’Brien: its character, its demographic mix, and how it has evolved over time. In the entertaining excerpt below, Michael describes one of the colourful regulars at the shop.

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    Kathy Ingram

    Kathy Ingram was born in 1945 and lived much of her life in Waterloo. In her interview she talks about her childhood and life around the inner city of Sydney; entertainment; school; ethnicity; Aboriginality and other aspects of life in the 1950s and ‘60s. In the excerpt below she recalls the proximity and ready availability of factory work in Waterloo in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, a time of full employment and flourishing industry.

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    Grace Schwebel

    Grace Schwebel was born in Newtown in 1916. In her long interview she discusses a very broad range of subjects including: middle class life, multiculturalism, religion, sectarianism, orphanages, factory work, home births and abortion, illnesses and death, racism, marriage breakdown, the depression, political movements, and her fleeting contact with (one-time suffragette) Adela Pankhurst Walsh. In the excerpt below she talks about the widespread early twentieth century practice of letting out rooms to boarders.

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    Dean Ingram

    Dean Ingram was born in 1975 and grew up in Waterloo and Redfern. In his interview he remembers many aspects of life in the area; playing, after-school care, unhappiness at school, childhood haunts, his paper run, and land rights marches in 1988, Australia’s Bicentennial year. In the excerpt below he recalls his involvement as a teenager in a community project promoting sex education for young people.

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    Jane Lanyon

    Jane Lanyon was born in 1920 in Chippendale and moved to nearby Redfern when she was six. In her interview she recalls many facets of her childhood: local industry, poverty, midnight ‘flits’ to avoid the landlord, and many other survival strategies. In the excerpt below she recalls the ingenuity employed by local children to gather free food during the Depression.

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    Harry Brennan

    Harry Brennan was born in 1949 and came to Alexandria, inner city Sydney, when he was seven. He grew up in family of twelve children, another four having died in infancy. In his interview he describes working class life and his father’s early death. He also recalls his widowed mother’s political involvement and her work as a barmaid and factory worker, and many aspects of childhood including entertainment, Cracker Night, the Speedway, and children’s paid work. In the excerpt below he remembers selling newspapers as a boy at the workshops at the Eveleigh rail yards, which once dominated the local landscape.

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    Robert Hammond

    Robert Hammond was born in Alexandria in 1927. In his interview he talks about domestic work and industry; childhood work including helping his father with a milk run; local betting, sly grog, criminals and characters; World War II and American soldiers and many other facets of life in the ‘30s and ‘40s. In the excerpt below he recalls household refrigeration and shopping patterns in the 1930s.

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    Beverley Hunter

    Beverley Hunter (former councillor on South Sydney Council) was born in 1935 and grew up in Chippendale in a house occupied by five generations of her family. In her interview she talks about her wharf labourer father’s war-related Tuberculosis; daily working class life in the area; childhood entertainments; factory work; social life in hotels; friendship; and the swallowing of the suburb of Darlington by the University of Sydney. In the excerpt below she discusses the convention of shopping on ‘tick’.

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    Bev Karonidis

    Bev Karonidis was born in Redfern in 1936. In her interview she recalls many aspects of life there including close family relationships, the experience of World War II, the Methodist Mission, ethnicity, children’s work, the Australian Labor Party and household entertainments. In the excerpt below she recalls the excitement when Wirth’s Circus came to town.

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    Vivi Germanos Koutsounadis

    Vivi Germanos Koutsounadis was born in Greece in 1946, came to Sydney’s Glebe in 1954 and moved to Redfern three years later. In her interview Vivi talks broadly about the experience of migrant families new to Sydney, the sea voyage, factory employment, schooling, social life, food and long hours in her parents’ milk bar. In the excerpt below she recalls her family’s support for the Aboriginal community in Redfern.

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    Ted McDermott

    Ted McDermott was born in Redfern in 1925 and spent most of his life there. In his interview he talks about many aspects of working class life including men’s and women’s employment, domestic work, family life, childhood haunts and games, and Cracker Night. In the excerpt below he recalls the culture of men fighting in and around hotels in the inner city.

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    Betty Moulds

    Betty Moulds was born in 1925 and grew up in Alexandria. Her coal carter father was a strict disciplinarian, and as the oldest daughter she was removed from school to help her mother with the most recent baby. She recalls horses, trams and a lack of residential utilities; men’s and women’s industrial work; local shops; her father’s WWI-related ailments; protected tenancy; sport and marrying against her parents’ will.

    In the excerpt below she recalls the children’s methods of stretching the family finances.

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    Maureen Oliver

    Maureen Oliver was born in 1926, the oldest of a large, loving and volatile family living in Erskineville. She recalls music, singing, magazines, poetry; her mother’s taste, high standards, concealment of poverty and the ‘order man’; her father’s work; the influence and education of the Catholic church; childhood games; discipline; ‘slums’ and difficult lives. In the excerpt below she recalls her family’s involvement in the illegal but very widespread practise of betting with SP [starting price] bookmakers.

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    Bill Schwebel

    Bill Schwebel was born in 1910 and grew up in Erskineville. In his interview he talks about many issues associated with working class life in the early part of the twentieth century including his father’s work as a hod carrier; extreme poverty; hunger; childhood deafness; his mother’s assistance at homebirths; politics; the influenza epidemic; and vaudeville, amongst many other things. In the excerpt below he recalls stealing handkerchiefs and flags in the wake of the return of Australian troops after World War I.

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    Sir Nicholas Shehadie

    Sir Nicholas Shehadie is a former Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney who grew up in a Lebanese family in Redfern. In his interview he remembers his childhood and many aspects of inner-city life including social life, sport, Orthodox and Maronite churches, and local characters and businesses. In the excerpt below he recalls an experience of the Great Depression in Redfern.

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    Cliff Noble

    Cliff Noble, (a former Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney) was born in Alexandria in 1918, where he has lived all his life. In his interview he traverses a wide range of topics including wakes, the Irish, Lebanese and Greek communities, politics, various notable local characters, children’s games, skylarking, school, food and local government. In the excerpt below he recalls Chinese people who worked in the local market gardens in the 1920s.

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    Loretto Thurgood

    Loretto Thurgood was born in Newtown in 1919 and grew up there and in adjacent Erskineville. Her father was a painter and her mother took care of the house and family. In the excerpt below she recalls Newtown theatres and entertainment.

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    Kate Dunbar

    Kate Dunbar was born in 1923 and came to Australia from England a few years later. In this interview she talks about her home life, her parents’ unsatisfactory marriage, her mother’s shop and her father’s unreliable employment. In the excerpt below she remembers the Depression of the 1930s.

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    Frank Altoft

    Frank Altoft came to Australia from England, aged 10, in 1925. He recalls life during the Depression; entertainment venues; shops; street vendors; gangs; the fate of single mothers; and his working life.

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    Anne Ramsay

    Anne Ramsay was born in 1914 and grew up in Redfern. In this interview she talks about her childhood, her parents, and life in inner Sydney. In the extract below Anne recalls childhood entertainment in the 1920s.

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    Richard Mewjork

    Richard Mewjork grew up in Surry Hills in a Chinese family. In this interview he remembers his 1930s childhood, his mother’s work as a seamstress and cafe proprietor, and his stepfather’s work at the produce markets. Richard also discusses his own varied careers in newspapers, milk bars, door-to-door sales and the car industry. In the excerpt below Richard recalls his brief career as a ‘professional’ wrestler, entertaining the crowds at the Redfern velodrome.

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    Mick Green

    Mick Green is the son of Fred Green, for whom Green Square is named. Fred Green was a Labor MP and Mayor of Alexandria. In this interview Mick describes his childhood and working class life and politics in South Sydney in the 1930s and ’40s. In the excerpt below he discusses his parents’ affection for their children and the impact the Great Depression had on family life.

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    Henry Brown

    Henry Brown grew up in Erskineville in the 1920s and ’30s. In this interview he talks about religion, children’s paid work, recreation, sport and many other aspects of working class life in that period. In the excerpt below Henry describes the joys of transporting ducks and fowls on trams.

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    Gavin Harris

    Gavin Harris has lived in Kings Cross for many decades. In this interview he talks about the history of Sydney’s best known precinct, its architecture, characters, and engagement with the arts of all kinds, as well as its darker underside. In the excerpt below Gavin outlines some of the Cross’s many personality traits.

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    Dario Lo Schiavo

    Dario Lo Schiavo grew up in a Italian household in Potts Point. In this interview he describes his middle class extended family, his parents’ cultural and political pursuits, and schoolboy life in the 1920s and ’30s. In the excerpt below he refers to his artist brother, Virgil Lo Schiavo, and his contact with notable film stars and artists of the period.

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    Nick David

    Nick David owns a convenience shop in Woolloomooloo. In this interview he talks about his Lebanese forebears in the area and further afield, business interests, and the local community during and after the demolitions and redevelopment of recent decades. In the excerpt below he describes the hippie community which occupied the empty houses in the interim and the vibrant street life they brought with them.

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    Giovanni Lo Surdo

    Giovanni Lo Surdo grew up in Woolloomooloo’s Sicilian community in the 1960s. In this interview he talks about the life of the professional fishing community in that suburb; his mother’s work as a seamstress, and his sadness at the loss of the old Woolloomooloo community. In the excerpt below he describes a now disappeared street scene.

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    Sydney Fennell

    Sydney Fennell grew up in Alexandria, a once heavily industrialised inner city suburb. In this interview he talks about his childhood, family, friends and employment in local industry. In the excerpt below Sydney recalls the work he did as a child to earn pocket money to save for Christmas.

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    Michael Toohey

    Michael Toohey grew up in Waterloo, a once heavily industrialised suburb in inner Sydney. In this interview he talks about his family, childhood, work, industry and local connections. In the excerpt below Michael mourns the disappearance of ‘old’ Waterloo people through the process of urban regeneration.