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.

Just down the bottom of the street here [in Erskineville], the railway line, there used to be a brick fence say about thirty inches high, about as high as that, then they had posts up here with barbed wire. Well, when the boys [troops] were coming back in the train they would hang out the window, waving khaki handkerchiefs. I was about eight, nine; and as they were waving we were grabbing the handkerchiefs as the diggers were going past. We thought it was great; kids, dozens of us. Well then up in Newtown Bridge the motorcars, they used to have little flags, Australian flags, up off their mascot in front of their car, little sticks, and the flags were silk, about six inches by four inches, and they’re tooting their horns, joy and peace and all that; and we’d jump in front of the car to grab these flags when we were kids. Which kids would do, who wasn’t controlled by their parents.

Sue Rosen