Clarice and Robert Johnston

Clarice and Robert Johnston are mother and son, born in the 1920s and 1940s respectively. Clarice grew up in rural NSW and came to Millers Point as a young married woman. In their interview they talk about the several places in Millers Point in which they lived; shops; local characters; crime; alcohol consumption; gardens; picnics; the maritime flavour of the area; unusual pets; shops; hawkers; effect of demolitions and demographic change. In the excerpt below Robert recalls the everyday commerce in pilfered goods from the wharves.

This interview is part of Housing NSW’s 2005 Millers Point Oral History Project. The City of Sydney acknowledges the State Library of New South Wales as the archival custodian of the project and digital preserver of the masters.

Most of the hotels, I think, were an outlet for the pilfering that came off the wharves. I remember I had a job selling newspapers at age about ten I guess, and I used to do the Palisade, the [Captain] Cook and the [Lord] Nelson. I remember particularly walking into the Lord Nelson one night selling newspapers and at one end of the bar there was a guy selling Alaskan crab claws, and at age ten I had never even heard of Alaskan crabs, but he had quite a supply of frozen Alaskan crab claws. Now these things were about two metres long and they are just absolutely amazing and he was standing at the other end of the bar selling these things, quite exotic things.

There were quite often situations where in the Palisade, particularly the guys that came off the ship then had access, I think, to a room and I remember being invited in. I wanted a pair of shoes and I was invited to have a look in the room. I went up to the room to have a look and the place was just chock-a-bloc from floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes and boxes of shoes. I had fairly large feet but no problems with sizes. I remember buying a pair of pointy-toed ox-blood red shoes that were just my favourite shoes for a long time. But you could have anything you wanted, you put your order in and you’d get it, it was just extraordinary. These were just part of the wharfies’ way of life. All at a good price. Things like transistors and watches and stuff, everyday.

Frank Heimans