Beth Thorpe lived in Woolloomooloo until she was married. She thought it was a wonderful place to live, close to city, and beachside areas, and the kids had the freedom to move around.
Both her parents were members of the East Sydney Communist Party – they met there. Beth’s mother was very active in the Miscellaneous Workers Union. Beth talks about the Communist Party, the Seamans Union and the Waterside Workers Union which were strong in the 1950s. Her family felt like ‘outcasts’ because of their involvement in the Party.
Most people in area worked at either Kolynos toothpaste factory in Brougham Street, at the wharves or doing process work . Beth talks about the dangers of wharf work, strikes in the early 1950s, collections in the pubs, as well as electricity strikes, and no radio.
She joined the Eureka Youth League, for sons and daughters of the Communist Party when she was about 8 or 9. She talks about the annual camps in the bush, singing, and the equality between girls and boys.
At 15 years, when Beth started working as a tailor, at AWS Huntington in Surry Hills, she joined the union. She also joined Union of Australian Women, an offshoot of Communist Party.
SR [Interviewer]: What kind of a place was Woolloomooloo for kids in the 1940s?
BT [Interviewee]: Well, I thought it was a wonderful place, absolutely wonderful. Only a walk away from the heart of the city from the Domain Swimming Baths, a tram ride away from all the beaches in the city, So we thought it was a wonderful place and yet it was perceived that we were deprived because we lived in that area. … Mostly you lied because of the perception people had of where you lived. Well, if you were at a dance and you said that you came from Woolloomooloo they would think they were onto a certain thing.
BT: Well, it was perceived as a slum and I mean it had connections with prostitution and razor gang plus, yes, because it was on the waterfront but you were never shamed amongst the people that you knew in Woolloomooloo that you were from Woolloomooloo.
SR: Were you encouraged to be politically active?
BT: I did I joined the union when I was fifteen and I probably did that because I wanted my mother to be proud of me … we really didn’t have a lot of grievances.
SR: Where were you working at fifteen?
BT: I was working in tailoring at five pound a week which was a lot of money in those days. The average wage for a female then would’ve been about two pounds seventeen … and I suppose he was generous because he wanted good workers and good work and he got it.
BT: I joined the Union of Australian Women which is probably an offshoot, if you like, of the Communist Party because all of the Executive of the Union of Australian Women were Communists. So I really wanted to carry on the tradition of equality, of involvement, of stimulation and I got that by being in the Union of Australian Women.