Billy Pascoe

Billy Pascoe was born in Balmain in 1911 and moved to Woolloomooloo when he was five or six years old. He was the eldest of three. The family lived in Beth Street, Woolloomooloo, then moved to Palmer Street, Woolloomooloo, near the Domain baths.

Billy talks about the war, soup kitchens in the Domain, as well as WW2, soldiers returning in a bad way from Changi Camp, soldier settlements and very little support for them. He also reflects on the poverty in the 1920s & 1930s and the ‘fair go’ fights the Woolloomooloo youngsters had with the Surry Hills teenagers – William Street was the demarcation line.

The interview was recorded on analogue video tape and there has been some deterioration to the tape. As a result, the sound is not of a high quality.

BP: [Interviewee]       … straight after that we got the flu and I think everyone in Woolloomooloo had the flu.  All schools were stopped, practically everything stopped.  If you walked outside you had to have a mask on and there was no cure.  All you done was go to bed and anyone that was up, the only cure there was, they used to have vinegar on brown paper. There was no aspros them days, nothing like that, never heard of a headache powder or aspros, that was unheard of in 1920.

So all you done, you went to bed and you stayed there for four or five days. They were dying like flies.  They had trams running up Oxford Street with a great bit red cross on them.  Once it was all full they took them out to the Showground, put them with the horses and cattle where all that was; that’s where they all finished up.  Well, we hadn’t been out of that six months then the bubonic plague come, with all the rats.  That all come back through the war too and that’s when the flu come. There was more killed with the flu than was killed in the war; they were killed in hundreds and thousands.  Every street, like every street you’d say “Poor old So and So’s gone”, two gone in the one house; they died like flies and no cure for it.  That’s the only thing there was: to keep the fever down they’d give you vinegar and brown paper – I don’t know why the brown paper come into it.

SR: [Interviewer]            But what did they do with it, this brown paper and vinegar?

BP:       Supposed to get the fever down.

SR:       But would they put it on your chest?

BP:       No, on their forehead.

SR:       Brown paper soaked in vinegar?

BP:       Soaked in vinegar and put on your forehead and you laid in bed for about ten days, I think it was, before you got over it.

SR:       Did you get it?

BP:       Everyone got it, everyone in the house had it, I think everyone in the street had it.  They didn’t all have it together.  It went for three months or so, roughly, but over a period of three months I don’t know anyone who didn’t get it because you only had to inhale something and that was it, someone else’d catch it.  Soon as you breathed out, that was how it was caught.

SR:       And did you know any people who died?

BP:       Hundreds.  I was only young at the time but you’d hear them say “Mrs So and So died” and even young kids, like four or five year old, and anyone sixteen or seventeen and people fifty and sixty they would get it.  You didn’t have to be fifty or sixty to die with it and there was nothing you could do about it.

SR:       Gee, that sounds terrible.

BP:       It was terrible.

Sue Rosen